Ifugao, Philippines — Last week, I joined PHILTOA and other members of the Media in a Weekend Warrior Heritage Caravan. In light of the upcoming Philippine Travel Mart 2012, PHILTOA has recently been intensifying its campaign for the conservation of heritage sites in the country trough Voluntourism.
On our second day, we had the pleasure of visiting Batad during their shortest season of the year, which they call Ahitulu. For Ifugao’s – Ahitulu is harvest, and it is during this season that the most important rituals take place. To be a part of this remarkable celebration is unlike anything I had experienced before.
In the middle of their rituals, we asked permission if we can visit some rice terraces to witness the actual harvesting of rice. It was another challenging trail. From uphill to downhill to stairs made of rock to mud, rock and paved rice paddies – no one complained from start to finish. The farmers are already done harvesting when we reached the area but we were able to see some locals transporting tinawon rice using a wooden stick.
Out of all the annual festivals and religious observances that happen in Ifugao, the Ahitulu rituals are the most widely celebrated, honored, and revered. The harvest takes place during June and July and it starts with the preparation of the granaries. Also during this time the villagers lay out the grain bundles and start the brewing of rice. The whole process takes about seven to ten days to complete.
What I found most amazing about these rituals and celebrations was the last phase of the ritual where the new rice crop is handled and must be continuously handled, until it is placed in the ground. Other fun and interesting parts of the Ahitulu rituals are participation in agricultural activities, the roasting of 3 pigs, rituals and rituals with plenty of drinking and eating.
I will warn you that the hardest part of the Ahitulu rituals of Batad in Ifugao is getting there. It’s my 6th time visiting this village and its always a challenge for me. It isn’t an easy trek to make. After a 45 minute hike to get to the village that sits like a bowl in the middle of a valley, I was pretty exhausted, but it was well worth it.
For the unfamiliar, Tourists come here to see the amazing rice terraces, created over 2000 years ago by hand. Just like everyone, I found them to be awe-inspiring and beautiful. And I’m not alone; in 1995 the terraces were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I found Ifugao people as warm, welcoming, and generous. They will greet you with a smile each time you see them and that’s what I like about the Ifugao tribe. They live in small tribal communities that are dotting along the landscape in remote villages. For the most part, they still live as their ancestors did.
They are skilled in wood carvings, weapons, and handwoven clothing and not much has changed in how they create these items for thousands of years.
Their lineage is completely connected to the rice crop, which is why it is no surprise that the Ahitulu rituals are so important. After several days of work and celebrating there is a day of rest, which is called tungo or tungul. During this time it is forbidden to do any agricultural work.
The food is amazing and the drinks are strong during the rituals. What I found most interested was chewing of moma, which is a mixture of herbs, powdered snail shell, and betel nut. This concoction is used as a type of chewing gum and is an important part of the Ahitulu ritual.
Up Next: Visiting Hungduan Rice Terraces