Adventure: The Ifugao Tribe

This is the land of the Ifugao and they are amazing. Not only are they masters of irrigation — hence the rice terraces — but they are artisans with everything they touch: beautiful carvings, advanced and creative basket weaving, and their design work solves problems beautifully: housing, caskets, baskets, terraces, irrigation & running water systems, dealing with pests, keeping things organic, growing anything, raising animals, and making things sturdy yet modular. They are the first of the hill tribes to use utensils for eating (each person carving and having their own spoon) and developed genius designs for baskets that serve a slew of purposes — from backpacks and fish-trapping baskets, to harvesting baskets that double as umbrellas, and layered baskets that sift and collect different materials. Seriously, their baskets are amazing.

Historically, the Ifugao also used tattoos for a few different purposes. While tattoos were used to signify events, accomplishments, and status, they were predominantly used to identify dead bodies. Since the hill tribes were headhunters until some time in the 1960s, identifying someone by their face wasn’t always possible.

Fine jewelry artisans, the Ifugao used bones, shells, handmade beads, beads from Asian traders, carvings, and weaving to make beautiful adornments used as status/tribe symbols and ceremonial dress.

Even mining and metalwork were crafted with care. From fashioning their own blades (machetes, spears, etc.) to including decorative metalwork on spears, shields, jewelry, etc.

The way the Ifugao bury their dead is very interesting. If you’re wealthy, you can have a casket carved — these are kept above ground and fashioned into benches that are placed underneath the house, so “Uncle Dave” is chilling out, sitting cross-legged (not laying down), inside of the bench, and this is where you can hang out, receive guests, etc. The size of the bench is a sign of affluence, too. Of course, you have to have all your neighbors over and host a feast to break-in the casket/bench, so this is a fairly pricey undertaking. Alternatively, you can bury your dead, then dig up the bones later (6 years, I think?), clean them up, re-wrap them and return them to their grave as a celebration of life after death (and a continuation of care for one’s family),… then do it again in another 6 years. Depending on how they died, you may or may not want to employ a death chair, but I’m unclear on the specifics of when you do/don’t use one, so I’d consult someone before doing so. Either way, the rituals around laying one’s people to rest are intriguing.

I believe I’ve saved the best for last, though: the Ifugao houses. The Ifugao designed extremely sturdy houses that are raised off the ground… and don’t use any fasteners, making these houses completely modular. A small group can dismantle, relocate, and reconstruct a house in about a day — which is remarkable — but the design elements are just as impressive. In order to prevent rodents and pests from getting into the house, large disks are located on each of the four house posts. Since rats cannot scale something while upside down that is completely horizontal, they cannot get around the disks to continue up into the house. The main living area is where everything happens. Pulling down the movable ladder, you enter a room that is square at the floor and round where it meets the thatch roof. Eating, cooking, and sleeping are all done in this space. In the top of this single room, however, is a loft area where food and belongings are kept. What’s remarkable about this is how most caretaking can be carried out passively because of this design. The rice baskets, fresh fish, and utensils are all stored above where the cooking takes place, allowing the smoke to dry, season, and sterilize the things kept in the loft. At the same time, the thatch roof keeps water out, but allows the smoke to escape, so those inside the house are kept dry and safe from smoke inhalation. Simple. Brilliant.

I’m fascinated by what’s been accomplished by using what’s available.


Where to now?