They need no introduction to my fellow Filipinos and to many people from many parts of the world who have seen their beauty.
Built about 2,000 years ago, it is hard to believe how the inhabitants of these places had managed to carve layers and layers of land around steep mountains by means of primitive tools and early methods, largely by hand. This they did to have more space to plant taro and then rice.
These clusters of terraces are found in the neighboring provinces of Kalinga, Apayao, Ifugao, Benguet, and Mountain Province north of the Philippines.
While the terraces cover a very expansive area, only 5 clusters are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. These are:
1. the Nagacadan cluster in the town of Kiangan
2. the Hungduan cluster in the town of Hungduan
3. the central Mayoyao cluster in the town of Mayoyao
4. the Bangaan cluster in the town of Banaue
5. the Batad cluster also in Banaue
Most terraces have layers with stones or mud as walls. They were built to withstand time and the battering of weather.
For so many years, the terraces have blessed the Ifugao people with good harvest. Aside from rice, vegetables have also been planted on the paddies.
Unfortunately, the rice terraces face some challenges today. For one, the incidents of drought in recent years have resulted to dried up rice ponds, hence the low productivity.
Also, many houses are now built on some of these terraces. Some of these houses were built purposely for tourist lodgings and shops.
Another thing is that many young Ifugaos today are not fond of farming anymore. Many of them prefer being tourist guides instead, or engaging in other professions which they deem more lucrative than farming. Hence, less and less hands are working for the constant reconstruction and care of the terraces.
I can only hope that these terraces would still exist many, many years from now. Not for tourism purposes, but for the next generations of Ifugaos to enjoy the fruits of their lands and to appreciate their cultural heritage. May these stairways to heaven always remind them of their ancestors’ love for nature, their persistence and ingenuity, and their determination to make a living out of steep mountains without disturbing the harmony of man and the environment.