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A visit to Igorots

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Written by   10
2 years ago

It's early afternoon that my wife and I board a comfortable, air-conditioned bus and sink into the plush, padded seats to anticipate our unique vacation. We are about to visit the Igorotians who have largely opposed the intrusion of foreign influences into their culture. They live in the mountainous provinces of northern Luzon.

Igorotos are of Malaysian descent, of medium height, strong, dark skinned and straight black hair. What is remarkable about these people is that over the centuries, with only hand tools and a lot of hard work, they have turned an entire valley into the largest rice terraces in the world.

On the way to Igorots, we will cycle for five hours through the picturesque central plain of Luzon with its many towns and rice fields before reaching Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines. The cold weather here is a welcome relief from the heat and humidity in Manila.

The next morning we got up early so as not to miss the bus to Banaue at 5.30am. Even though we got to the station half an hour earlier, much to our disappointment the bus was full. But the Filipinos are hospitable and soon a passenger walks up to the others who begin to kneel the little sleepers and spread the vegetables to leave us space. A man with a smiling face helps us to stand up.

The bus is shorter than other buses, looks more like a truck, and feels like it was built to be more sturdy than comfortable. It's completely open on one side, with wooden benches running across the width, but quite comfortable despite its spartan look. To protect you from wind and rain, there are colorful tarpaulins that can be folded down.

Although it is only about 700 km from Baguio to Banaue, our trip takes nine hours due to the winding mountain roads that take us through the clouds at elevations of over 7,000 feet. As we leave the mountains, an orange-yellow sunrise colors the sky and we see the morning mist hovering just under the canopy of tall pines.

Igorot customs and lifestyle

Closer to the town of Bontoc, we started to observe the Igoroths. Men wear a colorful loincloth called an early, commonly known as a thong. They also wear a round hat with a flat top which is used for pocket pockets.

Women wear a skirt made of a thick, colorful handcrafted fabric called a rug. It is predominantly red with yellow, white, green and black horizontal stripes. The tapestry is held in place by a 20cm wide belt which is woven with a thick rope called a carpet. Most of the women we see wear white blouses, but some women are seen in the cities.

Along the way, we see women carrying their babies in a blanket tied on their back or on the side. Girls also carry their siblings with bundles on their heads! When our bus pulls up, I ask a girl if I can pick up the package, and to my surprise, it weighs more than my loaded suitcase. However, she graciously takes it and wears it on her head!

Bontoc is the capital of the mountain province. Here the Igoroten live in a modern city in a concrete house with electricity and running water. Across the river, in the village of Samoki, others have lived like their ancestors for hundreds of years.

When we drive here with our travel companion and our interpreter, we find that he speaks to everyone he sees. We learn that Igorotians almost always greet people they meet in the street, mention where they are going and invite as a friendly gesture those who greet them. However, they are not expected to join the person offering the greeting.

We have noticed that many Igorot women have tattoos on their arms. “It's a mark of beauty,” explains our guide, “and it's worth fifteen years”.

I ask him, "How do you know when you're fifteen if you don't keep your birth certificates?"

"They estimate age the first time they fall in love with a young man," is the answer.

Courtship, marriage and work

We learned that Igorot's advertising habits are the most original and interesting. In the village there is a Ulog or Ag-Gam, a thatched cottage where girls of marriageable age sleep at night. A young man who is interested in getting married approaches the girl of his choice on Ulog and asks her to marry him. This may be the couple's first conversation.

If the proposal is accepted, the next step is to visit the girl's parents with a pig as a gift. This pig is killed and the bile is examined. If it is acceptable, the couple is engaged. A second pig follows. If your bile is acceptable, the marriage is official. Gall, who is in poor condition, is believed to explain that the marriage will not be blessed. Follow a wedding party with lots of food and dancing.

However, the marriage is still subject to bile status in a third pig, which must be slaughtered after the rice harvest. Unacceptable bile cancels marriage.

The workload in an Igorot family is divided in half between husband and wife. One day the man plows the field while the woman takes care of the house. Then the man takes care of the house while the woman spends the day in the fields planting and cultivating.

Igorot's house

We continued our bus journey and finally reached our destination, Banaue, where we arranged to spend quality time with a family in their Igorot cottage.

It is already dark when we arrive and we start our 30 minute walk to our accommodation. With a torch we climbed the rough chiseled stairs on the vertical side of a giant block along the road. Once at the top, we followed the flashlight of the flashlight along the narrow edge of a 20-meter-high rice terrace and walked carefully, trying to balance on a ten-inch-wide path. Soon we come to a narrow but deep canyon. We are advised not to look down during a meter jump. It's amazing to think this is the easiest way to get close to your house!

We finally came to a small clearing on the side of the mountain. In the light of the moon we see a small cottage, maybe 2.5 meters high and 2 meters wide. As soon as we catch our breath, a smiling old man comes out to invite us.

Once inside, we discover that there are no windows, just a small hole in the ceiling above the fire burning in the corner. The only other light source is a small oil lamp made of a jam jar and a piece of string. There are no tables or chairs, just a small rug made of narrow bamboo sticks called a bilaw and placed on the floor. It is used to sit, as a dining table and, as we will see later, as a bed.

As it is still early in the evening, our host Pedro Kindajan tells how he built this cottage during the Japanese occupation, which explains why it is so difficult to get there. Emphasize that the walls are made of bilav and that the thatched roof is an herb called goloon. A supply of wood is placed on shelves over the fire and dries when it absorbs the smoke.

Our conversation continues until 20:30, bedtime, as the day begins early for the Igorots. A small, thin mattress is spread out and the mattress we are sitting on immediately becomes a bed. Contrary to what you may think, it is very affordable. Our host and his family sleep in other cottages he has on his property.

worth a visit

The new day begins before dawn. During the preparation of breakfast, we will wash ourselves. Breakfast consists of boiled chicken eggs, baked sweet potatoes and coffee. I spend part of the morning with Pedro Kindajan who takes care of his daily chores including feeding the ducks, chickens and pigs.

Pedro points to a freshly plowed hill above the valley and says he will plant kamot and rice up there on one of the terraces below. Here, I see for the first time huge rice terraces in Banaue!

To the east, north and west, as far as the eye can see, there are green rice terraces over green terraced rice fields. They stretch from the base of the mountain to the top. There are over fifty terraces on one side of the mountain. These terraces cover an area of ​​approximately 250 square kilometers and, if placed last, would extend for a distance of approximately 14,000 miles. Of all the wonderful accomplishments of all, these terraces are the most impressive I have ever seen. It amazes the imagination to believe that they were built with simple hand tools and without the aid of modern technology.

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