A Celebration of Culture: The Ifugao Rice Terraces, by Ruel Bimuyag

Hapao, Hungduan, Ifugao Rice Terraces

A 2000-year old tradition

The UNESCO describes the rice paddies carved into the mountains of Ifugao as “the fruit of knowledge handed down from one generation to the next, and the expression of sacred traditions and a delicate social balance, they have helped to create a landscape of great beauty that expresses the harmony between humankind and the environment.”

However, the age-old man-made structure, fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above the terraces,  was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2001 as uncontrolled tourism, the introduction of open-market economy and brain drain threaten both the natural heritage of the province and the traditional practices of its inhabitants.

A proud son of Ifugao

Passionate artist Ruel Bimuyag  is a fine inspiration to the new generation. Fighting to protect the wealth of  heritage and traditions of the Ifugao in the Cordillera Central, Ruel, a BS Tourism graduate of the University of Baguio, has traveled to many parts of the world as an ambassador of his homeland. He has joined numerous photo exhibits, won several prestigious photo contests, attended various conferences and forums, worked with outstanding Filipino artists, such as  filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik and alternative musician Grace Nono, in cultural  events and festivals both here and abroad.

As one of the first ISST-DOT-trained ecoguides in the country, Ruel is now armed with more knowledge and skills that he can re-echo to his locality to further protect and conserve a national cultural and natural wealth that is an “important contribution to humanity.”

“Immersed in my own Ifugao culture since my birth in 1979 in Baguio City, Philippines, I constantly carry two advocacies: culturally-sensitive photography & the development -preservation of indigenous knowledge systems and practices.

Cordilleran culture has permeated my life since childhood in the Ifugao community of Asin Road, Baguio City. Coming from an ancestry of strong practitioners of indigenous rituals, I was treated several times by age-old curing rituals when conventional medicine failed. Thus, it has strengthened my belief of my ancestral wisdom which much people of today’s world still see as obscure.

I believe that preservation is a limiting approach to the continuing practice of indigenous knowledge. Specializing in ethno music, I am a teacher, a facilitator, a performer and a humble student learning rhythms, dances, chants, and instrumental musical patterns of my Cordillera Culture.

Scholars on the Cordillera tend to predict the demise of our region’s indigenous cultures.  I observe that our culture is alive, thriving and evolving. Through my photographs, I am building a “positive portfolio”, a testament of our indigenous cultures and to the depths of my roots.”

~Ruel Bimuyag

(View Ruel Bimuyag’s entry to the 2007 Greenpeace ‘Project Clean Water’ photo contest with the theme “Celebrating Philippine freshwaters and looking at its threats.”)

Hapao/Banaue, Ifugao photos by Ruel Bimuyag. Ruel Bimuyag’s photo by Blauearth.