The Ifugao of the Cordilleras

BANAUG, IFUGAO

You can see them practically everywhere in Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines, mainly around tourist spots like Burnham Park, Mines View Park and the Botanical Gardens. Clad in their traditional garb of the “wanno” or G-string (for the males) and “tapis” wraparound skirt (for the females), the Ifugaos look as if they had just stepped off a time machine transported to the present day from some bygone age when the earth was purer, cleaner, and humans were more attuned to it. Like some odd, seemingly out of place novelty from the past, these magnificent people now struggle to adjust into the 21st century while keeping their time-honored and cherished traditions, sometimes literally, on their backs.

Derived from the term “i-pugo”, Ifugao means People of the Hill or Hill People. Hardly influenced by the Spanish colonizers, Ifugao group gives high regard to their age-old customs and traditions. Known primarily as the architects or engineers of The Rice Terraces of the Philippines, most notably the Banaue Rice Terraces, these hardy, ingenious people have etched these now world famous tourist attractions into the very mountains of the Cordillera Region like agricultural step pyramids where they have been planting rice like their ancestors for over two millennia. This landmark national treasure —remarkable symbol of this ethnic group’s ingenuity and fortitude—- was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. That these rice terraces are still being used today much in the same way as they have been for two thousand years is a  further testament to the Ifugao’s resilience and engineering brilliance.

A breathtaking sight to behold, the Banaue Rice Terraces had also been previously regarded as the “Eight Wonder of the World”. To stand before it and walk along its rice steps should certainly be on any avid traveller’s bucket list. And its people, the Ifugao, claimed by anthropologists as possibly the oldest inhabitants of the highlands, is a tribe any adventurer would want to get to know better.

For sure, a trip to the archipelago would not at all be complete without a sojourn into Ifugao territory and immersing oneself in its varied and rich customs and culture: their intricately designed textiles, much desired by collectors both foreign and local alike, woven on the same traditional looms as their forefathers have made them; the wood-carved granary keepers or “bului”; the “hagabi” or decorated benches of the upper class Ifugao; and the native wear of the Ifugao, practically unchanged for ages; as well as the weapons that they have used, for the Ifugao are well known in the area as fierce warriors of days long past.

To experience the Ifugao up-close leaves a lasting mark on any visitor, whether seasoned veteran or intrepid newbie.