My first encounter of the word “Ifugao” was my Mom’s faded and dusty photo that I brought with me to Show & Tell back in Grade School. On it was an actual Ifugao (the tribe) posed in “attack” mode, behind him was the famous terraces. I remember holding the crumbly photo in my hand and thinking, wouldn’t it be amazing to be transported back in time to see how everything used to be?
Although it would take decades before I’d set foot up north (I was always a beach bunny and never a trekker), I was happy to be able to experience the rich culture via the Tourism Promotions Board product update trip. More than just a quick getaway from Manila, I see it as a way to experience our different cultures and explore lesser known parts of the Philippines. Grouped with travel enthusiasts and experts, the expeditions are always more educational and in-depth.
So, before you embark on a journey to the Rice Terraces let me tell you about the charming town of Kiangan. Often overlooked and overshadowed by Sagada and Banaue, Kiangan is a beautiful town filled with history just waiting to be unraveled.
Where to go in Kiangan:
Kiangan may seem like a sleepy town at first — it is, after all, the oldest municipality in the province of Ifugao. There aren’t many tourists, it’s perpetually quiet, no fastfood restaurants. But that’s exactly why it’s so charming: it has practically remained untouched by modern civilization preserving its traditional Ifugao roots. As Denis Byrne, author of Surface Collection: Archaeological Travels in Southeast Asia put it: “[Kiangan] was a quiet place left alone to mind its own business.”
Here’s what you should include in your itinerary when you venture up north:
Indigenous People Center
The Indigenous People Center is a two-story installation similar to the School of Living Traditions. On the ground floor is the weaving center where the intricate Ifugao ikat-style of backstrap loom weaving is carefully performed by a master weaver. Called Inabol (long woven skirt worn by the aristocrats), it is colored using natural dyes (like turmeric) therefore should only be hand-washed and air-dried away from sunlight to preserve its color. Unlike its more popular cousin, Inabel from Ilocos, Inabol is made using Phil. white cotton making it softer and more delicate to the touch.
An Inabol scarf (approximately 2m in length) would fetch an average of Php 900, not bad considering the craftsmanship. I thoroughly regret not getting one when I had the chance. So when you come visit and see something you like, go ahead and buy it. Not only will you be taking a piece of history back home, but you’ll help support our fellow Ifugaos as well.
The second floor showcases the Ifugao heritage collection of traditional body ornaments, old photographs, rattan artifacts, and tribal wear.
The establishment is well-maintained and gives us a peek into the Ifugao lifestyle. I only hope more people will come visit as it’s not as popular as the other tourist spots. If you’ve read this far, do include the Indigenous People Center in your itinerary.
Yamashita Surrender Site
Did you know that World War II ended in Kiangan? General Tomoyuki Yamashita, Imperial General of the Japanese Army, officially surrendered to the Americans in Kiangan on September 2, 1945 after coming out of his hiding place in Hungduan. Since there was no higher officer to surrender to in Kiangan, Yamashita was then brought to Baguio City on September 3rd where he formally signed surrender documents.
Now aptly called “Victory Day,” the people of Kiangan, Ifugao celebrate September 2 of every year in order to commemorate the heroic deeds and bravery of the Filipino soldiers who fought against the Japanese invaders.
A mini museum of veteran photographs and war memorabilia can be found beside the marker and is available for viewing. We were accompanied by Ms. Susan del Mundo (DOT Attache to New York ) and Mayor Joselito Guyguyon.
And, do a side trip to the Bontoc Village Museum
A quick drive from Kiangan and you’ll see the Bontoc Museum where you’ll discover more about the Cordilleran history. Cameras are not allowed inside but the tour guide will regale you with stories about the traditional Ifugao costumes, the history of the headhunters, meanings of various rituals, chants, etc. There are many heirloom pieces on display from different ethno-linguistic groups of the Cordillera.
The site was founded by Belgian nun, Sr. Basil Gekiere, who began her missionary work in Bontoc in 1931. There is an open air museum beside it that depicts a traditional Ifugao village (called Ili) with their signature huts. The huts are compact, low, and has room for only a fireplace and rice granary. It is made extremely sturdy to protect the Ifugaos from the mountainous cold weather, and — believe it or not — was built without the use of nails!
The village includes an Olog (girls’ dormitory), a pig pen with a live vegan boar, a burial site, a tool shed, and several stone shelters. Feel free to explore and take photos in this part of the museum.
How to get to Kiangan:
- Take the 30-minute flight to Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya via Platinum Aviation Skies, Inc. Schedule is 3x per week and upon landing in Bagabag, drive/commute to Kiangan will only take 1.5 hours. One way ticket is Php 4980/per pax.
- Drive from Manila to Banaue, travel time is 14 hours
I recommend taking the more convenient route of flying especially if you are traveling with kids and seniors. For Weekend Warriors, flying is the more cost-effective and sensible option as it won’t eat up your vacation leaves. If you find the ticket prices exorbitant, remember that Batanes and Siargao cost pretty much the same.
Another reason to fly is Kiangan is the first stop from the airport, so you definitely have a reason to visit or even stay overnight.
Need a tour guide or agency?
For a hassle-free journey get in touch with Wakay Travel and Tours, the official partner of Platinum Aviation Skies, Inc. This ensures you won’t have to go through the time-consuming effort of arranging everything. Just book and go. Simple, easy. Visit https://www.facebook.com/bataneswakaytravel/ or call 0917 833 6779 / 215-2755 for more details.
There is definitely more to discover and experience in the Cordillera Region that a visit back is in order. What are you favorite tourist spots or fond memories of your visit to Ifugao? Share them with me in the comments.
Photos courtesy of Uhde Asual for TPB.