The province of Ifugao covers more than 22 000 km². And It is said that the terraces length, if put end to end, would encircle half of the globe. They exceed the height of the world’s tallest building if the vertical distance between top and bottom row are measured.
Built 2,000 years ago, the rice terraces were carved by the Ifugaos into the mountains bare hands to provide level steps where the natives can plant rice. They are irrigated by means of mountain streams and springs that have been tapped and channeled into canals that run downhill through the rice terraces.
The stone walled rice terraces were built by means of primitive tools and early methods in order to maximize the use of land space.
Ifugao culture revolves around rice, which is considered a prestige crop.
Agricultural terracing is their principal means of livelihood along with farming.
Their social status is measured by the number of rice field granaries, family heirlooms, gold earrings, carabaos (water buffaloes), as well as, prestige conferred through time and tradition.
Untouched by the influences of Spanish colonialism, Ifugao culture value kinship, family ties, religious and cultural beliefs.
Another feature unique to the Ifugao is their woodcarving art, most notably the carved granary guardians bului.
The Ifugaos literally live off the terraces. The rice terraces are maintained mostly by simple, organic means—carabao-pulled plows are the only technology that can make it through the winding mountain side paths. Farmers lay grain stalks in a nursery, letting the seedlings grow to about a foot or two in height. Afterwards, they’re planted by hand in clean rows, a back-breaking process, and tended until they acquire that golden yellow tone signaling they’re ripe for harvest.
In addition to rice, the prestige crop, large amounts of sweet potatoes are grown on hillside plots and form the staple diet of the poorer class. Pigs and chickens are also raised, primarily for their numerous rituals and sacrifices.
The name “Ifugao” is the Americanized term for “ipugo,” which literally means “from the hill.” That’s quite an understatement for a people thriving 1,500 meters above sea level. Another translation calls them “the middle people,” relative to the sky world, the underworld, and the upstream and downstream realms, the four supernatural spheres of Ifugao myth.
According to local newspapers, Ifugaos are nowadays caught in the middle of what to do in a changing world. The youth learn to farm, dance and pray from their elders. At the same time, they also have Facebook accounts.
“The Ifugaos today have their hearts in the past and their minds in the present, seeking a way to carry their legacy into the future”, says one of those press clippings.