Why did the Ilongot’s hunt heads?

 Headhunting by definition is the decapitation of a victim for some ritual purpose (Hoskins 1996, p37).  There have been groups, either governments or other political groups, that have taken heads but this is not to be confused with headhunting.  They reason for the head is intimidation or even to be used as trade with various headhunting tribes.  But in this sense it has no ritual purpose and is not considered headhunting.
To the Ilongot’s headhunting is ritual and plays a big part in the life cycle of a man and also has other ritual purposes that apply to certain circumstances.  Headhunting also plays a part in gender.  Men and women in Ilongot society are relatively equal and “share the same basic humanity, but through headhunting, men could achieve a form of transcendence not available to women” (Hoskins 1996, p18-19).
The man’s life cycle is where headhunting plays the largest role.  The life cycle of a man is not a step by step series of rites of passage.  It is more of a gradual process in which a man matures.  Ilongot’s view the cycle in three stages; “(1) the infantile development of motor skills; (2) the youthful learning of subsistence tasks; and (3) the adult knowledge of effective speech in delicate social situations” (Rosaldo 1980, p136).  Childhood consist of learning to crawl, walk, speak, and do small tasks such as fetching things for adults.  Children at this point start to follow their parent and begin to learn “gender-specific series of skills based on the sexual division of labor.” (Rosaldo 1980, p137).  Boys follow their fathers in doing work and girls their mothers.  Youth comes with puberty and begins a series of steps to becoming a man and getting married.  Young men at this point become envious of men who have taken a head and are very eager at this point to take a head.  Taking a head to a young man means becoming an adult and losing the status of “novice.”  Once a novice has taken a head he is allowed to wear red hornbill earrings.  Being able to wear these earrings simply means being a man.  This includes being more attractive to women and being able “to answer back when other men taunt.” (Rosaldo 1980, p140).  Once a man he is more prepared to be married because of the reason stated above.  However it is not required that men take a head before marriage.  There have been times when this has happened.  When a young man who has not taken a head marries it simply means that he must carry the burden of this until he takes a head.  He is said to be not as attractive to women and cannot “answer back” to the taunts of men who have taken a head.  Marriage and taking a head are the only two steps in a man's life that aren’t gradual or overlapping.  Once married or taken a head or both he is a man.
Ilongot’s are the exception when it comes to headhunting.  Virtually every headhunting group does so in order to gain something.  The most common being: “suspend mourning for important men, to impress a potential bride, to display one’s honor and prowess, to prevent sickness or famine, to promote better crops, and to even the score in feuding.”  (Hoskins 1996, p13-140).  All of these tribes bring the head back to be used.  Some use the head for ceremonies; others store the heads for protection.  Ultimately the head and what it symbolizes is what they are after.  Different tribes vary but they are ultimately different from the Ilongot.

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