Friday, 23 December 2011

Ifugao, another National Cultural Treasure

The Banaue Rice Terraces (Tagalog: Hagdan-hagdang Palayan ng Banawe) also called Payew, are 2000-year old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. The Rice Terraces are commonly referred to by Filipinos as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".
It is commonly thought that the terraces were built with minimal equipment, largely by hand. The terraces are located approximately 1500 meters (5000 ft) above sea level and cover 10,360 square kilometers (about 4000 square miles) of mountainside. They are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above the terraces. It is said that if the steps are put end to end it would encircle half the globe.

Locals to this day still plant rice and vegetables on the terraces, although more and more younger Ifugaos do not find farming appealing, often opting for the more lucrative hospitality industry generated by the Rice Terraces. The result is the gradual erosion of the characteristic "steps", which need constant reconstruction and care. In 2010 a further problem was drought, with the terraces drying up completely in March of that year.

Ifugao rice culture
The terraces are vastly found in the province of Ifugao and the Ifugao people have been its caretakers. Ifugao culture revolves around rice and the culture displays an elaborate array of rice culture feasts linked with agricultural rites from rice cultivation to rice consumption. Harvest season generally calls for thanksgiving feasts while the concluding harvest rites tungo or tungul (the day of rest) entail a strict taboo of any agricultural work. Partaking of the bayah (rice beer), rice cakes, and betel nut constitutes an indelible practice during the festivities and ritual activities.

The Ifugao people practice traditional farming spending most of their labor at their terraces and forest lands while occasionally tending to root crop cultivation. The Ifugaos have also been known to culture edible shells, fruit trees, and other vegetables which has been exhibited among Ifugaos for generations. The building of the rice terraces, work of blanketing walls with stones and earth which is designed to draw water from a main irrigation canal above the terrace clusters. Indigenous rice terracing technologies have been identified with the Ifugao’s rice terraces such as their knowledge of water irrigation, stonework, earthwork and terrace maintenance. As their source of life and art, the rice terraces have sustained and shaped the lives of the community members. Ifugao previously belong to the Mountain Province as a municipality but on June 18, 1966 in effect of Republic Act No. 4695, Ifugao became an independent province.

Organic farming
In March 2009 the Ifugao rice terraces were declared free from Genetically Modified Organism (GMO). An event was organized in Dianara Viewpoint for this announcement where it was graced by Gov. Teodoro Baguilat, Mayor Lino Madchiw, Greenpeace campaigner for Southeast Asia Daniel Ocampo, and Cathy Untalan who was executive director of the Miss Earth Foundation. Before the announcement ceremonies, 3 Mumbakis performed an Alim, a tribal ritual to ask for blessings where an animal is offered to the gods.

Another thriving economy in the Banaue Rice Terraces is tourism. The Tourism industry has developed a number of activities for visitors which may include the traditional sight seeing of the terraces and visits to the tribes at the foot of the terraces. A Mumbaki (traditional Ifugao witch doctor) is also recommended to visitors, these doctors can perform spiritual healing rituals. Domestic tourism however has gone down over the past few years. A contributing factor to this is the treatment of domestic tourists by the local guides in the area where it has been reported that local guides are more willing to entertain foreign visitors. The Batad Environmental Tour Guides Association (BETGA) in association with the Batad Baranguay authorities are currently laying a concrete track down from the Batad Saddle to the village proper.

National Cultural Treasure
The Banaue Rice Terraces refer to the cluster close to the Banaue poblacion as seen from the viewpoint. Contrary to popular belief, the Banaue Rice Terraces are not a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They were not included in the UNESCO inscription Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras due to the presence of numerous modern structures, making it score low in the integrity criterion of UNESCO.

The five clusters inscribed as part of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras are Batad, Bangaan, Hungduan, Mayoyao Central and Nagacadan. Batad and Bangaan are under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Banaue but are not referred to as the Banaue Rice Terraces.

The Banaue Rice Terraces are however a National Cultural Treasure under Ifugao Rice Terraces.

The Ifugao epic Hudhud
Aside from the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, UNESCO inscribed the Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao, another National Cultural Treasure, on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008 (originally proclaimed in 2001). The Hudhud consists of narrative chants performed mainly by elder Ifugao women usually during the rice sowing season, at harvest time and at funeral wakes and rituals.

Other notable rice terraces in Ifugao
Aside from the Banaue Rice terraces there are 4 other similar terraces, the Batad Rice Terraces, Mayoyao Rice Terraces in Mayoyao, Hapao rice terraces and Kiangan rice terraces. The Batad rice terraces are located in Barangay Batad in Banaue, these terraces shaped resembles an amphitheatre. The Mayoyao rice terraces are for a rice variety called tinawon, a rare type of organic rice which are grown in red and white variety in these terraces. The Hapao rice terraces are located in Hungduan, these terraces are stone-walled and date back to 650 AD.The Kiangan rice terraces is similarly located in Banaue, here they grow the rice varieties of nagacadan and julungan.

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