When we arrived on a cold and drizzly mid-morning from an 8-hour bus ride in Banaue there was no postcard view of the world-famous rice terraces. At 4,000 feet, all we could see was the thick white fog covering the engineering marvel of the ancient Ifugaos. The itinerary set for us like touring Banga-an, Poitan, Hungduan, Matang-lab and trekking down Batad have to been cancelled because of the heavy rains.
The rains kept us indoors most of the time. But the best part of our stay in Banaue was spent touring its two museums, finding shelter in a woodcarver’s home, and ogling at the sooty tribal artifacts cramped in a dark pyramidal granary house on stilts.
That incessant downpour was a clever introduction for day one of our week-long tour to the Cordilleras. According to a legend, the land used to be a vast plain where primeval man Wigan rarely hunts down enough game to feed himself and his wife Bugan.
The chief god Montalug took pity on Wigan. To help him, Montalug sent a deluge of rain for several days to flood the flat region. As flood waters reached the sea, the force of the current caused the single plain to rise, forming the soaring mountain range we call today the Grand Cordilleras of Luzon. From then on, Wigan hunted and trapped wild boar and deer with ease. Basing it from the legend, the best things happen when it rains in Banaue.
From the national road, we climbed down to the town proper. We were led to the tourists information center where we were advised to stay in one of the inns and remain hopeful that the rain would stop so we could continue with our tour. Rain just kept pouring for the next hours.
It was a Saturday, but no sight of the weekend market except for a solitary stall selling dried tabacco leaves. We were told that the vendors pack up their wares when it rains in Banaue.
Over a hearty breakfast of tocino, longganisa and hot native chocolate, we meet Susan Parades, owner of the quaint and cozy Sanafe Lodge and Restaurant. She told the same thing we learned from the tourism folks at the information center that we will not see anything from the viewdecks because clouds roll down the terraces when it rains in Banaue.
Veering away from our plan, we took Susan’s suggestion of visiting the two museums as an alternative.
A short uphill walk outside the town proper, we first visited the Banaue Museum. This private museum is housed in the Banaue View Inn. In the collection are vintage photographs showing Ifugao life at the turn of the century, tribal ornaments, woven textiles, wooden carvings, and a lot of traditional mountain baskets.
Traditionally, baskets are must-haves in every Ifugao household. Like their neighboring tribes throughout the Cordilleras, baskets come in various sizes and shapes and were made for different uses.
There are round baskets with covers for carrying meals called the akob. Tall baskets called the kayabang are used for carrying camote, bananas, and cabbages. A basket-tray used for winnowing rice is called ligao. Box like baskets are called the tupil and the hu-op. There are locusts baskets called the agawin that is used for securing the insect which is choice delicacy to the Ifugaos.
My personal favorite is the traveler’s backpack called the pasiking. One variety has a shield made of tiered fibers called abnut. The inabnutan backpack is preffered by Ifugao hunters because it provides them protection when it rains in Banaue.
We took a tricycle to see the next museum. From the main road, we walked a narrow uphill path to reach the museum’s doorway. The Museum of Cordillera Sculpture has an permanent exhibit of bulol statues and tribal artifacts from the extensive collection of George Schenk.
The bul-ol is a world-famous Philippine icon, specifically associated to the mountain tribes of the Cordilleras. Traditionally, the image of this granary deity is placed in rice granaries to serve as guardian. The primitive-looking statues were sent in rituals like the canao to be coated in blood. Form, age, and that unexplainable force are some reasons why the bu-lol has become a prized collectible.
With more than a thousand bulols in all conceivable positions and veritable tribal wood carvings, the museum is a tangible proof of the ancient Ifugaos’ passion for carving. This passion is demonstrated in the carving they did out of the mountainsides thousands of years ago.
The time we spent in the two museums, looking the ritual objects like the bulols and reading the caption in the display of primitive household tools such as the different baskets gave us a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Ifugaos. This is a recommended activity especially, when it rains in Banaue.
But the real experience we had on mountain life in Banaue was spent in the home of an Ifugao woodcarver and his family.
The rain continued the rest of the afternoon. While approaching the Chango Viewdeck, we saw some local children pounding palay in a lusong under a wooden house by the roadside. The lusong is a large mortar used for removing the outer pod of the grains of rice. It is said the Luzon Island was named after this carved wooden mortal.
Working by the house’s main stairs is woodcarver Guiyang Bumocla. Like most Ifugao woodcarvers, Guiyang learned to carve from watching his father carve. While we watched Guiyang dexterous hands whittle away superfluous material off a piece of kamagong wood to form a three-inch bulol, I began thinking if any of his grandchildren is interested to continue the craft of woodcarving.
Inside the house we saw different kinds of bulol readily available for tourist trade. We were told that it’s cheaper to buy directly from the wood carver than from the shops in the town plaza so we bought two pairs of bulol from the display shelf.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in Guiyang’s home, participating in the pounding of palay and in the picking tiny stones from the grains of bigas.
Our tour continued at the view deck by the roadside hoping to see something but still no sight of the terraces. But we were not disappointed at all because there were a couple of elderly folks chewing the teeth-staining red betel nut in their colorful headdresses. One was wearing sweater with embroidered cheerful reindeers. They willingly posed with us completing our bright holiday souvenir picture at the Banaue Rice Terraces.
In one of the craft stores at the view deck, we found an interesting bulol. Among the items in the store, it stood out with a commanding presence.
Its elongated ears and arms, naturally polished patina, that particular bulol is antique and it’s not for sale. However, the dealer referred us to Hiwang Native Hut to see his father’s collection of antique bulols and tribal artifacts.
The native hut is hand-hewn and expertly assembled with wooden pegs. Inside the dark, windowless pyramidal house on stilts we found a treasure trove of Ifugao artifacts. They are mostly vintage to centuries-old ritual objects like bulols, binabuy, ceremonial boxes called the panumahan and wooden vessels gathered by Noel Balinga from different Ifugao villages.
The ancient Ifugaos have fifteen hundred different gods. Creator gods, guardian gods, messenger gods, and even deceitful gods, the bulol is just one of them. He is a guardian of rice granaries. The presence of a bulol image in rituals guarantees abundant harvest for the Ifugaos.
The Ifugaos were also fond of carving ritual object out of wood like the image of a fat pig called the binabbuy, which is placed alongside images of granary gods to insure abundance of animals in the village. Before leaving Noel, we bought some interesting pieces from his collection.
By the next day, we are scheduled to leave Banaue for Sagada. The jeepney made a stopover in the highest view deck. At the perfect moment, the overcast skies finally opened up revealing the incredible beauty of the stair-cased rice paddies.
The rice terraces were built using crude hand tools some 2000 or 3000 years ago. It is believed that the stones used to reinforce the terraces exceed the amount of stones used in building the pyramids of Egypt.
We gave in to tradition of photographing the iconic Banaue Rice Terraces. Then it started to drizzle again. The clouds began to roll down again making the terraces disappear from our sight. This is what happens when it rains in Banaue.
-Feast of the Candelaria 2013