Batad: On losing her charm


I would like to start this post with a quote

“The only thing that is constant is change.”

― Heraclitus

This post was actually spurred by this article. This is going to be a long one so buckle up. 🙂

On a whim, I decided to visit the home province of my parents during the holy week. Just a little background, my parents are both from Ifugao. My father is from Lagawe and my mother is from Banaue, but I was born and raised in La Trinidad, a town in Benguet. When I am asked where I am from I just say I was born and raised in Benguet but my parents are from Ifugao. I won’t dare say I am from Ifugao for I’ve never truly lived there. Not because I am not proud of my heritage, quite the contrary I am very very proud, but because I am more familiar with the culture of Benguet than Ifugao. In a sense I am ‘yBenguet’ for the culture I have assimilated is that of Benguet. I do speak the local dialect of Ifugao and I know some traditions I have observed during our short vacations and information shared by my parents. In addition, I’ve only been to Banaue once 18 years ago. Our vacations when I was younger were confined to Lagawe and usually lasts about 2 weeks only. So there.

I was really young when I first saw the Banaue Rice Terraces from the viewing deck in Banaue Proper but the image will stay with me forever. I am so glad that I saw it before its raw beauty got tainted by progress and commercialism. It was around the end of May when I first saw the giant stairways to heaven. My memory of the Banaue rice terraces is a radiant and verdant sea of green carpet with the plants swaying softly to the wind. I remember the small waterfalls on the nooks and crannies where one side of the mountains meet the others. I remember the small village nestled near the foot of the mountain, dwarfed by imposing giant terraces. It was postcard perfect. I will hold on to that image and will not let the new image of Banaue tarnish it.

I will admit that I myself felt a twinge of disappointment when I first saw Batad rice terraces, famous for its ampitheater shaped terraces, because of the surrounding commercialism but I overcame it. It’s beautiful no question but it was strange, there’s something lacking I can’t point my finger to. I thought my first reaction would be some sort of connection, a profound feeling of amazement. It didn’t quite happen that way. There is too much noise around me, too much activity I felt distracted. I felt like I was in a crowded mall watching some sort of show. Only when I closed my eyes and recalled that feeling I had years ago when I first saw the Banaue Rice Terraces, and thought of the old people who toiled on these land thousands of years ago did the connection come. I felt the magic at that point. I can’t express in words but the beauty of the Banaue Rice Terraces is not merely its aesthetics but also its history, its people. One will marvel at how the ancient people conquered the mountains with their simple tools. They carved out a magnificent sculpture that withstood the test of time for over 2,000 years. The beauty of the rice terraces should not be perceived by the eyes alone but also by the heart and mind. I think that’s how you would fully appreciate it even with the eyesores surrounding it.

The beauty of Batad is marred by concrete structures surrounding it and all the hustle and bustle of commercial activity. I guess there’s no single contributing factor to what the author of the article worded as “Banaue losing its charm”. Let me just quote his theory here:

Here’s my theory why the terraces are slowly fading away. The young generation of Ifugao farmers took the easier path- to guide tourist (dude, its easy money at Php1,200/day) during a hike rather than planting rice and tending the terraces (before getting Php1,200 they have to work in the mountains for about a week). This is just a theory based on a talk I had with a local guide from Banawe.

While it’s true that some of the younger generation do engage in becoming tourist guides, it’s only one side of the story. While this may hold true to some, it doesn’t hold true for everyone. The people of Ifugao are by no means lazy. They are hardworking people. Just an FYI, rice planting in the Banaue Rice Terraces or other terraces in Ifugao is NOT  a commercial activity for most. The rice that they harvest is for family consumption. In addition, they do not use any modern method of farming hence they only plant ONCE a year. Given these facts, the rice that they harvest from their plots is not enough to sustain them for a year. They have to find alternate source of food. They plant sweet potatoes, gabi and others to augment their food source. I therefore don’t blame them for resorting to guiding to earn additional income for the family because it brings more food to the table.

If we look at the bigger picture, with modernization, the younger generation are leaving behind the tradition of their forefathers and embracing the modern way of living. A lot of the younger generation are now getting educated and they are leaving for the the cities to find employment. It is innate for us humans to look for better opportunities. I would cite my mom as an example. She is the 3rd child in a brood of 7, and the 2nd of 6 if counting the second family only. The traditional way of distributing family wealth is a little unfair. The biggest chunk of properties go to the first child, and the rest will be divided among the succeeding siblings. If the parents are not firstborns then they have little or practically have no inheritance to speak of. This is not the case now but you can just imagine how many of the younger generation are descended from non-firstborns. They have to strike out on their own and find their own fortune elsewhere. My mom is not from a rich family so at the tender age of 15 went to Baguio City, found employment and worked hard at getting an education for she firmly believed it is the only way she can improve her life. She is now an educator and still preaches it. In my humble opinion, youth migration is a bigger factor than easy money. As more and more of the younger generation leave, fewer and fewer are left behind to continue the ways of our ancestors. I fear that there will come a time when we will no longer have village elders who hold intimate knowledge of the ways of our ancestors. We will no longer listen to first hand accounts but from history books and that is a very very sad thought. We cannot stop the tide of time and if we don’t do something, our heritage will fade with it.

Change is inevitable. I would say, Batad is not losing her charm. The people around her are just changing.


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