Ifugaos' handiwork sustains famed Banaue Rice Terraces

By Liza Agoot

August 27, 2018, 4:06 pm

LAGAWE, Ifugao -- The Banaue Rice Terraces, often called the 8th Wonder of the World, has been known to be a product of handiwork, carved by the hand, by the natives' ancestors around 2,000 years ago, to plant rice for daily sustenance. 

The Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao province in Cordillera region (PNA File Photo by Liza T. Agoot)

Even to this day, now referred to by many as the "stairs to heaven" because of its breathtaking milieu on top of the mountains, the Ifugao ancestors' handiwork remains just for the locals' daily sustenance, despite the tourism income and fame it brings to the province and to the entire country as well.

Today's Ifugaos, known for their creativity and adept hands like their ancestors, preserve the unequalled beauty of the highlands' wonder still by handiwork. But it is not only by continuing to plant rice there, but also by creating some wood carvings, handicrafts, and hand-woven fabrics for sale to tourists, who come over to appreciate the famed Banaue Rice Terraces.

Masapul nga agpanunut kami iti pagkwartaan ta saan ka met nga mabyag nu agmula ka laeng iti bagas. Madi mi met nga agsardeng nga agtalon ta kayat mi nga mayat nga buya ti terraces nu umay dagiti turista. Saan mi nga kayat nga panawan iti panagmula gapu ta daytoy ket parte iti biag mi nga taga Ifugao (We have to think of other sources of income because planting alone will not sustain us. But we also refuse to abandon our terraces because of our desire to let the tourists see their beauty when they come to visit here. Planting rice on terraces is also part of who we are as Ifugaos),” terraces farmer Robert Duyugen said.

Duyugen continues to plant “tinawon,” an indigenous rice variety that has a growing period of nine to 10 months, thus, limiting production to just for family consumption.

From his five “inapya”, a rice planting area on the terraces divided by stones or hard soil called “tuping”, Duyugen can produce about 10 “buttok” (rice stalks tied together), which when milled will allow him to have food just enough to sustain his family while waiting for the next harvest.

“Planting on the terraces is not economically viable, as it is grown once a year,” Duyugen explains further in the Ilocano dialect.

Despite the minimal production, Duyugen says he continues to grow the “tinawon” as his contribution to what Ifugao -- or Banaue -- is known for.

He says the rice terraces are part of the Ifugao heritage, which must be preserved. He has no intention of leaving his hometown and abandoning the terraces for greener pasture outside the province.

To augment the family’s income and sustain their needs while contributing to the preservation of the rice culture of the Ifugaos, Duyugen produces wood carved items. He is also known for making good-quality “native scooter,” which has somehow become popular among the locals. 

NATIVE SCOOTER RACE. Robert Duyugen rides his four-wheel wooden scooter in a race, where he has been a consistent champion. Duyugen and his fellow Banaue Rice Terraces farmers established the native scooter race in the 1990s as part of the town fiesta to promote the handicraft among the locals of Ifugao and visiting tourists. (File Photo by Liza T. Agoot)

Handicraft comes as a secondary activity but the primary source of income of many locals like Duyugen.

“It usually takes a longer time before I can finish one scooter or a wood carved item because I only carve after finishing the job on the terraces or after the harvest season is over,” he says.

While planting at the rice terraces does not present a good income, his top goal is to help in its preservation by planting on it and earning more from other activities.

He and his neighbors in Barangay Viewpoint see the rice terraces as a heritage that must continue to be upheld, not just for the Ifugaos but for the people worldwide, who travel thousands of miles to see their place.

Complementary to their wood carving activity, Robert and his neighbors have established the “native scooter” race during the town fiesta as an added attraction, where they are also able to promote their handicraft to tourists.

The native scooter race has become one of the attractions during the “Imbayah” festival of Banaue to add to what tourists can enjoy while in Banaue.  

Ifugao handicrafts 

Marlon Martin of the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMO) says his group has come up with programs to encourage local farmers to continue planting the “tinawon” rice to preserve the rice terraces.

Among the programs is the promotion of the native hand-woven fabrics, as in the recently held fashion show featuring local Ifugao fabrics.

“Traditionally, nagwe-weave lang ang Ifugao pag off season sa terraces. The same way now sa karamihan, nag we-weave lang sila pag wala silang trabaho sa bukid (The Ifugaos only do weaving during the rice planting off season and when they are done with their work in the field),” Martin notes.

“Part of heritage conservation of the rice terraces is weaving and most of the farmers are into weaving,” he explains.

He says aside from Banaue, other towns in Ifugao province with many weavers are Hingyon, Kiangan, Hungduan, Lamut, Asipilo, and Mayoyao. 

HANDS THAT FEED IFUGAO CULTURE. Ifugao women do some woodcarving, weaving, and other handicrafts while they are not busy planting indigenous 'tinawon' rice on the rice terraces on the mountains of Banaue town. The handicrafts augment their families' income while they continue to plant rice at the terraces, which are part of their culture, and continue to awe thousands of tourists from across the globe all year round. (Photo by Liza T. Agoot)

Martin says SITMO assists weavers in coming up with features, which are modified traditional designs to suit the demands of contemporary fashion.

“For our weavers to be more economically sustainable in the weaving industry, kailangan mag catch up din sila sa demand ng modern times (they need to catch up with the demand of modern times),” Martin expounds.

SITMO also helps in the woven products' promotion so buyers would appreciate and buy these. By selling fabrics made by farmers, Martin says the group is able to encourage the farmers not to abandon their terraces, and continue planting.

Among the beneficiaries of the SITMO is Marcelino Bumilac, 31, of Hingyon town. SITMO helps him improve his designs and market his woven products. "Kinalakihan ko na ito at parte ito ng kung sino kami as Ifugao na karugtong ang buhay sa pagtatanim sa terraces (This is what I grew up with and this is us, this is part of us Ifugaos, who are directly linked to rice terraces planting)," Bumilac says.

In Banaue alone, from the over 1,500 rice terraces spread out in the different villages, about 500 have been abandoned by their owners.

Government initiatives

Banaue Mayor Jerry Dalipog says the primary reason for abandonment is out-migration.

“There are many Ifugaos who have opted to establish their livelihood and businesses outside the province, which is more financially rewarding than planting on the terraces,” he explains.

Besides, the walls of the terraces have slowly been destroyed overtime, further discouraging farmers to go on planting there.

To preserve the rice terraces, the local government of Banaue entered into an agreement with the owners of the abandoned terraces.

The local government hires the services of other farmers in the town to prepare, plant, and manage the terraces. The proceeds are shared among the farmers, the local government, and the owners.

“With the help of funds from donors, we are able to slowly fix the damaged walls and plant on them,” Dalipog adds. “Slowly, we hope to revive all the damaged and the abandoned rice terraces.”

David Kimmayong, Provincial Agriculture Office's focal person on rice, says Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has allotted funds for the conduct of a survey of the existing rice terraces in the entire province of Ifugao to determine how much needs to be restored and how much "tinawon" rice could be produced there at most.

The survey's results will help in the preservation of the terraces and continued production of "tinawon" rice to add to the country’s rice supply.

Kimmayong explains that due to the elevation of the rice terraces, it is only “tinawon” that can thrive on them, making it impossible to grow hybrid rice varieties, which are easier to grow and produce more yields.

He says with the combined efforts of the locals and the national government, the 8th Wonder of the World will continue to lure people from all over the world. (PNA)