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Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras - Rice paddies carved into precipitous mountains

Interesting Facts about Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras (28 May)

FOR MORE THAN 2,000 years, Ifugao farmers—who just a century ago were engaged in the fearsome practice of headhunting—have tended rice terraces carved into the steep slopes of the remote, rugged Philippine Cordilleras. On the island of Luzon, these mountainside rice fields represent an ingenious and ancient collaboration of man and nature. The paddies were never intended for commerce or profit; to this day they simply feed the locals, who work hard to cultivate them so they can eat.
Following the natural contours of the region’s hills—some slope at an angle of 70 degrees—the terraces were carved by hand, and then fixed with stone or mud walls. So precipitous and ordered are the paddies that from certain angles, they resemble the architecturally precise tiers of a Maya temple. An intricate irrigation system channels water from mountaintop rain forests to the stepped pond fields. It is a system so effective that after two millennia, it remains substantively the same, though earthquakes have required the water system to be periodically rerouted.
Communal knowledge of everything from lunar cycles, to pest control, to soil conservation has been passed orally from one generation of Ifugao people to the next. And another thing every generation learns—rice cultivation is backbreaking work. A popular Filipino folk song says: “Planting rice is never fun, / Bent from morn till set of sun. / Cannot stand and cannot sit, / Cannot rest a little bit.”
But the significance of the rice paddies goes even beyond their beauty and function. They represent an ancient cultural identity that is still essential to modern Ifugao people. Twelve colorful agrarian rituals throughout the year celebrate various stages of rice production, and they culminate with postharvest rituals that incorporate dancing, traditional games, and native dress.
The rice terraces cover an expansive area in the Philippine Cordillera mountain range, but five clusters are included in a UNESCO World Heritage site: Batad, Bangaan, Mayoyao, Hungduan, and Nagacadan. Of these, Batad is the most famous, with a tiny village situated at the base of a dramatic bowl of terraces. Both the steep terraces and village are remote, and accessible only by foot. Rivaling Batad’s charm, the sprawling Mayoyao terraces are sprinkled with traditional farmers’ houses, or bale. Surrounding villages, including Pula and Kambulo, have their own striking paddies. Visitors are free to wander the steep, often harrowing paths that meander through the terraces. This is by far the best way to see this ancient landscape—and sturdy walking shoes and at least a moderate level of fitness are advised.

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