Abra was formerly called El Abra de Vigan or the 'opening of Vigan' and was an early encomienda of the Spaniards. As early as 1599, the Augustinian friars penetrated the valley of the Abra River and established a mission in Bangued. However, despite its proximity to the administrative center of the province of Ilocos, very little progress was made in converting the Tinguians or Itnegs to Catholicism.
During the Silang Revolt of 1762-1763, Abra played a significant role as the last stand of the Ilocano heroine Gabriela Silang who hailed from region. After Gabriela’s husband, Diego Silang, was assassinated, she and her followers retreated into Abra and carried on with her husband’s struggle. She was overpowered by a strong Spanish force and was hanged in Vigan together with her trusted lieutenants.
Beginning in the 19th century, missionary activity was resumed in earnest and a number of towns established to preach to the newly settled and Christianized Tinguians. In 1846, Abra was separated from the province of Ilocos Sur and established as a politico-military province. In 1905, the province of Abra was annexed as a sub-province of Ilocos Sur. However, in March 1917, Abra regained its status as a separate province through the passage of Act No. 2683.
In the 1980s, Abra became the hotbed of communist rebels who fed on the discontent over the loss of ancestral lands due to the establishment of a large logging concession. The rebellion peaked in 1985, after which, it dissipated when the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army broke away from the communist movement and championed the effort to establish an autonomous Cordilleran government.
People, Culture and the Arts
Most of the people who live in the Abra plains region are Ilocanos who share the same basic culture as most lowland Christians. About 50,000 of Abra’s population belong to the Tinggian or Itneg ethnolinguistic group. The word Itneg is derived from i-tineg, which literally means people living near the Tineg River. The relationship and cultural affinity between Ilocanos and Itnegs are strong and it is believed that many residents of the plains who are considered Ilocano are actually descendants of Christianized Itnegs.
Among the Tinguians there are two cultural divisions. There are the valley dwellers who are concentrated in the lower reaches of Abra and thrive on wet rice cultivation. There are also the mountain Tinguians who live in sparse settlements in higher elevations and depend largely on slash and burn agriculture and root crops. Traditionally, the Tinguians lived in fortified villages adjacent to their fields and are distinct among Philippine cultural communities in their use of white clothing. The women are bedecked heavily in beads and armlets.
The traditional belief system of the Tinguians is animistic, although it recognizes a supreme or paramount deity, who the Tinguians call Kadaklan. Rituals are prescribed to appease or seek favor from the spirits and the ritual specialists and healers are usually women. Although most Tinguians have accepted Christianity, the belief system persists.
The Tinguian tradition of dance and music is an entrancingly unique experience. Traditional music is characterized by rhythmic, repetitive patterns played on the gansa (gongs) and a number of other instruments like the kalalang or balalek (bamboo flute), bunkaka or balimbing (bamboo rattle), salibao (mouth harp), kuliteng (bamboo zither), paldeng (bamboo buzzer), labil (bamboo violin) and the pattanggok and tambor (drum). Singing traditions such as the balaguyos, ngayowek and the salidumay are still sung during wakes, celebrations, welcoming ceremonies and social gatherings.
Tinguians are master craftsmen who continue to weave fine blankets, bags and baskets, and work metal according to traditional designs. These crafts, as well as traditional Tinguian culture and observances are showcased in an annual Tinguian Festival held by the province of Abra sometime in March.
Trade and Investments
The Abra’s arable land is concentrated in the lower flood plains region and supports a variety of crops, such as rice, tobacco, corn, banana, and coffee. The province is a major producer of sweet, succulent mangoes. Grasslands ideal for horse and cattle raising, account for about 18% of the province’s land area. Almost 75% of Abra is made up of forests that abound in species like acacia, almaciga, narra, mahogany, pine, lauan and dipterocarps. The province also has vast stores of non-metallic mineral deposits, such as clay, rock phosphate, guano and limestone as well as untapped deposits of gold, copper and silver. The province also has a population of nearly 200,000 people, a stable and adequate pool from which to draw the province’s labor requirements.
The Abra-Ilocos Sur road is the main avenue that links the province to other northern Luzon provinces. Several bus companies, cargo and trucking firms provide regular transportation services that make access to the province readily available. A telephone network with direct dialing facilities links households and businesses to the outside world and is supplemented by calling stations, telegraph and courier services. Potable water is readily available since the province has three major water supply sources. Electricity is currently available in more than 80% of municipalities and barangays.
Abra is part of the developing North Luzon Growth Quadrangle that seeks to spur investments into northern Luzon by complementing the economies of six provinces. The province is currently developing a provincial Industrial Center, which will convert the idle Cellophil Resources Corporation into an export processing zone. The PIC will attract agro-industries into the province and build on the abundant resources of the province. The province is encouraging investments in infrastructure development to realize this goal. Abra is particularly attractive for wood and forest based industries. The bamboo-based industry has consistently drawn investors who are lured by the ready availability of materials and the skill and competence of local labor. The local government is also pushing for more investments in woodcraft, furniture and furnishing manufacture, and loom weaving. Food production and processing continue to offer great potentials for investors. Mango processing, livestock raising, dairy farms and the processing of garlic, coffee, and corn are among the most promising ventures. Cement manufacturing is also an attractive venture.
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