The Eskimos or Inuits of Alaska have their igloos. The indigenous people of the western hemisphere or more familiarly known as “American Indians” have their teepees or wigwams. In the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines, the Ifugaos have native huts.
There are four types of Ifugao houses: regarded as temporary lodging during rice cultivation season, the native hut: (1)abong is constructed directly on the ground while (2) inappal is considerably raised from the ground. However, due to financial constraints, these structures become actually permanent dwelling place. A more permanent, durable and elevated family house is called (3) bale. Basically a one room house with an attic for storage, it rather looks like an elevated pyramid-like structure supported on four wooden post, or tukod. A more thorough examination reveals an ingeniously engineered domicile that is able to withstand natural calamities like typhoons and even earthquakes. Built from indigenously found timbers, they are mortised, pegged and tied together without the use of nails or bolts. Used as storage for harvested rice and rice gods and sometimes as a grave, (4) alang or the granary house is built near the rice fields. The families from the upper class are the only ones with this type of structure.
Similar to a studio-type condominium unit, the Ifugao house is a multi-functional one-room shelter where the entire family – father, mother and pre-pubescent children- live, sleep, cook and eat. Built by local carpenters called munhabats, these houses are architectural wonders of their own. The munhabats employ the native axe called wahe for chopping timber, and a spool of string callled paltik soaked in a staining solution to mark straight lines as guides for cutting and sawing. And they use a clever method to estimate lengths and widths: they use their extended arms. Locally known as a dopah, this method has been used by the Ifugao for generations and is approximately around four to five feet. Another method is the dangan which is the length of a person’s extended fingers from thumb to middle finger. Surprisingly, despite these rather crude techniques, the Ifugao residence is sturdy and stable. This is another illustration of the resourcefulness, creativity, and ingenuity of the Ifugao not just in rice agriculture but also in erecting their homes.
As with almost every facet of Ifugao life and culture, the construction of their houses, from start to finish, entails the performance of rituals and strict observance of signs and ritual prohibitions known as ngilin, going so far as to prohibit workers from sexual intercourse on the eve of construction.
Building houses among the Ifugaos is a time-honored tradition of community service called dangah which is rendered without payment, much like the Filipino practice of bayanihan. This most admirable trait – of a community helping one another – shows that the Ifugao place family and community over the acquisition of wealth.
Every hut is a representation of the Ifugao family and its rich and resplendent culture. Able to stand up to torrential rains, typhoons, earthquakes and other natural calamities, these native houses exemplify Ifugao’s resilience and hardiness in the face of adversity and the march of time.