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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 02:32









Clustered Huts: Typical of an Ifugao Village

Source: H. Glossary Link O. Beyer; Courtesy of Beyer Family Museum




Ifugao house building is one of the most admired ethnic architectural designs for having employed an indigenous system of construction that is more complex than its seeming simplicity. Yet due to the amalgam of factors such as the effects of christianization, economic development, education, and modernization, Ifugao architecture, like many of the people’s indigenous knowledge systems and practices, is also losing ground as contemporary generation of Ifugaos are increasingly being disengaged from their beliefs, customs, and traditions. Thus, the emergence and progressive broadening of a distressing gap between older Ifugao traditional knowledge holders and today’s generation.

The history of the Ifugao architecture is intertwined with that of the people, their socio-cultural beliefs and practices, as well as their traditional knowledge systems and practices. But while Ifugao architecture is deemed an essential part of the people’s remarkably rich tangible heritage that allows present-day generation to understand and appreciate their past, barely is there an effort undertaken to conserve it. At present, traditional Ifugao house builders are dwindling and native huts are at the verge of extinction, a disturbing reality which practically threatens the survival of the people’s already vanishing heritage.

Imperative to the conservation of the traditional Ifugao house is the understanding of its intrinsic values in conjunction with acquiring the knowledge and skill of its construction. This way, we come to appreciate our past, enhance our present lives, and outline the framework of our future.

This research aims to examine the significant values of the traditional Ifugao house. It hopes to contribute in imparting substantial knowledge and enriching our understanding of Ifugao architecture, thereby, encouraging the cultivation of a strong local and national pride. As stated by Noche (2009), the history and culture of a nation can be reflected in its architectural heritage.

The study may also be utilized in devising indigenized learning materials for students, awareness promotion, formulating guidelines for conservation, and most importantly, revitalization of an age-old but functional Ifugao house building technology. "For heritage is how one generation shapes, preserves and maintains the past, in the process of preparing and enhancing the present for future generations” (Manuel R. Salak III).



Mythical Origin

Myth reveals to us that the first house in Ifugao originated from the Skyworld. One day, Skyworld god Wigan looked down to the Earthworld and saw the lush but uninhabited land of Kay-ang (now Kiangan).  “What a pity such fertile land is desolate,” he said to himself. Hence, he thought out a plan to populate the place. That night he made a house and filled it with rice. Then, he made several  cages, put in a couple of chicken, and hung it at the sides of the houses' floor beams. He tied pigs too on the posts. Having ensured that everything is set, he carried his sleeping children, Cabbigat and Bugan, and brought them inside the house. After whispering farewell to his children, he carefully brought down the house to the riverside side in Kay-ang. In the morning, Cabbigat and Bugan woke up and realized they were in a strange place. House building was, thus, initiated by the gods. The knowledge and skill was passed on to the human beings and later enhanced the technology to suit their needs and preferences.


Informants relate that, initially, the Ifugaos lived on thatched huts built directly on the ground. Walls were either made of bamboo of planks of wood. Later, as they settled and began cultivating rice, they constructed elevated storage houses, now known as granary houses or alang. This building technique enabled them to safeguard the stacked rice, ritual paraphernalia, and implements from infestation of rats and other pests as well as from other hazards. From the granary houses, they patterned their elevated dwelling houses commonly called as bale (Scott:1966 and Sato:1991).

Types of Ifugao Houses

There are four types of houses in Ifugao. First is the abong which is basically a hut built directly on the ground.  Second is the  inappal  which is slightly elevated from the ground. For some, the abong and the inappal operate as temporary shelters when working in the rice fields or swidden farms. Conversely, these types of huts serve as a permanent residence especially for those who cannot afford to construct the more elaborate bale, the third type of Ifugao house.

The bale is elevated from the ground by four sturdy posts about 10 to 12 feet high.  It is primarily used as the family’s dwelling unit. Among the Ifugaos, a household is composed of the father, mother, and the children. Children no longer sleep with their parents upon reaching puberty, rather, they sleep at the agamang. To make sure they are guided accordingly, they are accompanied by an unmarried or widowed man or woman who often serves as their counselor.  Grandparents, even in their old age and dependency stage, usually insist on living independently in another house. To ensure that their basic needs are daily met, children check their condition daily and scamper multiple errands for them.

The Bale; Photo: Scott (1966)


The fourth type is the alang or the granary house which is usually located near the rice fields. Normally, it is utilized for storing dried harvested rice and the rice gods (bulul). At times, however, the alang is used as a grave or to keep  exhumed bones of a family member or relative. Only the kadangyan (elite) have granaries for they have  lots of rice to store.

The Glossary Link Alang: Rice granary; Illustration: CECAP (2000)




Structural Frame

On the outside, the Ifugao house seems to be nothing but a windowless pyramidal structure resting on four posts. A thorough examination of the structure, however, reveals a complex technology that renders it a tensile strength capable of withstanding devastating typhoons, torrential rain, and violent earthquakes.  It is constructed out of carefully selected indigenous timbers that are sturdily mortised, pegged, and latched to hold the house together. In its entirety, no nails and bolts are used for all connections.

Structural Framework of the Ifugao House; Illustration: Yamashita (1982)



Size and Floor Plan

The Ifugao house has a square floor plan. Although the size of the house is determined by the socio-economic status of the people, an average Ifugao house is approximately 12-14 feet wide and 12-14 feet long.

Parts of the House

  1. Posts (tukud). The house is erected on four strong posts which are usually made of large round logs having an approximate size of 8-12 inches wide by 6-10 feet in length. These are buried about 2-3 feet below the ground and locked in with stones as foundation. Some posts have intact roots.  These are simply set on the ground with the truncated roots acting as footing.

  2. Wooden Discs (lidi). Around the four posts are wooden discs to prevent rats from entering the house. The discs are about 2 to 14 inches thick and 36 to 40 inches in diameter. Either a square opening or a bore hole is created at the middle portion for the post’s tip to fit in.

  3. Transverse Girders (kuling). Two transverse girders are attached at the front and rear posts. They support the two floor beams and center floor joist. Girders may be 12-14 inches thick with 14-16 inches depth and 12-14 feet long. The top surface of each girder is flat while the base is rounded.

  4. Side Floor Beams (mundilig). These are the outer two floor beams through which the tenons of the secondary posts and wallboards are mortised. They have right angled grooves to receive the floorboards.

  5. Center Floor Beam (gawaan). It is the center floor beam upon which the floorboards are fastened. Both sides of the center floor beam have right angled grooves for attaching the floorboards.

  6. Front and Rear Floor joist (hakpo). These are the first two floor boards upon which the other boards are affixed.

  7. Secondary Posts (bagat). These are the posts at the house’s main level. Each post is mortised at the base with the outer floor beam. Likewise, each upper tenon of the secondary post is mortised with the purlin.

  8. Floor (dotal). The wooden planks of the floor are about 2 inches thick and 7 feet 7 inches long.  The width varies from 12 or 16 to 30 inches wide that covers the whole floor area.

  9. Purlin (wanan). The wanan is a horizontal timber supporting the rafters of the roof. It also carries the central cross-beam .

  10. Intermediate Post (pamadingan). These support the ceiling beam and the lintel beam or purlin.

  11. Wall Header (huklub). This chest level transverse beam is where the wall boards are rabbeted.

  12. Wall boards (gaob). These measure about 1½ inches thick, with varying width and height. Each board has a v-shaped bottom and top to fit the grooved floor beams, joists, and wall header.

  13. Shelves (patye). These are built at the sides of the walls. From the wall header to the roof, boards are fitted horizontally to form a shelf. The space is wide enough to accommodate many clothes, mats, blankets and other household belongings. The shelf above the wall header serves as a cupboard.

  14. Attic Central Beam (pumpitolan). It is upon this attic central beam where one or two king posts are positioned.

  15. King Post (taknang). The king post holds the roof from collapsing.  It stands at the attic central beam and its tip as attached at the center of the apex frame.

  16. Apex Frame (ambubullan). The ambubullan supports the upper ends of the rafters, the roof a pyramidal shape. It also serves as the smoke exhaust of the house.

  17. Attic (palah/palan). A stick mat (atag) is fitted between the crossbeam and purlin to serve as a platform for the attic.

  18. Rafters (kaho). These are long, round tree trunks or chopped flat boards held by the square roof apex frame. Small tree branches are chiseled and pegged into the apex frame to hold the top rafters in place. The lower ends of the rafters are also pegged to the purlins. They are equally spaced and cantilevered to the level of the floor area.

  19. Cross rafters (ibat). Split bamboos and stick of ronos are laid out across the longitudinal rafters and are tied by rattan vines.

  20. Roofing (atop).  Bundled cogon grass roofing are laid begining from the base to the top.  These are tied over woven slit bamboos. The eaves of the roof may descend to the level the floor. The door is constructed facing south so as not to face directly the rising of the sun from the east. Doing otherwise will expose the occupants to accidents and death. Sliding panels of wood are used to close doorways. Entrance to the house is gained by means of a ladder that is removed at night.

  21. Fireplace (pamalakngan). It is composed of a hearth (pundapulan), fire wood shelf (huguhug), and rice stacking shelf (pala-an). Except for houses used as rice granaries, the Ifugao house is equipped with an earthen fireplace about 3 to 5 square feet.  Above it are layers of open shelves. The lower shelf is used for drying firewood . A shelf above it is used to dry stacks of rice and other food staples to be dried and preserved.

  22. Door (panto).  Movable door shutters are hanged to a rattan vine tied to the end of the  wallboards of to the intermediate posts and door jambs. It is locked in place by a wooden bar to a hook-shaped wood.

  23. Ladder (tete). It is a wooden or bamboo ladder with wooden rungs.  It provides access  to the house.  For the safety of the occupants,  the ladder is pulled inside at night.


Wooden rafters being tied and pegged; Photo: Barton (1922)



Functionality of Space

Despite its being a one-room house, the space of the Ifugao house is multi-functional. It does not only serve as a shelter from environmental elements and a place to cook, eat and sleep but for other purposes as well.

The three functional levels of the Ifugao House; Illustration: Zenia B. Ananayo



Functional levels of the Ifugao House

There are three functional levels of the Ifugao house. The first level, called daulon, is a space under the house. It is used for a midday rest, entertaining visitors, weaving, carving, and accomplishing household tasks. At the center end of the girders  are crude carved dog heads or wooden hooks that serve as hangers.  At other times, the ground level serves as a social and cultural space. It becomes the setting for weddings, wakes, death anniversaries, religious rites and other life-cycle celebrations.

The second and main level is the family’s living room, kitchen, and bedroom. It is accessible through a removable ladder. Within the sides of the main level are shelves, that serve as  storage area for clothes and blankets as well as kitchen utensils, farm tools and equipments, and ritual paraphernalia. In addition, it acts as a structural support to the roof.

Above the main level is the attic, commonly known as the palah. It is made by lining the attic beams with a stick mat known as atag. Basically, this space is utilized for storing rice.

The multi-functionality of the Ifugao house makes the space inside “flow into the outside, into nature and into the lives of other people in the community,” (Rodriguez-Java: 2000:83) as characteristic of most Southeast Asian dwellings.

Ethnic Variation

Traditional houses of the Tuwali ethnic groups in Kiangan, Asipulo, Lagawe, Hingyon, and Hungduan share similar architectural designs. This could be attributed to the relatively temperate climate these municipalities experience.

Generally, posts are either with or without roots. However, distinctive of the Lagawe houses are the three posts with truncated roots while the remaining fourth post is a plain round or square log. This provides added stability and resilience against intense earthquake.  Meanwhile, the height of the wallboards reaches up to chest level necessitating the shelves to be at a higher elevation. Further, the roof is moderately inclined, between 50 to 60 degrees, and commonly descends only a foot below the level of the shelves.

Left: Typical Ayangan (Lagawe, Asipulo, Glossary Link Lamut) House; Illustration: Gregorio B. Umingli

Middle: Typical Mayoyao (Henanga) House; Illustration: Adapted from William Henry Scott

Right: Typical Tuwali (Hingyon, Lagawe, Kiangan, Hungduan) House; Illustration:  Manual Dulnuan & Tzar Catiling

Variations in roofing may also be observed. Characteristic of the Banaue and Mayoyao houses are the steeply inclined roofing that descends to the level of the floor or at least at a foot higher than the floor. Essentially, this type of roofing insulates occupants from the wintry breeze and torrential rainfall which are typical of the upland climate.

Moreover, unlike the Tuwali houses, Ayangan houses in Banaue and Mayoyao have low level side walls, measuring about one to two feet in height. Practically, this gives more advantage to the occupants of the house because it offers them a wider living space.

Left: Hungduan House (Photo: Zenia Ananayo)

Middle: Banaue House (Photo: Jovel Francis Ananayo)

Right: Mayoyao House (Photo: Marlon Martin)




The ancient Ifugaos were neither architects nor engineers but were able to build strong houses. The munhabat is a local carpenter who lays the foundation, approximates the dimensions, chops, chisels, and fits each part of the house.  Usually, a house is built on a firm flat ground. For a hill, the slope is leveled then stonewalled. A rice field may also be drained and allowed to stand for at least five months before the site is prepared for house building.


A flat stone boulder called gopnad among the Tuwali and chalimug among the Ayangan is firmly positioned at the bottom of the hole where the posts are to be erected to serve as bearing foundation. The stone prevents the post from sinking in case the soil is soft. Besides this, the outward spreading of  the posts' truncated roots  act as an excellent footing in steadying the structure.

Earthquake Proofing

The stone boulder placed inside each hole acts as a roller which enables the posts to move and resist the devastating effects of earthquake tension. Moreover, because the walls are rabbeted outwards into the wall header and are detached from the posts, this allows the walls and posts some degree of independence and freedom of movement against force. The wisdom of this technology has been proven effective in countering ground movement caused by earthquake (Rodriguez-Java: 2000:85).

Proportion and Balance

Lumber sizes are approximate but carpenters make sure that dimensions are proportionate to the floor area.  To achieve balance, parts have corresponding sizes and shapes.  Symmetry is attained by making certain that the center beam is of equal weight with the transverse girders.  Experienced house builders clarify that the bigger the house, the bigger supporting lumbers are needed. Similarly, the heavier the weight of the materials, the stronger the house becomes.


The steeply inclined pyramidal roof is covered with thick layers of  cogon.  This insulates the house from the heat of the sun and from torrential rain. Solar heat is slowly transmitted through the thatched roofing and exposed walls, thus keeping the interior cool by day and warm at night.

Lighting and Ventilation

Air and light enters the interior of the house through the single door. Most houses do not have windows although others have a backdoor or sometimes a side door, thereby, acting as window. The  apex frame of the roof acts as smoke vent. In addition, the porous roof allows smoke from the fire place to slowly seep out of the house despite the inadequacy of exhaust outlet. Apparently, the limited ventilation and lighting do not pose much a problem to the inhabitants as they spend most of their day time at the rice fields, swidden farms, or at the ground level accomplishing other tasks.



Modern equipments and technologies are remote to the Ifugaos of ancient times, yet their ingenuity enabled them to devise ways to measure, cut, shape, and connect each part of the house with incredible precision.


Traditional Ifugao houses are built without nails; Photo: Zenia B. Ananayo



To cut and chop timber, a native ax (wahe) is used for chopping timber. Then, a spool of string (paltik) soaked in a staining liquid is employed to mark straight lines on logs, thus serving as guide when cutting or sawing.  For making mortise and tenon, chipping extra segments, as well as contouring lumber into its desired form, a large and heavy single bladed bolo is utilized. A chisel is also used in boring holes. Rattan vines, on the other hand, are split thinly by means of a small but sharp knife. Meanwhile, coarse leaves of the Leha tree are used as sand paper to  refine the surfaces of the boards.


System of Measurement

Length and width of timber are estimated by means of arms length, a technique commonly known as dopah. Both arms are extended and the distance is measured from fingertip to fingertip. One dopah may have an equivalent of about four to five feet depending on how long are the arms of the person estimating the measurement. On the average, the floor area of a regular house measures about two square dopah or about eight to ten square feet.

Another method of measurement used is the dangan. It makes use of the span of the thumb and middle fingers' tip when stretched. This system of measurement is frequently employed when calculating width of boards. Correspondingly, one dangan or hindangan is about seven to eight inches.

Chest level measurement can also be used in determining height especially that of wallboards. Among the Tuwali ethnic groups, wallboards are usually at chest level which is about three to four feet. This is very different from the Ayangan of Banaue and Mayoyao wherein wallboards are at knee level, about one to two feet in height.

Wall boards are usually measured Glossary Link at Chest level; Photo:  Teresa P. Aliguyon



Mortise and Tenon

In a timber, a square hole is usually made to serve as a mortise. The end of another timber is shaped in a tenon to snugly fit into the mortise on the other timber.  To ensure hat attached parts are firmly fitted, carpenters in Mayoyao coat holes with a moistened ash of burnt rice panicle. A firmly fitted mortise leaves marks of the ash on the tenon when detached. However, if a portion does not have ash markings, it indicates poor fitting, hence, adjustments have to be made.


At the edge of the board, a groove or recess is made in such a way that another piece may be fitted into it. For example, a furrow is sculpted at the outer sides of the floor beams as a vessel for the wallboards. Then, the upper ends of the wallboards are rabbeted into the chest level  wall header. The floor joists are also rabbeted to the side floor beams just as the floor boards are rabbeted to the floor joists and beams.

Tying and Pegging

Parts that cannot be attached through mortise and tenon or by rabbetting, are held together by tying and pegging.  Carpenters often make small holes and drive wooden pegs to fasten the parts together. Alternatively, parts of the house such as the rafters may be tied to the apex and at the base with the use of split rattan vine. Dried cogon are also bundled with rattan strips and carefully clipped onto the rafters as roofing.



Erecting an Ifugao house follows a systematic procedure.  Parts that match are usually marked for easier installation and firm fitting. In fact, parts can actually be pre-fabricated and sequentially assembled as follows:

  1. With the use of the transverse girders and the floor joists, lay out the floor plan and mark the four corners.

  2. Dig holes about two feet deep at the four corners where the posts are to be erected. (For posts with truncated roots, holes are unnecessary. The posts are simply stabilized on the ground with stones.)

  3. Install the foundation stones followed by the posts. Check if the four posts are spaced equidistant from each other and are uniform in height. Fill the holes with soil and thump it with wooden pole or pestle to become dense.

  4. Mount the wooden disks on top of each post.

  5. Affix the transverse girders  into the posts.

  6. Attach the floor beams on top of the girders.

  7. Mortise the secondary post to the side floor beams.

  8. Connect the front floor joist to both ends of the side floor beams. Do the same with the rear floor joist.

  9. Fasten the purlin into the secondary post.

  10. Lock in the wall header to the wall boards.

  11. Mount horizontally the attic center beam and two other supporting beams  to the purlins. Drive wooden pegs to the bore holes at the joints to secure them.

  12. Mortise the king post to the attic center beam. Also, mortise its top tenon to the apex square beam .

  13. Bore holes at the rafters and at the apex frame. After which, tie the upper ends of the rafters to the apex frame.

  14. Structure the rafters with rono sticks. Lay them horizontally over the roof and tie securely.

  15. Roof the house with cogon starting at the bottom progressing upwards. Four to five bundles are tied together one at a time on the rafters. Tie the cogon grass at the protruding king post and cover it a pot so as to keep the knot intact as well as to prevent leakage during rainfall. Afterwards, trim the edges  of the cogon roofing.

  16. Mount the door jamb on the front floor joist.

  17. Firmly fit the floor boards to the floor beams and joists.

  18. Place the wall header over the door jamb.

  19. Refine and fit the wall boards in place.

  20. Put in the supporting beams of the shelves. Next, create the shelves at the front, sides, and rear of the house starting from the wall header to the rafters.

  21. Construct the sliding door by rabbeting the wood planks.

  22. Make a stick mat for the floor of the attic by twining each stick with thinly stripped rattan vine.

  23. Make the movable ladder out of bamboo.

  24. Build the fireplace by filling the three square feet box with soil. Subsequently, install three stones at the middle to serve as fire stove.




Virtually, traditional Ifugao houses are attuned with the physical environment. Settlements were situated near the rice fields. They are simple but multifunctional.

Source & Manufacturing of Materials

Raw materials for construction are derived out of organic matter, from surrounding grasses, trees, and vines. Environmental impact from the processing of these materials into usable elements is, therefore minimal.

Among the best tree species chosen for the main parts of the house are Amogawon (Molave) and Udyo (Narra) because of their lasting life span. Halong (Pine tree), Bangtinon (Kalantas), Banutan (Yakal), Palayon (Oak), Bulhi (Red Lawaan), and other species were used for the other parts. For the roof, cogon grass and arrow cane grass are preferred.


Because parts are skillfully fabricated and joined together through mortise and tenon, rabbetting, tying and pegging, this precludes the unnecessary use of commercial nails. Moreover, in as much as traditional Ifugao houses are movable structures, parts are easily dismantled and reassembled at the relocation site. Cutting of more trees is unnecessary. 

Natural Cooling & Heating Mechanism

While other housing units are not adaptive to climatic changes, the thatched roofing of the traditional Ifugao house provides natural cooling during hot climate while maintaining warmth during cold and rainy seasons.



Attitudes toward houses themselves are an integral part of peoples’ world-views and need to be understood in this wider context. The house is one of most valuable possessions among the Ifugaos. It is the seat of family life where the family procreates and children are nurtured and molded until they are grown and prepared to have families and homes of their own. Hence, its construction is treated with strict observance to certain rules and regulations from the start  until it is finished.

Omens and Taboos

Construction entails the strict observance of taboos and ominous signs as well as performance of several rituals. From the entire duration of the construction, the owner should be vigilant for negative omens that might bring bad luck to the workforce or to the family who will soon occupy the house. For example, a snake or red bird crossing the path while going to the work area imply a negative sign necessitating the postponement of the work and performance of rituals until a good sign is permitted. Conversely, a red bird chirping a merry sound sends forth good hope and fortuity. Work is also set in abeyance if a death vigil is being held within the vicinity.

Looking for a good sign from the deities; Photo: Cecil Glossary Link T. Gullitiw

To make certain that the house would endure the tough environment, workers are usually required to adhere to certain ritual prohibitions known as ngilin. They are obliged to abstain from vine vegetables and aquatic foods. In Mayoyao, house builders are even prohibited from sexual intercourse the night before the start of work, a practice called khipid. To ensure that the prohibitions are religiously observed, some would ask their workers to stay with the family while major work is going on.

Community Cooperation

House building in Ifugao is a group effort, a practice known as dangah. There are three instances whereby the dangah is carried out. Foremost is during the hauling of lumber from the forest to the village. Next, is the gathering of cogon grass and runo shoots for roofing. Then, third is the construction of the main house parts.

When one intends to build a house, he informs his kinsmen and neighbors, inviting them to help him either in the cutting and hauling of lumber or in the construction. To demonstrate profound gratitude, the house builder’s family prepares ample food and drinks for the workforce. If their means permit, a pig may be butchered for their lunch.  If not, they should prepare at least a meal with pork as viand. For the afternoon relaxation, sufficient rice wine is brewed for their indulgence.

The workers do not expect any pay for the labor they voluntarily rendered. The mere thought of having been able to extend assistance when one is in great need is deemed a valuable compensation. On the other hand, one is assured that willing hands are readily available when needed in the future.

Gender Roles

Conventionally, the male members of the family prepare the lumber, runo sticks, and rattan vines. They are also responsible for erecting the structure. On the other hand, the females gather, dry, bundle, and transport the cogon to the house construction site and prepare the meal of the workforce.


a.  Inheritance

Among the Ayangan and Henanga group, the family house is usually vacated and given to the eldest child upon marriage.  Custom prescribes for parents to build a new house soon as they receive information of their son or daughter's plan of getting married.  This way, the couple will have a shelter of their own.

In contrast, the family house, among the Tuwali, is reserved for the youngest child of the family. In so far as the youngest is deemed to be the last to marry and leave the house, he or she would at least have a place to stay. Besides, the youngest child has the responsibility of caring for the parents in their old age.  Hence, the house stays with him or her.

b.  Exchange Agreement

By this mode of ownership, a person may negotiate to an owner of a house to exchange his house with another property, say, a set of gongs, gold, animals, or others. Usually, this kind of agreement takes place during crisis such as illness or death of a family member or relative wherein sacrificial animals are required.

c.  Through Purchase

Similar to the exchange agreement is the purchase of the house. Long ago, Ifugaos have limited cash. So, they used their valuable heirlooms and animals to buy a house. Again, this is a rare occurrence for nobody would want to sell his house unless in dire necessity.

Adornments & Symbols

Decorations are aesthetics as well as socio-politico-religious emblems. The Ifugaos used to make ornaments, statues, or emblems that were consecrated through rituals  before exhibiting it in their house yard or in their house. Normally, it takes a couple of years for a family to prepare for a prestige ritual. At times, series of rituals have to be accomplished before obtaining an emblem.


Skulls of butchered carabaos during rituals and feasts serve as status symbol for the family


After a ritual performance, the rich or kadangyan display skulls of butchered pigs and horns of carabaos on the walls of their houses as ornaments to show off their wealth and social status.

The hagabi is a wooden bench that signifies the highest social rank in Ifugao. Its origin is traced to the people of Kiangan. Its construction requires the participation of community members.  Ritual celebration lasts for several days.  Instead of a hagabi, one may opt to create a kamalig, a circular stone paved area within the house yard of the kadangyan.

The Glossary Link hagabi is used as a lounge during Glossary Link day time; Photo: R.F. Barton


Other emblems are the wooden icon of a pugong or halcyon placed at  the top of the roof and the balog which is a wooden sculpture of a lizard installed at the main house post.  In all prestige ritual performances, the couple bears the expenses. In return, the kadangyan status is accorded to both of them.

House Construction Rituals

Like other traditional Southeast Asian houses, the Ifugao house is considered as having a soul. For instance, because the Henanga of Mayoyao believe that every tree has a soul, they ensure to make the five main parts of the house such as the posts, side floor beams, center floor beam, transverse girders, and secondary posts from different trees. By doing this, they are convinced that the bonding of the trees' souls will keep the house strong against calamities. For the other parts of the house, the remaining portions of the lumber are used.

Before commencing the construction of a house, the people of Asipulo and Kiangan execute the kuwe ritual. This is to seek permission from the deities as well as to beg them to protect the workers and the structure so that no harm may beset them. In addition, the kuwe is performed to ward off evil spirits that might imitate and haunt the workers. In the municipality of Hungduan, the kuwe may be done during the construction of the house.

When a new house is constructed, the Ayangan and Tuwali groups perform the hogop ritual to ask the deities for blessings of prosperity and good health for the occupants of the house. In case a bad omen is observed from the bile sac of the sacrificial animal, habitation of the house is postponed or called off. Through experience, bad omen usually signifies an impending doom for the family. It is, therefore, interpreted as forewarning from the deities. If, during house construction, a member of the household gets ill, construction is stopped and either the kuwe or hogop ritual is performed.

After the hogop, a welfare ritual for the house commonly known as hongan di bale may be carried out. The traditional priest or mumbaki blesses every part, corner, and level of the house so it may last long and bring peace, harmony, and fortune to the occupants. At the same time, a family welfare ritual (hongan di tagu) may also be performed for the occupants.

Kinship, Spatial & Gender Relationships

A house constitutes not just a physical structure but also the group of people who claims membership in it (Waterson:1990). Figuratively, the house is sometimes used by the people to refer to the household living in it. For example a couple, normally living as husband and wife, is often referred to as himbale and their children as imbabale, all of which have derived their root word from the bale.

Meanwhile, the Ifugaos order their daily activities and interactions within the built structure in an egalitarian way. Unlike other cultural groups where women are constrained to the domestic space and limited to accomplishing household chores as well as reproductive roles, women in Ifugao transcend beyond the domestic space of the household. The wife is often regarded as a vital partner in meeting family needs such as in food production, ritual performance, decision making processes, among others.

Usually, an "architecture’s enclosures and bounding surfaces reconsolidate cultural gender differences by monitoring the flow of people and the distribution of human subjects within the space" (Lico: 2001:36). For instance, separate rooms are often built for the parents as well as for male and female children. However, in the Ifugao house, the absence of partitions demarcating the interactions of male and female members of the family permits a rather liberal communication between genders. Despite this permissiveness, taboos and proper conduct of behavior between and among siblings of the opposite gender as prescribed in Ifugao norms and mores are strictly observed to ensure that no one is gravely mistreated. Likewise, older members of the household ensure that children learn to become responsible adults.



Plainly, one may only see the awkward simplicity and drabness of the traditional Ifugao house, hence the lack of appreciation thereof. To see its beauty, one must perceive beyond what is apparent and look into the embedded meanings, beliefs, and practices. The built environment, spaces, and the activities of people are inter-related and inseparable. Thus, the traditional Ifugao house serves as an expression of the people’s creativeness, feelings, thought processes, values, experiences, fears, and aspirations.

Like other folk architecture, traditional Ifugao architecture is primarily designed for utilitarian purposes - as a shelter against environmental elements as well as to rest, procreate, and raise a family. This does not mean though that the aesthetic aspects in house building have not been considered. Although Ifugao forebears may not have acquired a specialized education in architecture, closer examination of the structure reveals that native carpenters clearly understand and apply architectural principles that give beauty and durability to a building such as proportion, harmony, and space, among others. In the local vernacular, anything good is ‘maphod”. And, the notion of beauty is akin to goodness. In the case of the traditional Ifugao house, the people build not only what is regarded as useful but also what appeals to their senses.

One of the most essential qualities of Ifugao architecture that evokes beauty is its adaptiveness to the ecology of the place. This is reflected in the environmentally appropriate construction and structural design of the house. Lumber are carefully chosen from the sturdiest species to give the house a long life. Further, variations in floor elevation and degree of roof inclination are employed to suit climatic and socio-cultural needs. In addition, its prefabricated characteristic renders it an outstanding inventiveness. This allows an owner to detach parts and assemble it again especially when transferring to another site.

Meanwhile, though the ornaments exhibited in their houses reflect their aspirations for diversification and social stratification, the value of sharing invariably seen in the community cooperation practices and rituals during and after the construction signify the goodness and cohesiveness of their social organization.

Moreover, although religious observance of taboos and elaborate performance of rituals can be interpreted as manifestations of fears due to their vulnerability to the harsh environment, these, nevertheless, reflect the people's high level of awareness and spirituality.

Through time, however, Ifugao architecture has undergone transformations. It has merged with modern architecture to suit the preferences of the people and increase their comfort.

Among most of the present-day Ifugaos, the single room traditional house is no longer appropriate for their lifestyle. Extensions to the structure have been observed in some houses to accommodate the increasing number of the family. Spaces for living, cooking, and sleeping areas are now specifically designated. And when the family affords, separate rooms for the male and female members are built.

Apparent also is the use of galvanized iron sheets as roofing material. Although the material makes the indoor temperature too hot during dry season, its durability as well as resistance to rain and fire convinced the people to choose galvanized iron sheets over cogon grass roofing.

Most of the village settlers have also moved to town centers and along major roads where two to four-storey modern buildings with several rooms are being erected for convenience purposes. Except in Mayoyao and Banaue, very few families still own Ifugao traditional houses in addition to their modern houses. Others have either sold their traditional houses to outsiders or antique collectors, left unoccupied, or simply abandoned them. For those who have retained their traditional houses, they utilize it as storage.

Soon, Ifugao traditional houses will cease if these are not preserved. With the dissipation of indigenous knowledge, Ifugao traditional house building technology may be lost. If that happens, a significant part of Ifugao heritage will be gone forever.



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