Thursday, December 09, 2004

Banaue Rice Terraces

My husband and I have been going to Banaue, Ifugao (in the Philippines, for the benefit of our foreign friends) since 1970. In 1978, John, my husband who is a photographer, did a photo exhibit on the people of this mountain area at the Hotel Intercontinental Manila. Aside from from the photo exhibit, we had demonstration of the crafts - backloom weaving and woodcarving, a lecture series and dance performances. In addition, some Ifugaos came down from the mountains to sell their wares - baskets, woven native cloth, antique jars and jewelry and many others. It was a huge success.

The following year, John decided that an event in Banaue would be more significant to the Ifugaos than an event in Manila, he decided to organize an ethnic games festival. Held in December in Banaue, it was more than just a presentation of Ifugao ancient games; it was an exchange, with a couple of sports teams from Manila demonstrating their skills in hang-gliding and skateboarding, and people from Manila coming to the mountains to share things not yet seen by Ifugaos - the San Miguel brass band came marching on the narrow mountain roads, and finalists to the Ms. Magnolia contest gamely posed for souvenir photos with the Ifugaos. We borrowed a 16mm film projector from our client, Engineering Equipment Inc., and showed films borrowed from St. Paul's Library- cartoons, westerns, anything that did not involve a lot of dialogues.
Lowlanders, on the other hand, were fascinated to watch ancient Ifugao sports, such as various forms of wrestling and that international game, tug-of-war. A parade was the opening salvo, participated in by many Ifugaos in their traditional attire, from bark cloth to the more recent cloth woven with yarn. The three-day event was called "Imbayah," loosely translated to "Cheers" or "Salud" or "Mabuhay." The root word "bayah" refers to the local rice wine, and Imbayah literally means "Let's drink wine!"

A month or two prior to the December event, we had taken a busload of writers and photographers to Banaue, and pages of newspapers and magazines for weeks before and after the Imbayah, were filled with stories about Banaue rice terraces, and its builders, the Ifugaos.

John thought that an event like this should be patterned after the Olympics, and so four years later, he organized the second Imbayah. To make it easier for city folks to go up to the mountains, the second Imbayah was scheduled during a Philippine summer month - May, and made to coincide with a holiday that would allow people a three day holiday. (The Philippines celebrates Labor Day on May 1).

To be continued...