A Proud Ifugao Rice Terrace Worker

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ October 8th, 2011. Filed under: Photography.

Ifuago man from the rice terraces of Northern Philippines

A genuine Ifugao man from the rice terraces of Northern Philippines

Genuine Ifugao man from the rice terraces in the Northern Philippines

The Ifugao are a well known tribe in the Northern Philippines. While many pose for touristic photographs I ventured down into the famous rice terraces in Batad to meet this amazing man. A genuine Ifugao tribesman working the terraces.

Facts about the Ifugao:

  • It was both the Bontoc and the Ifugao people who built the original rice terraces
  • The Ifuago were once feared headhunters
  • Ifuago build their houses with thatched pyramid-shaped roofs
  • Woodcarving and weaving clothes were traditional Ifuago skills, today they consider tourism an additional source of income
  • Most of the younger generation dress in western style clothes
  • Many older Ifuago don traditional attire and pose for tourist photographs to help pay for their modern lifestyle
  • The rice terraces are in danger due to a lack of skilled workers, environmental issues like the giant rice worm (olang), and economic factors such as cheaper imported rice

The story behind this photograph

I nearly ran from the collection of “Ifugao” dressed in traditional outfits looking for money for photographs. While I understand this income from tourism provides them with benefits, it was not for me at this time.

Taking a photograph of a person dressed up in traditional dress, only to see them take it off at the end of the day and don regular clothes simply doesn’t do it for me.

More interested in seeing and hopefully meeting some genuine Ifugao I climbed down into a valley of rice terraces. Each terrace had a paddy filled with lush green rice stalks and about a foot of water that the rice was growing through. It meant traversing the stone walls around each terrace to move ahead.

It was here I met this man. Standing firm with a tall wooden pole he stared at the trespasser. I nodded a wave, and he nodded back. I thought he would not let anyone pass. Instead he stood aside and clearly indicated permission to move through his terrace.

I passed, and said thank you both in English and Tagalog “Salamat”.

He nodded again, and replied, “You are welcome. Where do come from today?”

He spoke perfect English. And, even recalled it had been a long time since he’d spoken it. He could remember the “Joe’s”, or American GI’s when they were based nearby and had been educated by an American teacher when he was a boy.

This Ifugao rice terrace worker was one of the most interesting people I met in The Philippines. He had no qualms, pretense nor prejudice. A man proud in stature, occupation and history.

A genuine Ifugao man who made a far more lasting impression than his commercialized fellow tribesmen.

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Ifugao Rice Terrace Worker, Batad, The Philippines

Ifugao Rice Terrace Worker, Batad, The Philippines

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This is an additional photograph feature from my world travel photography gallery, documenting the story behind the picture 

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15 Great responses to A Proud Ifugao Rice Terrace Worker

  1. Tony says:

    Nice capture. Looks like he’s staring out over his rice plantations like a guard

  2. Elissa says:

    Thank you for sharing his story.

  3. julia says:

    Great photo and contextual description made it even more meaningful. Thank you.

  4. Roxanne says:

    First of all, hello again! I disappeared briefly from commenting on this site as I got swallowed up in work… but what beter post for me to read as I resurface! I love your perspective and the concept of “behind the photograph.”

    • Hi Roxanne, nice to see you again!

      Work can swallow many things up, especially in you field. But, glad to see you resurface. It’s been a roller-coaster over here too recently, so I’m doing some catching up myself. Glad you enjoyed the Behind the Photograph feature.

  5. Marc John T. Godinez says:

    great work! :)

  6. Cool picture. I spent a couple of days in Bataad and had rice wine with the dude that supervises a lot of the rice cultivation in the area. He spoke perfect English too. A very interesting place and thanks for providing the interesting additional information.

  7. Jason says:

    I’ve looked at this image a few times Dave, and I’m still trying to gauge his expression. He seems to be anxiously observing something in the distance. Can you remember if he was looking at anything in particular, or maybe he was just in deep thought? Love the large scale format as well.

    • neon moon says:

      I’m from Ifugao in Hingyon to be exact, Most probably “apo” (that’s how we address our elders, means grandpa or grandma it doesn’t matter that he’s not ur relative as long as they are old. It’s a sign of respect.) is looking at you and trying to figure if you can walk the edge of the rice paddies without tumbling down…

  8. i, too, love the context. it makes it so much more real.

  9. Victoria says:

    I agree with you about authenticity. As you say, it is understandable that locals “dress up” to earn a living. Sadly, most tourists don’t mind. They’re just interested in getting their shot. That is for me, the biggest difference between tourism and travelling. A tourist sees what he’s come to see, a traveller sees things as they are.

  10. neon moon says:

    probably he’s observing you…