Banaue Rice Terraces (Hagdang Palayan ng Banaue), Ifugo, Philippines
God and worship
Banau Rice Terrace image courtesy: wayfaring.info
Rice is a cereal grain and food to about half of the world’s population; but it is far more than a cereal to the ancient cultures who toiled to produce it. Rice was for them a life giver that equaled god. The hard labor they put in to produce it was worship that gave meaning to their lives. No part of this holy plant is left unused, grains eaten after boiling or powdered to make cookies of many sorts, its husk as fuel and straw used as cattle-feed and to make things like hats, bags etc. The water in which rice is boiled (rice soup) is a natural health drink. A local beer by name ‘saki’ is made out of rice that gives the rural folks their vigor to work such wonders!
The real hanging gardens
The terraced rice cultivation as such is not a novelty as the Bali Island has also got similar methods of farming; while those of Banaue are of extreme scale that stuns common sense. The Banaue Rice Terraces are examples to show to what extend man can go to produce food from the very earth where he lives; however hard the terrain is. A visitor need not wander and toil in the drab deserts to find the remnants of that once existed Hanging Garden of Babylon. Compared to these rice terraces that cling on tall mountains up to 3000 feet high producing paddy for the last 6000 years and still feeding its owners; that Babylon stuff was a child’s play!
Climbing up and down
Banau Rice Terrace image courtesy: terre.sans.frontiere.free
These innumerable terraces were built one by one from bottom to top and that too in the absence of any of the modern equipments was real work! Building the terraces is not enough; rice is a plant that deserves uninterrupted care like sowing, transplanting, watering, weeding, removal of pests (by hand picking), harvesting all had to be done climbing up and down so many terraces so many times.
Banau Rice Terrace image courtesy: letstravelphilippines.files.wordpress.com
It is calculated that a single mountain was modified to such a huge rice bowl taking about 2000 years. Then how many man-days spent on nurturing and up keeping them for the past 6000 years? Even the work of Pyramids of Egypt would not equal to these efforts. The real wonder is how a tribe living detached from the outside world gained these agricultural practices and the will power to pursue this farming!
Rice is a mono carpic annual plant belonging to the true grass family genus Oryza; species sativa (there is an African variety by name Oryza glaberrina). Rice can be cultivated in to tropical and sub tropical areas where there is large rainfall as it requires a lot of water. This plant grows when the field is flooded to a depth of 5 to 7 inches of water; so that weeds don’t pester it. It is this peculiarity that compelled the farmers to build terraces in many layers of the steep mountain slopes to keep the fields flooded. Rice plant is highly sensitive and requires constant care and attention.
Eighth wonder of the world
The magnitude of their work could be understood in one way; suppose these rice cultivated terraces are taken one by one and put end to end that chain will encircle the globe! Many sources claim these terraces as the eighth wonder of the world; considering the quantity of sweat that these farmers shed to ‘keep these fields up’ on the mountains naturally make the work more superb than many of the Seven Wonders of the World. The real greatness of the work is that it is not made for the pleasures of the royal members as the Forbidden City or Palace of Versailles but built by the tillers of the soil with their bare hands. Its real worth is that many generations survived on the food made out of these terraces on otherwise unproductive hill slops.
Who built these wonders?
Banau Rice Terrace image courtesy: joyful-ep.jp
To understand the architects behind these wonders we have to learn the brief history of Philippines which is an archipelagic country in the Southeast Asia comprising of about 7107 islands. These places were inhabited since pre historic times (50,000 years) and prior to the arrival of Europeans they led a pagan way of life worshipping spirits of ancestors. The ancestors of the Batad tribes who built these terraces remained cut off from the social changes that swept over Philippines during the past few centuries.
Present style; work for parents and rest for kids
Batad is a place (at present it is a 5th class municipality) in Philippines and these indigenous tribes living on the slopes of Ifugao Mountain got the name from the region. They were busy in producing food shedding sweat and living a contented life far away from history! The elder generations living in the Apayao and Benquest Mountain regions still stick to their old customs and life style (The younger generations as it is the case with every place is finding working on soil a bore; they prefer to serve visiting tourists instead).
A tribe and some spirits
They speak a crude form of Tagalong language (Modern Tagalong is popular language of Philippines while English and Filipino are the official languages. They believe that a dead person needs three days to get accommodated in the ‘new place’ so that they hang the body on the thatched roof for three days and after ceremoniously take out the bones and keep them on the attic as a sacred possession. They are staunch believers of the power of spirits and sacrifice three chickens or a full pig to please them if they show the signs of any anger (by spreading diseases or making drought or untimely death of its members).
How to get there?
This location is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site and remains as a major tourisst attraction. Banaue is a 4th class municipality in the Ifugao Province in the Northern Philippines; the road from Manila the capital of Philippines. The road from Manila snakes in through the mountain slopes and rice terraces to end at Banaue. At present the terraces are not well maintained due to indifference of the young for hard work and there are cracks in many places which need urgent repairs. Manpower and resource shortages stand in the way of the poor villagers from keeping them in shape. If urgent measures are not taken by the Governments it is possible that these manmade wonders may become a thing of the past.