Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rice Terrace images on Google Earth

Google Earth has new images of the rice terraces region in Northern Luzon, or least this is the first I have noticed them.

Some of the Kiangan region rice terraces, a UNESCO world heritage site, are visible. But even more spectacular are the rice and vegetable terraces along the Halsema Highway through Benguet.

The ride up this highway from Baguio to Bontoc or Sagada is one of the most spectacular that I have experienced. The Halsema Highway is the highest elevated major highway in the Philippines. While the mountain range here does not come close to comparing in elevation with the highest mountains in the world, it is still very rugged with many steep and at times sheer cliffs appearing as endless drop-offs to vehicle passengers. The vegetation is a beautiful blending of tropical and alpine types and the mountains are often covered in a surreal mist that shrouds the well-constructed terraces.

The Halsema Highway in Benguet. Click image to enlarge.

The area near Apunan. Click image to enlarge.

Unfortunately, Google still does not have high resolution photos of the most noteworthy rice terraces like those at Banaue. The native Igorot peoples have modified the landscape in this region to a scale unequaled prior to modern times. The terrace walls of Banaue alone would stretch half way around the world if strung together according to one estimate, and the combined terrace walls of the Igorots would extend around the whole globe.
Source: WOCAT

Some researchers have speculated that the terraces were filled using canals that brought sediment downstream from higher elevations. However, some early researchers found that the terraces they examined were mostly filled with gravel that was sourced from locations at lower elevations than the terraces. Gravel does not move that easily in flowing water and especially when going uphill, so there still remains some mystery as to how they moved so much earth into these vast structures.

Muyong, indigenous forestry


The rice terraces of the Ifugao group among the Igorots are divided into water districts (himpuntonā’an) led by a district head known as tomona.

Each district has a woodlot known as a muyong -- an example of indigenous forestry practice. The muyong are usually not wild forest, but old swidden land converted into specialty forest. While some harvesting of the muyong occurs, it is generally protected as it constitutes the main perennial source of water for the irrigation system used with the rice terraces. The trees of the muyong hold moisture from running off too rapidly, and natural organic compost that collects in the forest is washed down the canals replenishing the fertility of the terraced rice ponds. The people were divided into work groups with a women's
ubbu assigned to planting, harvesting, and weeding terrace walls and with swidden farm (uma) maintenance. The men’s ubbu is charged with constructing and maintaining terrace walls. A third male work group, the baddang, was responsible for maintaining the canal system.

Yale anthropologist Harold Conklin had described these rice terraces as "one of the soundest soil and water conservation structures ever built by humans."

The dike and pond system of Pampanga is similar in many respects to the terrace system.

However, in the case of Pampanga the Pinatubo watershed and the mountain source of the Pampanga River act as the "muyong" of the system. During the flood season, the muddy waters flow down the rivers and streams depositing rich sediment into the rice fields.

At one time, most of the region of Upper Pampanga was covered mostly with forest. Very large herds of usa, the Philippine Sambar Deer, roamed the region.

In contrast, Lower Pampanga had little swidden land or forest. Nearly the entire surface is covered with rice or fish ponds. Some mangrove forestry was undertaken on the dikes, but mostly the people living here had to trade to get swidden or forest products. In the estuarine areas, only fish ponds and mangroves could be raised, so they also had to get their rice from elsewhere.

The combination of modern development in Upper Pampanga and the Pinatubo eruption negatively impacted the fertilty of the pampang system, but things have recovered lately as the slopes of Pinatubo are gradually greening once again.

In Pampanga also, there were still indications as late as the early 18th century of a system of social structure similar to that used in the rice terraces region with irrigation districts demarked by borders known as danay. The "king of the mountain" here would be the equivalent of the a-amma manlilintog of the Tinglayen Igorots of Sagada "the elder who gives the law" i.e., in Kapampangan the payugali. In addition there were other elements of the social structure related to trade and foreign relations, and long-distance kinship relations.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Yap, David Leonides T. “Conservation and Progress: Bridging the Gap,the Case of the Ifugao Rice Terraces,"


SaGaDa-iGoRoT said...

Nice images. And a well researched piece too. Thanks for sharing. I listed this post as one of my interesting blog reads on Sagada / the Igorot people.

Cheers from a,