The Rice Terraces of Banaue
Other than the motors of trikes and jeepnys and the occasional boom of thunder, Banaue is a very quiet place. Built right in to the mountainside and surrounded by towering rice terraces, there is only one “hotel” (which is a super weird place), there are no true bars that I could find, and everything shuts down around 7 or 8 p.m. – Restaurants even have signs stating, “Strictly no bystanders beyond 8 o’clock.”
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, the Ifugao Rice Terraces of Banaue are considered an ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ by locals, extending from the base of the mountain range several thousand feet upwards, following the contours of the mountains. Introduced by the Chinese, the terraces were built 2,000 years ago and have been central to the survival of the Ifugao people since. Displaying the engineering skill and ingenuity of the locals, they epitomize a harmonic, sustainable relationship between humans and their environment. The fields, and the knowledge to farm and sustain them, have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries with traditional tribal rituals evoking spirits to protect the paddies. To this day, bulol rice deities are cherished and placed in the fields in order to bring abundant harvests and protect against malevolent spirits and catastrophe. Stone and mud was used to construct the terraces and hold flooded ponds that had been tapped and channeled in to canals running downhill through the terraces. Entire communities cooperate on cyclical, seasonal systems of planting, pest control, and harvest, which are tied to lunar cycles and sometimes accompanied with religious rituals.
The rice terraces were placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list in 2001 when many terraces had been abandoned and became dilapidated. Many younger generations had shifted towards the larger cities in search of a higher living income and renouncing fieldwork. In addition, climate change has been noticed by locals, both shifting the growing season as well as shortening it.
The situation has slightly improved since then with the price of rice significantly increasing. This has brought a return of the younger generations to work the fields with their families. Climate change however has worsened, one farmer telling me she was constantly worried what the next season will bring for her family.