Cultural Overview

Ifugao culture has developed historically in relation to the ecological setting of the Ifugao mountainous landscape. Swidden agriculture and wet-rice cultivation on terraced mountainsides are the two main economic activities of Ifugao people, with approximately 75% laboring as farmers. Ifugao is known internationally for its grand rice terraces, which grace the steep mountainsides. The main staple crops produced are rice and root crops, usually sweet potato tubers. Vegetables are also cultivated on the swid-den fields, in and around the wet-rice fields, and, more recently, in Western-style home gardens. Farmers also raise fruit trees and plants, and gather wild fruit, vegetables, and insects in the forests for consumption. Agricultural labor is carried out by family groups, except during labor-intensive planting and harvesting periods when community-wide cooperative labor is reciprocated, or paid in kind with bundles of rice or cash. Historically, animals were hunted in the forests, though hunting is no longer viable as a significant source of food and income. Small-animal husbandry is an important source of protein. Ifugao farmers also manage family-owned forests. Other significant economic activities in the contemporary period are marketing, tourism-related employment, craft production, wage labor, and government employment. Many Ifugao people have migrated to areas outside the province and country to acquire land or gain more profitable employment.

Trade with upland, lowland, and coastal ethno-linguistic groups, as well as with Chinese and Japanese traders, has influenced Ifugao culture for several centuries. Ifugao relationships with upland and lowland groups also included periodic raids, involving headhunting and slave capturing expeditions—activities that were curtailed during the 20th century. The Ifugao area was contacted by the Spanish at least as early as the 18th century, and was visited more frequently by Spanish colonizers and missionaries beginning in the early 19 th century. Historically, while the Spanish had tried to penetrate and control Ifugao, as well as other upland territories in the Cordillera Mountain region, they were not highly successful (Conklin, 1980). This allowed for the Ifugao people's greater retention of indigenous beliefs, practices, and forms of social organization by the 20th century. American colonizers administered Ifugao for almost 40 years, beginning in 1903, and had an important impact on Ifugao culture, especially economics, political organization, religion, and education. Japanese soldiers occupied Ifugao during World War II. With national independence in 1946, Ifugao was integrated into the national economy and political culture.

Kinship in Ifugao is bilateral, and kinship relationships created out of consanguineal ties form the most important social bonds for Ifugao people. Other important social bonds are derived from friendship ties based on propinquity, patron-client relationships, and other debt relationships (Conklin, 1980). The nuclear family was historically the most basic and smallest social unit, averaging about six to eight members.

Further social organization was traditionally based on hamlets, which are clusters of homes located near agricultural fields. Irrigation groups managing irrigation systems within the hamlets are also important social groups in local communities. The largest recognized form of traditional social organization are agricultural districts, which are composed of several hamlets that center around the first rice field to have been cultivated in the district, usually owned by a traditionally wealthy person and leader, the tomona (Conklin, 1980). Today the Ifugao are also incorporated into the national system of political administration. A group of barangays are organized into municipalities. Ifugao Province, composed of 11 municipalities, is part of the Cordillera Autonomous Region, which administers Ifugao Province along with the national government.

Ifugao traditionally had no system of government, yet they developed an extensive set of laws that were based on taboo and custom and linked to the Ifugao religion. Legal procedures were carried out by and between families, usually with the assistance of a mediator, the monkalun (Barton, 1919/1969). The tomona continues to serve as a district agricultural leader. Historically, traditionally wealthy owners of wet-rice fields, or kadangyan, were considered to be community political and social leaders, who acquired their position through birthright, possession of property, and the performance of specified rituals (Scott, 1982; Brosius, 1988). Barangay captains, municipal mayors and councillors, and a provincial governor and board members make up the contemporary official leadership of the province. Today, the Ifugao are also subject to national and local government laws and judicial system.

Ifugao religion, baki, combines polytheism, mythology, magic, and animism. Religious beliefs and ritual are integrated into important aspects of everyday life. Ancestor worship is an integral part of the Ifugao religion, playing a central role in Ifugao religious ritual. Catholicism and Protestant religions have had a tremendous impact on Ifugao religious practice and beliefs, with 80% of Ifugaos identifying as Christian by the 1990s. However, most Christians still participate in Ifugao religious rituals.

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