Last Updated: March 22nd, 2018
With its breathtaking views and the hospitable indigenous Ifugao farmers who maintain this cultural landscape, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras is one that we have learned to appreciate from the time we opened our Sibika at Kultura textbooks in grade school. In describing this magnificent historical landmark, UNESCO underscored how the Ifugao Rice Terraces “epitomize the absolute blending of the physical, socio-cultural, economic, religious, and political environment” and how it represents “an enduring illustration of an ancient civilization that surpassed various challenges and setbacks posed by modernization.”
There are five rice terraces in the province of Ifugao that is officially recognized by UNESCO as part of the Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras. Two are located in Banaue while the rest are located in the municipalities of Mayoyao, Hungduan, and Kiangan:
- Batad Rice Terraces (Banaue)
- Bangaan Rice Terraces (Banaue)
- Mayoyao Rice Terraces (Mayoyao)
- Hungduan Rice Terraces (Hungduan)
- Nagacadan Rice Terraces (Kiangan)
It is also recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as one of the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Sites in the Asia Pacific Region. Among those that were recognized include the Saffron Heritage of Kashmir, India, the Traditional Wasabi Cultivation in Shizuoka, Japan, the Traditional Gudeuljang Irrigated Rice Terraces in Cheongsando, South Korea, and the Hani Rice Terraces in Yunnan, China.
Contrary to popular belief, the Banaue Rice Terraces in the center of Banaue and prominently displayed in the twenty-peso banknote is not part of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras as recognized by UNESCO.
In 1973, the Ifugao Rice Terraces (which includes Banaue Rice Terraces) was recognized by the Philippine Government as a National Cultural Treasure by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 260.
In the early 20th century, American anthropologist H. Otley Beyer, considered by many as the Father of Philippine Anthropology estimated the rice terraces in the province of Ifugao to be 2,000 years old. Recent studies, however, disputes the initial estimate and the rice terraces are said to be less than 1,000 years-old and was built close to 1565 or 1585 during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. While all information must be taken with a grain of salt, this still does not diminish the importance and cultural heritage of the Rice Terraces to the lives of the Ifugaos and the people of the Cordilleras.
In its 2000 and 2010 World Monuments Watchlist, the New York-based World Monuments Fund included the Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras in its list of cultural heritage sites that were at risk. From the 97 sites in its list, three were located in the Philippines: The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, the Baroque Spanish-era church of Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur, and the Gothic, All-Steel Church of San Sebastian in Quiapo, Manila.
In 2012, the Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras was finally removed from their list after conservation efforts were done by the international community, the private sector, and the Philippine government. Starting 2010, revenues from a new hydropower plant donated by the international community would sustain a fund for the conservation of the rice terraces. And in 2012, the Department of Agriculture allocated PHP 30 Million to reverse the effects of years of erosion.
Originally proclaimed in 2008 and later inscribed in 2008, the Hudhud chants of the Ifugao community was also recognized by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The chants performed by the Ifugao community are usually performed during the rice sowing season, harvest time, and at funeral wakes and rituals and may last several days. It comprises of more than 200 chants, each divided into 40 episodes and tells about the ancestral heroes, customary law, religious beliefs, and traditional practices which reflects the importance of rice cultivation.
Knowing full well of the risks of changing values, environmental factors, and unregulated development, the province of Ifugao must learn to leverage its growing tourism sector to help protect and preserve the beauty of the Ifugao Rice Terraces for future generations.
The Manila Project
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