We had departed Banaue shortly after dawn aboard a jeepney as old as it is exuberant.
Twelve kilometers of mountain road later, the automobile relic leaves us and a group of young missionaries from the Norway, at the base of the trail to Batad.
We covered 3 km of inclement climb until we reached a kind of intermediate saddle formed by the relief, above the village. This is followed by 45 minutes of steep descent. The combination of these contrasting efforts slaughtered our legs far more than we expected.
Germaine watches us arrive from the top of the deep Batad valley. He tries to relieve our tiredness with a good disposition: “Those steps are terrible, aren't they? Altos that you get enough.
We were the ones who excavated them but they look more like they were made for the big white bones in northern Europe. We here in the village have short legs. We are even more tired than you, believe me.”
We settled at Rita's Lodge, a humble inn that the family named after their mother, built only with planks but with a majestic view over the opposite side of the village and the hillside that made it famous.
On that day, we only have a little more than an hour to enjoy it in full splendor. The afternoon progresses.
The sun only falls on the top of the mountain. It leaves the village first in the shade, then in a silent twilight broken by the distant glow of the stars, another oil lamp and the barking of dogs.
Romeo, Germaine's father, joins guests on the veranda of his establishment. Conversation starts conversation, inaugurates a long lecture on the worth of your Ifugao ancestors. This is how we first hear about the historical hypothesis that links them to an ethnic Chinese on the run.
It is argued that, between 2205 and 2106 BC, Emperor Yu the Great of the Shan Dynasty ordered the persecution of a rebellious minority, the Miao. With no way to resist them, the Miao would have crossed the South China Sea. They took refuge in Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines.
The Miao were already known in the China for his mastery in growing rice on terraces.
Na Cordillera from Luzon, they found a land similar to the one from which they escaped. Shortly after settling in, they had already spread your terraces across a vast territory.
The Miao soon mingled with the Ifugao (mountain people) natives of northern Luzon. In this merger, they passed on part of their culture, including cultivation techniques.
Romeo smoothes his gray hair, newly freed from its ponytail. It wrinkles the many wrinkles, dermatological evidence of a long life experience, of the accumulated wisdom about the region and its customs.
“I have a huge collection of pieces from our ancestors in my museum. But it's not just figurines and jewelry. I also kept photographs there. My favorites are the women's, during the hudhud. You have to see them!"
As we can see, it is not so common now, but for centuries, Ifugao women – a matrilineal ethnic group – accompanied the rice sowing and harvesting, as well as wakes and funerals with epic narrative, guttural chants, describing the history of their people.
UNESCO has registered the landscapes of the Rice Terraces in the World Heritage List. Recently, the hudhud complemented the Philippine's roster of treasures as an intangible heritage. When the quantification was carried out, more than 200 songs were found, each one divided into 40 episodes.
Rita, Romeo's wife, proudly confirms that she has already participated in many of these communal singing.
We took advantage of a pause in the dialogue and retired for a well-deserved rest under a patch of framed firmament.
We woke up well later than planned. We eased the photographic awareness with the notion that, just as the sun left Batad before its time, it would also take a while to return to the village.
We walked it without any plan. We passed by families and people who seemed to us lost in the world. Some even lost to themselves, given over to a strange morning lethargy or to performances of country of the mountain range, a musical testament to the American presence during World War II that fans watch on small generator-powered TVs.
A kid grinds flour with a big pestle, under the supervision of his seated grandfather and the attention of an opportunistic rooster. A short distance away, at the entrance to a typical hut, another man keeps a stray gaze on the mountains that close the horizon.
Unlike what happens in different parts of the Philippines, virtually no English is spoken in these parts. O Tagalog (national language) is used only as a last resort.
Every time we ask to photograph someone we hear a "amu man” (No! Stop! in Ifugao dialect) round and explicit, followed by a request for donation.
And the natives ask us even aware that visitors pay a fee to the village, even before entering it.
Banaue and Batad may have gained worldwide fame. Its laughable Ifugao backdrops even appear on the back of 1000 Filipino peso notes.
Even so, the approximately 1000 rural inhabitants of the village of Batad were never able to prepare to make the most of the backpacker visits.
They did not benefit from the notoriety of their village. They could not even get out of the poverty to which the gradual devaluation of rice and the departure from the increasingly modern life of other parts of the Philippines had condemned them.
Several inhabitants sought the solution in far away and overcrowded Manila. Filipinos are an emigrant people. The nation has nearly as many people in the diaspora as it does on its vast island territory.
When the capital could not help them, the Ifugao peasants imitated the experiences of so many other compatriots who changed countries and lives. They left behind their land and an entire millenary civilization, beliefs and rituals that a few resistant ones continue to practice.
Farther up, as we walked through the fields, we came across a group of young women. Lined up on the ground, they stick rice plants into the muddy soil of a waterlogged patch in accordance with traditional methods that lack only the much-admired hudhud.
In 2009, the Ifugao Rice Terraces were declared free of Genetically Modified Organisms in a ceremony promoted by the region's political leaders, the head of Greenpeace Southeast Asia Daniel Ocampo and by Cathy Untalan, the foundation's executive director Miss earth.
Before the public announcement, 3 Mumbai (Ifugao sorcerers) carried out a ritual akim of blessing in which they offered an animal to the gods. We soon came across one of these ceremonies, albeit in a private format.
On a terrace below, a woman sacrifices a chicken. He has the company of his daughter who spreads the bird's blood on the ground. On these sides, religious beliefs have little or nothing to do with those of the rest of the Philippines, which, from the middle of the XNUMXth century, Hispanic settlers made Christians.
The Ifugao faith is still centered on Bulol, a mute rice god, the guardian of the dead of the peoples of the Cordillera.
In honor of this deity, the natives carve figures in pairs, from narrates, a special wood that they believe provides wealth, happiness and well-being.
Every step of this art – from the choice of the tree to the bath in pig's blood that enshrines the small statues and attributes them to a home – requires a ceremony rich in mythology. It is the same mythology that the Ifugao have recorded for centuries through their sculpture and that are passed on from generation to generation in the lyrics and sounds of HudHud.
Closer to the edge of the mountain, another group of peasant women burns and tills a soil that the weeds have appropriated.
When they see us arrive, they just study us with their eyes and chew. The phenomenon was not new in the Philippines, nor in Asia in general. All of them – with the exception of one child – chewed betel nuts while working.
We sketched any wording of approach, in English. Amid nervous laughter, dirty from the red juice of that nut, the women show us that, to escape the norm, they plant sweet potatoes - kamotis as they are called in their dialect.
We exchange dysfunctional remarks and questions. Until one of them restores the work order and takes the entourage back to their tasks.
We leave them to set fire to a piece of land and follow terraces below still in search of the quintessence of these remote Ifugao domains.