The Ifugao - Native People

Learn all about the Ifugao culture - natives of the rice Terraces of the Phillipinnes.

You may not have heard of the Ifugao people of the Banaue area of the Phillipinnes, but you have quite likely seen their handiwork. For over a period spanning thousands of years, the Ifugao have labored to transform the precipitous mountain sides of their homeland into an amazing series of stepped rice terraces. In fact the rice terraces here are so plentiful that if they were placed end to end it has been estimated that they would stretch half way around the earth. Thousands of tourists come to visit rice terraces every year, yet few bother to learn about the Ifugao people who are responsible for their construction. These people occupy an area of about 900 square miles in the province of Ifugao. The Ifugao are part of a larger group that includes the Bontok and Kalinga peoples.

The Ifugao are made up of a number of sub group tribes. The most populace of these groups areas follows:

The Bunhian and

The Mayoyao, both of the Northeast

The Halipan of the Southeast

The Kiangan of the Southwest

The Banue of the Northwest

Kiangian is the name most frequently used by neighboring peoples to refer to the Ifugao in general.



The Ifugao have a language that changes from village to village. It is of Malayo-Polynesian derivation. Dialect and change of pronunciation can make it a real challenge to sustain a conversation between neighboring villagers. However, an official language dictionary has been produced.

The population of the Ifugao has been estimated at between sixty and one hundred thousand, with no recent census figures available. Villages are no more than small clusters of huts spaced between large areas of rice terraces. Travel between the villages is by foot, along the narrow footpaths along the edges of the terraces. Huts in the villages are on stilts four or five feet high. Strange looking discs are placed toward the top of each set of stilts. The purpose of these discs is to prevent rodents and other pests from getting up into the hut. The home has no window and a single room and doorway. To get into the house you must climb a ladder, which is pulled up at night.

The Ifugao have some customs and rituals that seem rather strange to the Western observer. In some areas, for instance they do not bury the dead. Instead they wrap them in cloth and hang them in trees where they drip during decomposition. Once the body has been reduced to a skeleton it is wrapped in what is called a death blanket and kept under the eaves of the hut. The Ifugao people also engage in elaborate rituals to appease their dead ancestors. Priests plead on behalf of the people to request the dead not to come back for their relatives. Animal sacrifices are also offered to appease these dead ones.

The Ifugao are a very industrious and friendly people. They are extremely courteous to visitors. The women will rise from their hard work in the rice paddies to greet newcomers. At the village they will present visitors with rice wine in a communal cup as a symbol of friendship. Many of the villagers have travelled and know about the outside world.

The main food eaten by the people comes from fishing, hunting and the collecting of insects. The people are not large eaters of wild plants. Nor do they indulge in the flesh of monkeys, although they do hunt this animal.

The economy of the Ifugao is sustained predominantly from agriculture. In fact 84 percent of the income is derived from this source. The remaining sixteen percent comes from the cultivation of aquatic fauna in the rice fields as well as fishing for such things as fish, eels, frogs and water clams. Hunting of deer, wild buffalo, pigs and snakes supplements the income. In previous generations the accepted method of exchange was barter. In more recent times, however, this has been replaced with rice and money. Main imports of the Ifugao are livestock, cotton, brass wire, crude steel and Chinese decorative items.

The Ifugao people generally practice a monogamous marriage relationship. Polygamy is, however, practiced among the wealthy in certain tribal groups. In these cases the first wife has higher status than her co-wives.

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