D117 . Dec 26 . The Ifugao Rice Terraces

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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. 

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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.

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The stone walled rice terraces were built by means of primitive tools and early methods in order to maximize the use of land space.

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Ifugao culture revolves around rice, which is considered a prestige crop.

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Agricultural terracing is their principal means of livelihood along with farming.

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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.

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Untouched by the influences of Spanish colonialism, Ifugao culture value kinship, family ties, religious and cultural beliefs.

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Another feature unique to the Ifugao is their woodcarving art, most notably the carved granary guardians bului.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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D116 . Dec 25 . Christmas in Banaue, people I met

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Hubert, 29, born and raised in Batad. Chewing a bethel nut makes his lips ochre.
Appetite suppressant and stimulating, Betel has also a heady effect on brain. Indeed, yesterday, all the young men we met seemed to be high ! A double dose for Christmas ?

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We met those two when we were walking across the Batad rice terraces. I was intrigued that they were speaking English together, so I asked them why. They are Malaysians and were raised when Malaysia was still a British colony. Even today they are still more comfortable speaking English than their local language, which was only reintroduced in Malaysian schools in the 1970′.
They have moved in the Philippines seven years ago but she misses her culture and food :
“The food here is sweet, even the Spaghetti sauce is sweet, what food is that ?” did she explain.
She works for the Adventist church. At the beginning, I though she was working for Aventis, the pharmaceutical lab, so of course it resulted in some misunderstanding. As I was asking questions about the adventist practices, she wanted to know to what religion I was belonging. But i know from experience that people here do not understand that you can have none. The risk of saying I am a catholic would have been that she could have asked questions on the catholic Christmas, whereas I don’t know much beyond Santa Claus. So I said I was a Jew.
the husband reaction – a teacher in Junior High – was kind of surprising :
“Oh, you are the chosen ones, how lucky you are”. He was amazingly excited. I guess they don’t meet many Jews in that part of the world. “You know, all religions come from yours, you must be very proud, I wish i could go to Jerusalem once”…

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This is Candida. Back to Banaue, we visited a museum dedicated to the Ifugao culture, the people from North Luzon (Luzon being the Manilla island). After this fascinating visit, we were kind of hungry, and went directly to the nice terrace behind the museum, with many tables and Christmas lights.
But it was somebody’s  place ! Two ladies were storing spare food from Christmas into tupperwares and aluminium foil. “Come and have some food” one of them said. “At least have some coffee”. And so we did.
I had pork ribs, stuffed turkey, ratatouille, sweet potato salad, cinnamon cake, and a cappuccino. This was so unexpected !!! a family christmas turkey here !!!

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While I was refilling my plate again and again, I still found the time to question her about her life. Last year, she was still living in Samar, one of the island the most hit my the recent typhoon. So she had to leave her island and settled here. A few months after the disaster, she drove 64 hours to go back to samar. “But even with money”, did she explain, “you couldn’t buy a damn thing. So I left for ever”.
But why did she choose to settle in Banaue ? “We had our museum here”, so we erected an house next to it”.
Their museum ??? Yes. In Manilla, her husband was selling antics. When he retired, he created a museum with left pieces. When their Manilla lease expired, they decided to move their Ifugao museum to Banaue.
Then I tried to know why she was speaking so good English. “I lived 31 years in Vancouver, I was a nurse. My husband is American, he is a doctor”. So. They worked in Canada and then moved to Manilla and opened their antics shop. Waouh.

I invited us to Paris, where she has already been, of course. She invited me to come to visit her in Vancouver next time. So I guess the couple is now splitting time between the two countries. “Give me five” I said, “we have a deal”.

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