2016 Lives and terraces intertwined
“Lives and terraces intertwined ”
MARY GRACE NIDOY
They trek 2-4 hours on foot. The trail can either be too dusty or slippery, or both. Sweltering heat or nail-biting cold may spoil the journey.
The adults often trod the path carrying big fishes clinched to wooden rods. The youngsters traverse the route bringing goodies commonly seen in a sari-sari store. They cross rivers, slap insistent insects on their arms or cheeks, stump on big rocks, cling to vulnerable rocky walls, and climb the soaring peaks. The travel is exhausting, yet familiar, customary, and necessary.
Five mountains or 18 km after, they reach their village.
Welcome to Brgy. Gen. Fullon in San Remigio, Antique. Hidden deep in the mountains of Panay Island in Western Visayas, this village is home to a community of indigenous people (IP) called the Bukidnon Iraynons.
But why settle in an unknown place? What lies beneath their dwelling?
The whole life of the Iraynons has been witnessed by a treasure they have been protecting for the past 200 years – the 600-ha rice terraces built by their ancestors that they inherited.
A testament to their heritage, the Antique Rice Terraces were rediscovered in 2014 and had since been visited by people coming from all sectors.
Stewardship and bayanihan
Like the Ifugao Rice Terraces of the Cordillera, the Antique terraces had thrived chiefly because of the tribe’s diligence and hard work.
Midela Gomez, barangay services program officer, unveils another reason for the rice terraces’ survival as “dagyaw” - a Kinaray-a word equivalent to bayanihan. In a village where almost everyone and everything is related and connected, this characteristic is engraved in the households and in their social structure.
“Dagyaw is important since we are far from the town proper, we need to look after and help each other here,” Gomez explained.
Dagyaw was exemplified when the local government established electricity in Gen. Fullon in May this year, which switches on 6-9PM, thanks to the generator.
“Our men helped each other in carrying the electric posts from the town proper to our village,” Brgy. Captain Noli Maguad disclosed.
To the Iraynons, land is of utmost importance, according to Joyce Christine Colon of the UP Visayas Center for West Visayan Studies and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Regions VI and VII consultant.
“The continued existence of these rice terraces stems from the centrality of land for IPs, land means life. Culturally, land is sacred for them because it defines their very existence. It’s not only a source of life but also a sanctuary of collective memories, reflective of their origins and history as an indigenous group,” Colon emphasized.
“The survival of the rice terraces through the years is also, I think, reflective and illustrative of the concept of stewardship among our IPs, the responsible use and protection of the natural environment through sustainable conservation and management of resources,” she added.
History and natural resources
The rice terraces, owned and shared by the tribal families in Gen. Fullon, have fed generations of Bukidnon Iraynons.
In a typical Iraynon house, stored sacks of rice are a common sight.
“We plant rice mainly for daily consumption,” Maguad said. The whole village harvests an average of 3,000 sacks (45 kg) every cropping season.
“When we harvest more than enough, we sell each sack of rice for P800,” Maguad revealed.
Like other rice fields, the Antique Rice Terraces are not spared from pests. During the rice maturity stage, birds like maya attack their crops. How do they cope? They attach colored plastics to twigs and lodge them around the fields.
“Birds are afraid of plastics so we scatter them in the field to scare them away,” Gomez said.
Fertilizers are sold by the lowlanders in San Remigio. For irrigation and domestic purposes, they have attached long pipes from the waterfalls. During harvest, threshers are transported from the town proper to their village.
In summer, the Bukidnon Iraynons plant tobacco which they sell to the lowlanders. Each bundle earns them P500-P2,000.
“Most of our buyers are fishermen as they find our tobacco cheaper than the commercial cigarettes. They enjoy it to keep them warm when they work in the sea,” Gomez said.
Aside from limited electricity, Maguad hopes that the government will create concrete pavements to make it easier for the Iraynons to travel and have easier access to rice-farming technologies.
Colon thinks that electricity and concrete pavements will also improve their accessibility to the market for their cash necessities.
While developments are part of their evolving culture, Maguad is optimistic that these will not be detrimental to their rice terraces.
“Greater interaction with the lowland and mainstream society may also mean exposure to modern lifestyles and may either enhance or pose a risk on their environment, as well as prevailing indigenous artistic, and cultural expressions in the community,” Colon explained.
“Developments are welcome as long as our environment will not be adversely affected,” Maguad said.
After all, their lives and the rice terraces are intertwined. They breathe together.