Banaue Rice Terraces

Baguio Banaue Rice Terraces

  • The mountain rice terraces at Banaue, Ifugao Province, Cordillera Region, Luzon Island in North Central Luzon are a World Heritage Site inscribed by UNESCO in 1995, and are commonly referred to as the ‘’ Eigth Wonder of the World ‘’.
  • The terraces were built over 2,000 years ago for rice production by the Ifugao tribes who first migrated to The Philippines from Taiwan. They are renowned in that for 2000 years they have successfully contoured the mountains in harmony between humankind and the environment. The terraces are situated 1500 meters above sea level [ 5,000 feet ] and cover an area of approximately 4000 square miles  [ 10,500 square kilometers ].
  • The Terraces are located in more than one location. The Banaue Terraces are the more famous but equally important are similar terraces to be seen at nearby, Battad, Mayoyao, Hapao and Kiangan. The terraces capture and manage water from the higher natural forests. The water is held and efficiently managed to maximum advantage for rice production by the Ifugao people..

  • The Battad Terraces are at Barangay Battad in Banaue some 12 kilometers from Banaue.
  • The Mayoyao Terrace Clusters are also at Banaue, some 44 kilometers from Poblacion. The Hapao Terrace Clusters are in the  municipality of Hungduan some 55 kilometers from the capital Hungduan. These  are distinguished by their stone wall supporting terraces. Here also are the Napulawan Terraces. The Kiangan Terraces , Nagacadan, contain the large terraces called ‘’ Julungan and Nagadan ‘'. The excursion to these Terraces from Manila is 9 to 10 hours each way and requires a stay of several nights. A good example of the Ifugao village mongst the terraces can be seen at Bangaan Rice Terraces from Poblacion.
  • These are the famous tiered amphi-theatre styled terraces. The Mayoyao Terraces are at Mayoyao which is in the center of many astonishing views. Here the dikes are tiered with stones and here native wild rice is grown. This wild rice is either red or white and is called ‘’ Tinawon ‘’.
THE WORLD HERITAGE LISTS the '' Rice Terraces '' as

1 The Rice Terrace Clusters of Banaue: Battad and Bangaan
2 The Rice Terrace Clusters of Mayoyao: Mayoyao Central
3 The Rice Terrace Clusters of Kiangan: Nagacadan
4 The Rice Terrace Clusters of Hungduan

  • The rice terraces of the Philippines Cordilleras are an unmistakable example of a landscape resulting from the combined works of nature and man, illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of physical constraints presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces. The four Clusters presented in this nomination are the best surviving examples of tribal management still in practice. Traditional Methods are used in the maintenance of environmental balance, the buffer zone of private forests ringing the terrace group, the terraces themselves, the villages, and the sacred groves. The cultural practices of the tribes remaining within these clusters reinforce the traditional maintenance methods. The rice terraces are an expression of the Ifugao’s mastery of the watershed ecology and terrace engineering. It is also a complex farming system consisting not only of the terrace ponds but also the swidden farms and the muyongs ( private forests ). All these components of the terrace systems must be taken together if the rice terraces are to be conserved and maintained. the organically evolved landscape which results from an initial social, economic, administrative and or religious imperative and has developed its present form by association with and in response to its natural environment . . . a continuing landscape is one which retains an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life, and in which the evolutionary process is still in progress. At the same time, it exhibits significant material evidence of its evolution over time.”

'' History
  • The rice terraces of the Cordilieras are the only monuments in the Philippines that show no evidence of having been influenced by colonial cultures. Owing to the difficult terrain, the Cordillera tribes are among the few  peoples of the Philippines who have successfully resisted any foreign domination and have preserved their authentic tribal culture. The history of the terraces is intertwined with that of its people, their culture, and their traditional practices.
  • The terraces, which spread over five present-day provinces, are the only form of stone construction from the pre-colonial period. The Philippines alone among south-east Asian cultures is a wholly wood-based one: unlike Cambodia, Indonesia, or Thailand, for example, in the Philippines both domestic buildings and ritual structures such as temples and shrines were all built in wood, a tradition that has survived in the terrace hamlets. It is believed that terracing began in the Cordilleras some two thousand years ago, though scholars are  not in agreement about the original purpose for which it was employed. It is evidence of a high level of knowledge of structural and hydraulic engineering on the part of those who built the terraces. The knowledge and practices, supported by rituals, involved in maintaining the terraces are transferred orally from generation to generation, without written records. Taro was the first crop when they began to be used for agriculture, later to be replaced by rice, which is the predominant crop today.

  • The terraces are situated at altitudes between 700 and 1500 m above sea-level and are spread over most of the 20,000 km land area covered by the provinces of Kalinga Apayao, Abra, the Mountain Province, Ifugao, and Benguet. The population density of the region is 100 to 250 inhabitants per square kilometer. The nomination covers four clusters of the best preserved terraces in the region. Each cluster still remains complete, with its basic elements of a buffer ring of private forests ( muyong ), terraces, village, and sacred grove.
  • Terraced rice fields are not uncommon in Asia. To contain the water needed for rice cultivation within the paddies, even gently rolling terrain must be terraced with stone or mud walls. High altitude paddies must be kept wet and have to rely upon a man made water collecting system. The principal differences between the Philippines terraces and those elsewhere are their higher altitude and the steeper slopes ( 70’ maximum as compared with 40’ maximum in Bali ). The high altitude cultivation is based on the use of a special strain of rice, which germinates under freezing conditions and grows chest high, with non shattering panicals, to facilitate harvesting on slopes that are too steep to permit the use of animals or machinery of any kind. The construction of the terraces is carried out with great care and precision. A course of marker stones is first laid out on a concave slope, backed by heavy broken gravel fill set into cuts into the natural slope to prevent slippage. As each course of dry stone walling is added, the level of fill is raised. An underground conduit is placed within the fill for drainage purposes, when the level of fill reaches within a meter or so of the desired height, a layer of hard-packed earth is laid down on the gravel fill, as the base of the 20 to 30 cm of soft, thorough worked clayey topsoil. The stone walling is on average about 2 m high, though some walls may rise to as high as 6 m.
  • The groups of terraces blanket the mountainsides, following their contours. Above them, rising to the mountain-tops, is the ring of private woods ( muyong ), which are intensively managed in conformity with traditional tribal practices. These recognize the existence of a total ecosystem which assures an adequate water supply to keep the terraces flooded. water is equitably shared, and no single terrace obstructs the flow of water on its way down to the next terrace below. There is a complex system, of dams, sluices, channels, and bamboo pipes, communally maintained, which drain into a stream at the bottom of the valley. The villages or hamlets are associated with groups of terraces, and consist of groups of single family tribal dwellings which architecturally reproduce the people’s spatial interpretation of their mountain environment. A steep pitched thatched pyramidal roof covers a wooden one-room dwelling, raised above the ground on four posts and reached by a ladder which is pulled up at night. Clusters of dwellings form small hamlets of interrelated families, with a centrally located ritual rice field as their focus. This is the first parcel to be planted or harvested; its owners make all the agricultural decisions for the community, manage its primary ritual, which includes a granary housing carved wooden gods, and the basket reliquary in which portions of consecrated sacrifices from all agricultural ceremonial rites are kept. A short distance from the cluster of dwellings is the ritual hill, usually marked by a grove of sacred betel trees round a hut or open shed where the holy men ( mumbaki ) live and carry out traditional rites.

Legal status
  • Individual terraces are privately owned and protected through the ancestral rights concept of ownership. Ownership is rigorously enforced by tribal law, which is administered by mumbaki ( holy men ). Ownership of terraces and muyong ( private forest ) can only be transferred to next of kin by inheritance. The rice terraces were declared National Treasures in Presidential Decrees

Conservation history
  • The concept of conservation is hardly applicable in the case of the Philippines rice terraces, since they have been at the core of the socio economic structure of the peoples of the region for the past two millennia. It is only in the later decades of the 20th century that the social equilibrium of these communities has become profoundly threatened. Some terrace clusters continue to be impeccably worked and maintained, many are being abandoned and left to decay. The successful Christianization campaign of the 1950s brought to an end immemorial Pagan tribal practices and rituals that are essential to maintaining the human commitment to balance nature and man in the landscape. Today only the older generations remain to work on the terraces and the agricultural workforce is inadequate. The economic circumstances of all but the most affluent terrace owners do not permit them to hire additional workers. The fragrant terrace grown tinawon rice is now a status symbol, served on special occasions and low land rice is purchased for everyday consumption.
  • The environment has also been severely damaged bv deforestation, and as a result streams have run dry, massive earthquakes have also changed the locations of water sources. As a result terrace dams have had to be moved and the water distribution system re-routed. In the past attempts to preserve terrace economies have been made sporadically, but have focused on single factors from the complex of interacting factors involved, and as a result have had little, if any, positive impact. The new Master Plan that went into effect at the beginning of 1995 under the guidance of the lfugao Terraces Commission is the first to adopt a holistic approach.

  • As with the concept of conservation, authenticity is not a factor that can be called into question with the Philippines rice terraces. They can function only the direct result of the achievement of a delicate balance between a wide range of factors - climatic, geographical, ecological, agronomic, ethnographic, religious, social, economic, political etc. Once these are disturbed the whole system begins to collapse, but so long as they all operate together harmoniously, as they have over two millennia, the authenticity is total. The authenticity of the four areas is so far intact.

Culture and its Terraced Qualities
  • The terraces are of great significance in that they are outstanding examples of landscapes devoted exclusively to one of the three staple crops that cover most of the world, rice, wheat, and maize. Rice productionn falls essentially into two main groups, high-altitude and low-level production. The Philippines terraces are outstanding examples of the former group. They also illustrate a remarkable continuity, since archaeological evidence reveals that this technique has been in use in the region for some two thousand years, virtually unchanged. The social, religious and economic structures within which they have operated successfully for that period are still in place, especially in the areas that are the subject of the nomination, although under intensive threat from 20th century development. The rice terraces of the Cordilleras are of special interest as an example of sustainable land use in steep, mountainous terrain, involving protection of the watershed forests, careful use of water, extensive soil conservation, and development of cultivation suited to the conditions. The near-total absence of chemicals in rice production is an added feature. That this system has endured over two millennia is remarkable, it offers many Iessons for application in similar natural environments elsewhere.
  • The rice terraces of the Philippine Cordillera are outstanding examples of living cultural landscapes devoted to the production of one of the world’s most important staple crops, rice. They preserve traditional techniques and forms dating back many centuries, but which are still viable today. At the same time they illustrate a remarkable degree of harmony between humankind and the natural environment of great aesthetic appeal, as well as demonstrating sustainable farming systems in mountainous terrain, based on a careful use of natural resources.''

Ifugao man in traditional costume Luzon The Philippines

Ifugao Rice God

Ifugao Sacrificial Statues