Some would say that Ifugaos have tails. Others would say that Ifugaos are headhunters and witches. Others even consider us uncivilized and barbaric people who wear g-strings and tapis. Due to deprecations I personally experience whenever I go to other places, the prints of bitterness will always remain.
Nevertheless, amidst all these criticisms, I will still strongly shout, "I am an Ifugao and I'm proud of being one!" In fact, Ifugao has many hidden treasures that will please every living being. For years, the ethnic Ifugao have been the object of curiosity and the subject of interest of cultural researchers and writers, all of whom are foreigners.
The early Ifugao
The Province of Ifugao is widely known for its mountain rice fields and woodcarvings but only few outside the province know about its people and rich culture. The early Ifugaos lived in comparative peace and there was protection of life and pro-perty because the people adhered to their customs and laws. The structure of Ifugao society that was based on a kinship system even united the Ifugaos in waging defensive and offensive armed actions against the Spaniards and later, the Americans. Knowledge of blood relationship, no matter how distant, had an effect in minimizing or eliminating potential enmity or differences between individuals and among groups.
In the early typical Ifugao community, you would observe that the people had a very close relationship with each other and with their environment. They had a simple lifestyle because their life revolved only in rice field construction and other daily chores to make a living. Even customs or mode of dressing among the Ifugao was generally simple — suggestive of their simplicity and unsophisticated ways.
Their system of values, too, was simple but deeply ingrained. They greatly valued self-respect, lived by their own sweat, and condemned laziness. Mendicancy, in fact, was unknown to them. Because of an Ifugao's sense of personal honor, he would rather kill or die in defense of his honor than live with a stained name and in shame. The Ifugao of old also valued industry and social prestige based on economic well-being. He therefore labored long and hard to maintain or improve his economic status. He also va-lued fairness and honesty in his dealings with his fellowmen. However, just like any other changing social group, Ifugao society today is undergoing changes at a fast pace that is viewed as detrimental rather than beneficial in the long run.
Man-made and natural bounties
Surrounding these Ifugao great values are the equally unknown historical and scenic spots. It is suggested that one visit the Ifugao Museum at Linda, Kiangan. The place offers the visitor a study of the material culture of the Ifugao. Just a stone's throw from the museum building stands the Memorial Shrine erected to commemorate the end of World War II. Another manmade tourist attraction is the native house of the bale type. The wood-and-thatch dwelling is a practical structure that is an architectural wonder. Built with only four posts and without the use of nails, iron bolts, or straps, it antedates the invention of the modern prefabricated building by centuries.
Located just two and a half kilometers below the town proper of Kiangan is a small but unique body of water called the Ambuaya Lake.
The lake's clear cool water and the jungle-like atmosphere make for an ideal swimming and picnic venue. Weekends during the dry months always witness many swimmers in the lake and picnickers among the trees in the forest. Hot springs like in Tukucan, Tinoc are se-veral thousands of feet above sea level. An egg can be cooked in a few minutes when placed in the water.
There are three known large caves in Ifugao: Bintakan, Ibulao Bridge; Najtoban Cave in Barangay Boliwong, Lagawe; and a cave in a mountain near Haliap, Kiangan.
Waterfalls of varying heights and sizes dot the mountainous part of the province. There is a beautiful one located in Batad. The water shoots through a narrow gorge and rushes down in a great splash, creating a pandemonium of sound and sight in the otherwise serene and quiet surrounding. The largest waterfall in Ifugao is the Camandag River, located in Southern Kiangan. Pushing its way out between two mountains, the river drops in a series of falls before finally spreading in a tame current several hundred feet below.
Ifugao's finest treasure
For lack of arable land, the first Ifugao people were forced to eke out a living from the mountains by terracing rice paddies on the slopes. It is indeed a wonder how the early Ifugaos, with only the simplest and crudest hand tools, were able to build the rice terraces. They not only carved out the terraced paddies but also worked a unique irrigation system and way of maintaining them through constant repair, extension, and reconstruction.
Banaue Rice Terraces, Batad Rice Terraces, Julongan in Kiangan municipality, and Mt. Amuyao in Mayoyao municipa-lity with its stonewalled terrace have been in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1997. The Ifugao Rice Terraces, dubbed as the Eighth Wonder of the World and dec-lared by the American Society of Civil Engineers as a remarkable agricultural engineering feat, was added in the World Heritage List on December 3, 1995 during the 19th session of the World Heritage Committee in Berlin, Germany as a "living cultural landscape of great beauty that exemplifies the perfect interweaving of natural and cultural values in a sustainable manner."
Nonetheless, like any masterpiece, the Ifugao Rice Terraces are facing threats of deterioration and extinction. The question of how long the Ifugao people can sustain this great heritage is rather difficult to answer. As of now, a UNESCO mission in September 2001 placed the rice terraces on the list of Endangered Heritage Sites. Thus, an Ifugao must realize that it is his fate to be the heir of such tremendous heritage.
Ifugao is also home to a thriving ancient culture and indigenous knowledge systems and practices. Ifugao culture is categorized as material and non-material. The ancient Ifugao did not have a system of writing, hence, no written records of their history exists. However, much of the know-ledge and understanding of their past can be gleaned from their oral traditions, especially the ritual myths narrated or chanted during certain ritual performances. On a general scene, various rituals have played a great role in the life tempo of the Ifugaos.
Folktales and legends are usually narrated in ordinary, everyday speech. Myths, on the other hand, are recited in a singsong, stylistic manner. An example of this is the "Huuwan' di Nubugbugan di page" or the myth of the Origin of Rice. A study of the myths gives us the information that the Ifugaos' forebears started as fruit ga-therers and hunters. They later progressed to slash-and-burn planters. At this stage, they learned to domesticate the dog, the chicken, and the pig, in that order. Finally, they discovered wet agriculture. Thus, began the construction of wet rice fields and the culture of the different rice varieties, the most important of which was the ipugo.
Ritual chants are a necessary and integral part of the rites during which they are rendered. Non-ritual chants, as the term suggests, are not a part of any rite, but may be rendered as forms of entertainment.
Examples of non-ritual chants are the hudhud tales. Aside from these chants are Ifugao simple folk songs that are characteristically short, sung in simple melodies, and convey simple ideas. The most important role of a song in the life of the Ifugaos is its socialization and unifying effect on the community attained through the usual practice of singing songs as a group acti-vity. The act of singing, when shared, becomes better enjoyed, hence it creates a feeling of unity and spirit among them just as dances can.
Ifugao dances, meanwhile, may be classified as either festive or ceremonial. Dinnuy-a, pagaddut, hinggatut, and bangibang are samples of Ifugao native dances.
We must not fail to remember that we are already living in a modern world and so…gone are the days of the ancient. The Ifugaos have evolved to their present state and stage of acculturation. Education and outside cultural influences are steadily causing the abolition of the Ifugao traditional social classes as well as the direction or shift in societal values. The impact of education and Christianity has greatly changed and influenced the life and thinking of the ethnic Ifugao. Many
have embraced Christianity and adopted outside ways and practices.
The most apparent change among them is in their manner of dressing.
Now, even in the remote areas, only a few among the women wear the ampuyo or native skirt just as only some among the men use the g-string. Only during cultural feasts or ceremonies are these native attires worn. In addition, majority of the people have done away with or greatly minimized the performance of traditional rituals. Only sickness rituals are more often practiced now, even among the educated. Above all these reformations, an Ifugao should start to take up his positive birthright again and lead in the conservation of the legacy of his race. Now the Ifugaos are faced with the big challenge of protecting and maintaining its pride and bountiful heritage: Its legacy to the Filipino people and to the world.
The author is from Lagawe, Ifugao and has recently graduated salutatorian from Don Bosco High School. She has been working in school publications and joining press conferences since elementary. She was associate editor of her school's paper, Free Voice. She won first prize in news script writing (English broadcasting) in the 2007 Regional School's Press Conference in Bontoc. Prior to this, she participated in a National School's Press Confe-rence in Laguna after placing third in feature writing in a regional press conference in Abra.