(Conclusion, continued from yesterday)
HAPAO, Ifugao—Indigenous people around the world are considered the last remaining guardians of the forests, flora and fauna, minerals, and water sources of the earth.
In the Philippines, based on the last census, about 14 to 17 million of the country’s total population are indigenous peoples belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups, mainly concentrated in Mindanao (61 percent) and Northern Luzon (33 percent), with a few groups in the Visayas region.
Department of Tourism accredited tour guide Maria Victoria Cometa said many IPs in the Philippines, such as the Ifugaos in the Cordillera mountains, continue to thrive in relatively remote yet self-sufficient communities.
In nearby Kiangan and Hungduan, for instance, Ifugaos have been able to uphold their traditions up to the present—not just in their care of the world-renowned rice terraces here but also in their music, dances, rituals, folklore, wood carving, agriculture, and forestry practices.
Majority of the natives remain as animists—those who attribute a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena. For instance, Cometa said the Ifugaos believe many endemic trees here are associated with spirits or “anito,” so they preserved them.
It’s only fitting that the province, one of the six in the Cordillera Administrative Region, has been named after the tribe. The Ifugao have mastered living in the mountains 2,523 meters above sea level, and first built the rice terraces that are synonymous to the Cordillera over two thousand years ago.
But with younger Ifugaos fleeing the mountains for the white-collar jobs and conveniences of modern living—leaving elders like the 90-year-old Innug and women like Gloria Belange to tend to the terraced paddies—sustaining an authentic Ifugao heritage tour has become a growing concern for local tourism officials.
Susan del Mundo, Tourism Promotions Board domestic tourism promotions chief, said the heritage tour has been offered for almost ten years, and through her leadership as the Tourism Attaché to New York, it will be promoted to the United States and the growing Canadian market.
Just last month, the TPB, the Department of Tourism, and Batanes Wakay Travel and Tours Inc. inaugurated a new flight from Clark, Pampanga to Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya to bring the Cordilleras and its IPs closer to international tourists and people from the lowland cities.
In the past, it took tourists the better part of a day to commute from Manila to Bagabag, then take another long bus trip up the Cordillera mountains. Now, it takes just three hours to get to Ifugao—an hour’s drive from Manila to Clark, followed by the 30-minute Clark-to-Bagabag flight, and finally a 90-minute bus ride to the rice terraces.
Jerry Cabalce, owner of Batanes Wakay Travel and Tours, said the new flight will operate thrice a week. The firm’s manager, Joel Cataluña, said their service would also allow tour operators to showcase the other tourist destinations in the region, like Banaue, Sagada, Kalinga, and especially Kiangan.
“This flight gives vacationers the fastest way to visit CAR,” Cataluña said, noting that the fare on their 31-seater chartered plane costs P4,900 one way, with light snacks included.
“For an estimated three hours’ trip, you are already in Banaue,” del Mundo added.
But the dilemma remains: without a new generation of Ifugaos or IPs to take care of the rice terraces, this “Eighth Wonder of the World” may not be around for tourists to enjoy much longer.