Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ifugao Life for a Day

Kuya Donato hanging the ladder of the hut
Hut no. 3 in Ramon's Home-stay
Ever since I studied history of architecture back in college, I have been intrigued by mountain culture. The Ifugao house stood out for me among the Philippine houses discussed by our professors. There were certain occasions when I came across replicas.  And even though I have a standing fascination for the simple architecture I did not fully appreciate the intention of its design till I actually slept in one.

Some houses have eye-sore GI metal roof
Student Faye in Igorot costume
The last time I was in Banawe, I did not get the chance to stand even near an authentic Ifugao hut. So this time, even if our Batad stint was short, I did not pass on the opportunity to stay in a real Ifugao household. We were luckily hosted in Mang Ramon's homestay which had 4 authentic Ifugao houses. It will be the Miriam college ladies' home for the day. All of us teachers were assigned to another house four flights of stairs away from Mang Ramon's. I was already excited by the prospects of sleeping - Ifugao style.

You could keep poultry below house
Pounding rice at ground level
A typical Ifugao house is simple.  What you instantly see is a pyramidal roof made of cogon.  The house frame, built entirely of natural materials, is hidden underneath the thick cogon pile, stilted on four wooden posts.  Elevating on stilts creates an open space below the house where the owner could do chores and receive guests.  A detachable ladder is the only access to the raised areas.  The ladder would have to be hung at night time to prevent vermin from entering the upper levels.  The posts also have disc-like parts which deter rats and mice from climbing the posts and entering the upper level. The raised room is simply an open area used for sleeping and cooking.  On top of a small fire place is a storage level where they stack sacks of their harvested rice (because most Ifugaos are farmers, farming the rice terraces). The heat from the cooking area warms up the whole room and at the same time dries up the rice for longer life. 
The collected skulls of animals underneath the eaves of the antique Ifugao house
The ladder to the enclosed room 
The cozy sleeping area with small fire place
One of the houses where the Miriam ladies slept in could be considered an antique.  Mang Ramon bought it from another Ifugao family and transferred it to his lot.  It was adorned with a lot of items, including the skulls and bones of different animals killed and hunted by the clan.  Mang Ramon said the bones are traditionally hung to signify the wealth of a particular family and to drive away evil spirits wanting to enter the premises.  

Prof. Rosel with Mang Ramon
The house I stayed in is owned by Mang Ramon's cousin, Kuya Donato.  He is a skillful craftsman who constructs other Ifugao houses.  His hut is lovely and cozy, adorned with a lot of carvings and wood items, all made by him. The house fitted 3 sleeping areas and a fireplace where Mang Donato created a small fire in the cold morning. The bulol and other sculptures were finer and different from the ones sold at Banawe souvenir shops.
The Miriam college profs' breakfast with a view
Biko and omelet - Ifugao style
Sugar jar is even authentic
Our stay in the huts was very pleasant, especially because we woke up to fresh cool mountain air and a breakfast of fresh brewed Ifugao coffee, rice biko and omelet. The sleep was truly rejuvenating, much more  because I got a soothing massage from a local named Mang Vincent the previous night. The memorable breakfast was heightened with the dynamic sunrise view of the Batad rice terraces - 20 years of wait made well worth the short experience. It is official, I am enamored with this mountain culture!

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