By Philippe Teston
“Hey, want to take picture?” shouted the blind hunchbacked native. He motioned us over to the rock on which he was sitting, overlooking vast rice terraces in the distance. He is a member of the ancient Ifugao tribe. Despite his affinity for photography, the man was preserved in a time capsule. The Ifugao have inhabited this mountain region in the Philippines for thousands of years. Sheltered from the developing world, the Ifugao people and the splendor of the Banaue rice terraces represent a much simpler time.
Looking out toward the mountainside, the immensity of the terraces is overwhelming. The rice terraces cover over four thousand square miles of land etched into mountains. With varying shades of green and yellow rice painting the peaks, the sight of the terraces and the easy-going natives create a sanctuary for the tourist looking to get away. Banaue provides a welcome escape from the intense heat of other places in the Philippines. It is unusually cold, with temperatures averaging between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature is not the only reason to visit, their beauty and ingenuity are incentives all their own.
A feat of engineering even by today’s standards, the Ifugao tribe shaped the mountains of Banaue into rice terraces that rose thousands of feet above the ground over two millenia ago. They used only basic hand tools and elbow grease. Today, the region is a UNESCO world heritage site, which will effectively protect it from over-commercialization and preserve its unique tranquility. The Ifugao people continue to harvest rice from the fields using traditional methods, scurrying up and down ladders to terraces above and below. Unfortunately, because of the increasing popularity of Banaue, the terraces show signs of deterioration and constantly require repair.
Banaue, much like the Ifugao people, has resisted the progress of the contemporary world. As a result, modern conveniences such as roads and running water are few and far between. This, however, contributes to the beauty of the region – its simplicity and humble habitat serves as an oasis from the chaotic world just outside of the mountain range. Influenced by the calming backdrop of the rice terraces, native Ifugaos are extremely friendly and willing to go out of their way to accommodate the thousands of tourists who frequent the terraces each year. But their friendly demeanor hides a grim past. Up until the beginning of the twentieth century, Ifugaos participated in ritual headhunting, sacrificing people to appease their rice god.
For anyone who is looking for a place to visit that is out of the ordinary, the Banaue rice terraces are ideal. Tucked away deep in the mountains of the Philippines, Banaue and the mystical Ifugao people offer a refreshing escape from the modern world. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Ifugaos don’t like taking pictures. The old man, like the rest of the Ifugao tribe, relishes the chance to preserve his heritage through our photographs.
All photos by Philippe Teston