Travel Diaries: Banaue’s Hiwang Village

One of Hiwang Village’s rice guardians
When in the Mountain Province, explore an Ifugao village. Our tour guide slash tricycle driver, kuya Benson Tid-ong was kind enough to pick us up from Stairway Lodge at 5pm for a quick trip to Hiwang Village. We were tired from our stressful journey in Hapao and we spent most of the morning sleeping and charging our gadgets in the afternoon since it is an extra day in Banaue. Kareen made sure we have an extra day in case we cannot make it back on schedule.
It took 30 minutes for our tricycle to venture up the mountains to reach Hiwang Village in Hiwang Gohang, Banaue. As dusk caresses the mountains, fog gently descends to the ground, shrouding the view of the magnificence of the rice terraces. Hence, the bad quality photos.
Hiwang Village has lots wooden carvings for sale
Kuya Benson gave us a quick ocular tour around the huts before the fog fully envelopes the area. We noticed a lot of rice guardians made of some kind of hard husk dotted every now and then around the area. Some sporting a flower as head dress, some caught in a frozen scream like Edvard Munch’s painting. This just shows how rich the Ifugao people are with their culture, pagan beliefs and their awesome green terraces that they continue to preserve.
An elderly man in a thick jacket was standing near one of the two Ifugao houses in the parking area came up to us as we head back from our brief ocular. Kuya Benson greeted him and spoke in Ifugao. The man introduced himself as Noel Balega, the caretaker and owner of the Hiwang Native House Inn and Viewdeck. He said we came in at a good time because it stopped raining three days ago. Noel is a chatty host, he shared that the village is over 250 years old. They change the cogon roof after every 14-15 years since cogon are very expensive and hard to acquire. Notable people and Filipino celebrities stayed at one of the Ifugao huts and some doctor of something came to do a story about Hiwang Village. Most natives prefer to speak English than Filipino, like our host. We came into conclusion that locals were trained to speak English for tourism purposes.


Noel opened one of the huts and laughed at our hesitancy, undecided to climb in. It was getting dark and he has to turn on one of the lights so we can gaze in wonder at his unadulterated Ifugao wooden art in their full glory. Kareen and I immediately start taking close up shots of the wooden bululs and sculptured rice gods. Noel mentioned some artists in the Cordillera region and unfortunately we only know National Artist Ben Cab or Benjamin Cabrera who lives in Baguio (and no, we failed to visit his museum but I met the guy in person 4 years ago when he did an exhibit in Cebu with painter and curator, Aman Santos).

Animal skulls are typical house decors in Ifugao
I asked Noel about the statues littered all over the place, he explained those are rice gods and he gestured to one of the sculptures near me that looks like a small fat and pregnant monkey–a fertile god. Anyone to touches the statue is believed to conceive a child. Before you ask, there’s no statue believed to give a blessing to find a significant other.

See the skulls right there? Those are the skulls of the unfortunate Japanese soldiers
Noel shared the stories behind the decorative skulls hung outside the huts. Rowena, the tourism lady who helped us in Hungduan, explained that skulls are symbols of prestige indicated that the person living in the hut practices rituals. I am disappointed that harvest and thanksgiving rituals are only practiced at present. I was hoping to witness a wedding ritual. As we encircled the hut, there are two human skulls. He explained they were skulls of unfortunate Japanese soldiers. Poor Jap guys, they were probably captured, chosen to be beheaded for trespassing or whatever and presented as trophy skulls to the chieftain.

Hiwang Village’s dap-ay–strongly reminds me of Frozen’s love experts
In the old times, inter-tribal wars are frequent. Ifugao forefathers think that war will solve everything. Practice dictates that during the head hunting, they bring the captives to the tribal chieftains. They behead the unfortunate captives (most of the time are criminals) and skewered the heads on bamboo spears or poles a la head-kebab. The bloody heads were then brought to the dap-ay (which is their communal area that serves as the elders’ meeting ground). The dap-ay looks like an altar of small garden algae-covered bululsgrouped together. It reminds me of Frozen’s love expert’s place. After presenting the heads in their bloody glory, they celebrate for two days with food and rice wine. After two days, the poor heads were buried under the ground for the skin to rot; I think they party again, afterwards. Two years after, they unearth two nice smooth dirty skulls then have a party again. Them Ifugao ancestors, they love to party and know how to throw them. The celebration ritual is called cha-long or something that sounds like it. If you know a lot more about the ritual, feel free to comment below.
Ifugao’s cooking area

I wanted to listen to Noel more but darkness slowly descends the place accompanied by chorus of cicadas and we are forced to said our goodbyes. Kuya Benson explained in his native tongue we need to head back to Banaue Trade Center and en route we need to find the souvenir shop who sold us the Ifugao native skirt (though not using the thick authentic Ifugao woven cloth) that costs us Php 150.00 per piece. Original adult-size Ifugao skirt costs Php 600-800 with the white top and belt. The skirts we purchased are actually in teen’s size that falls mid-thigh. We just ripped the garter off and wore it with safety pins. Noel thanked us and told us to come back during harvest to witness tribal practices such as thanksgiving rituals. Best time to visit Banaue is from October to November during the harvest time. April to May is their planting season.

Noel Balega
Hiwang Native House Inn and Viewdeck
+63 926 434 3030 / +63 918 240 3464


If you want to read more about the head-hunting ritual, here’s an excerpt from The Bontoc Igorot by Albert Ernest Jenks, release date: March 18, 2005 [EBook #3308].

[sic] There is little formality about the head taking. Most heads are cut off with the battle-ax before the wounded man is dead. Not infrequently two or more men have thrown their spears into a man who is disabled. If among the number there is one who has never taken a head, he will generally be allowed to cut this one from the body, and thus be entitled to a head taker’s distinct tattoo. However, the head belongs to the man who threw the first disabling spear, and it finds its resting place in his ato. If there is time, men of other ato may cut off the man’s hands and feet to be displayed in their ato. Sometimes succeeding sections of the arms and legs are cut and taken away, so only the trunk is left on the field.

Frequently a battle ends when a single head is taken by either side — the victors calling out, “Now you go home, and we will go home; and if you want to fight some other day, all right!” In this way battles are ended in an hour or so, and often in half an hour. However, they have battles lasting half a day, and ten or a dozen heads are taken. Seven pueblos of the lower Quiangan region went against the scattered groups of dwellings in the Banawi area of the upper Quiangan region in May, 1902. The invaders had seven guns, but the people of Banawi had more than sixty — a fact the invaders did not know until too late. However, they did not retire until they had lost a hundred and fifty heads. They annihilated one of the groups of the enemy, getting about fifty heads, and burned down the dwellings. This is by far the fiercest Igorot battle of which there is any memory, and its ferocity is largely due to firearms.

When a head has been taken the victor usually starts at once for his pueblo, without waiting for the further issue of the battle. He brings the head to his ato and it is put in a small funnel-shaped receptacle, called “sak-o’-long,” which is tied on a post in the stone court of the fawi. The entire ato joins in a ceremony for the day and night; it is called “se’-dak.” A dog or hog is killed, the greater part of which is eaten by the old men of the ato, while the younger men dance to the rhythmic beats of the gangsa. On the next day, “chao’-is,” a month’s ceremony, begins. About 7 o’clock in the morning the old men take the head to the river. There they build a fire and place the head beside it, while the other men of the ato dance about it for an hour. All then sit down on their haunches facing the river, and, as each throws a small pebble into the water he says, “Man-i’-su, hu! hu! hu! Tukukan!” — or the name of the pueblo from which the head was taken. This is to divert the battle-ax of their enemy from their own necks. The head is washed in the river by sousing it up and down by the hair; and the party returns to the fawi where the lower jaw is cut from the head, boiled to remove the flesh, and becomes a handle for the victor’s gangsa. In the evening the head is buried under the stones of the fawi.

In a head ceremony which began in Samoki May 21, 1903, there was a hand, a jaw, and an ear suspended from posts in the courts of ato Nag-pi’, Ka’-wa, and Nak-a-wang’, respectively. In each of the eight ato of the pueblo the head ceremony was performed. In their dances the men wore about their necks rich strings of native agate beads which at other dances the women usually wear on their heads. Many had boar-tusk armlets, some of which were gay with tassels of human hair. Their breechcloths were bright and long. All wore their battle-axes, two of which were freshly stained halfway up the blade with human blood — they were the axes used in severing the trophies from the body of the slain.

On the second day the dance began about 4 o’clock in the morning, at which time a bright, waning moon flooded the pueblo with light. At every ato the dance circle was started in its swing, and barely ceased for a month. A group of eight or ten men formed, as is shown in Pl. CXXXI, and danced contraclockwise around and around the small circle. Each dancer beat his blood and emotions into sympathetic rhythm on his gangsa, and each entered intently yet joyfully into the spirit of the occasion — they had defeated an enemy in the way they had been taught for generations.

It was a month of feasting and holidays. Carabaos, hogs, dogs, and chickens were killed and eaten. No work except that absolutely necessary was performed, but all people — men, women, and children — gathered at the ato dance grounds and were joyous together.

Each ato brought a score of loads of palay, and for two days women threshed it out in a long wooden trough for all to eat in a great feast. This ceremonial threshing is shown in Pl. CXXXII. Twenty-four persons, usually all women, lined up along each side of the trough, and, accompanying their own songs by rhythmic beating of their pestles on the planks strung along the sides of the trough, each row of happy toilers alternately swung in and out, toward and from the trough,its long heavy pestles rising and falling with the regular “click, click, thush; click, click, thush!” as they fell rebounding on the plank, and were then raised and thrust into the palay-filled trough.

After heads have been taken by an ato any person of that ato — man, woman, or child — may be tattooed; and in Bontoc pueblo they maintain that tattooing may not occur at any other time, and that no person, unless a member of the successful ato, may be tattooed.

After the captured head has been in the earth under the fawi court of Bontoc about three years it is dug up, washed in the river, and placed in the large basket, the so-lo’-nang, in the fawi, where doubtless it is one of several which have a similar history. At such time there is a three-day’s ceremony, called “min-pa-fa’-kal is nan mo’-king.” It is a rest period for the entire pueblo, with feasting and dancing, and three or four hogs are killed. The women may then enter the fawi; it is said to be the only occasion they are granted the privilege.



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