Chapter 6 Lifestyle
In this chapter, changes in Ifugao lifestyle will be examined, with the first emphasis on changes of houses in Ifugao will be first examined. In Ifugao families, houses are not only the place every daily activity takes place, but is also a physical connection to their cultural beliefs. Therefore, the changes in houses may represent changes in life and culture. Then, the Ifugao clothes and dances will be examined. The Ifugao clothes, the attire for women and the g-string for men are still the most iconic element of an image of indigenous Ifugaos today. Yet at present, changes are also taking place. In the third section, the topic turns to betel nut chewing. The importance of betel nut chewing in Ifugao society will be explained, as well as how this old habit is going to change in the future.

1.1        Ifugao houses

The traditional Ifugao houses vary slightly in different municipalities, but typically have a structure of four wood posts that supports a two-story room and a thatched roof. Despite the seemingly simple structure, the building of one of these houses, from laying the foundation and collecting the material to the finish of the construction, could require years of time. Moreover, the houses need to be reroofed ever five to ten years as the roofs wear out.

1.1.1        Changes in houses

Houses in Ifugao are changing. The majority buildings now are square and multi-story with vertical walls built of concrete and rebar and topped with a corrugated metal roof (Figure 45). Only at some corner on a road or in some remote villages would one find native houses. Unlike the native ones, the new concrete houses are usually equipped with electricity, glass windows, television satellite dishes, water tanks, and so forth. Interviewees in every researched municipality witness this change as two of them said that in the past “the houses were all native [and there was] no roof like the metal ones” (RF1) and “now, you can see mansions here. No native house” (BW14). At the same time, there were modifications in the native houses. Although overall, the structure of them remains, the thatched roofs are replaced by the metal ones and windows are installed, as is electricity.
Figure 45: New houses in Banaue

1.1.2        Perceptions of the changes and proposed measures

Comparing the new and native houses, most interviewees agreed that it was a positive change. The primary reason for building concrete houses is population growth, as well as better protection from natural calamities. It was said, “it is good to have a modern [house] because one native house can only serve one family or a few people” (BW9), so “even if they only have three or five children, the house is still not big enough. And [so] they have to build a modern house” (RF5). And at the same time, “with changing weather patterns and the fact that storms are stronger and stronger, you are going to have to build concrete houses that can withstand storms, landslides and earthquakes and all these things” (VI9). Some interviewees also found the new houses more comfortable, as one of them recalled that “we used to sleep on the floor so it was not comfortable, but now there are foams and good blankets so people [can] have sound sleep” (RF6). And in terms of the change in the roofing material, one interviewee said “the reason is that it is very difficult to maintain [the native roof]. And the cogon grass[1] is not suitable here this time. One reason may be the climate change; it is getting hotter here so that may affect the grass. So there is continual [grass] disappearance here. The second is that people want to adjust to strong winds or typhoons. It takes time to maintain the cogon grass roof. When I asked them why they changed their roof to metal, they said they want to reduce the effort, cost, and time in maintaining the roof. They [also] want to go with the trend, since they see their neighbors changing to metal and they also want that” (BW12).
It was pointed out as well that despite these benefits, there are also undesirable effects of these modifcations. When talking about the new metal roof, one interviewee said, “when you take photographs and the roofs of the huts are bright, it does not look good” (BW12). The advatanges in the structure of the native Ifugao houses were also recognized. One interviewee explained that she still preferred living in a native house because “in a native house we sleep there [and] we cook there. It is very warm and it is not cold in night time[2] because we build [a] fire inside. And when it is raining you cannot hear any sound[3]” (RF1). Another one said, “why are there four wood discs under columns[4] here? They are for the rats and typhoon. And if there is a flood, it is not easy to be flooded. One thing unique about the Ifugao hut I consider is the roofing also. If there is a typhoon, the strong force of the typhoon is not forced on one direction but the whole. It is a balance” (BW12). Other than these practical reasons, nostalgia can be one reason. It was said that “although the roof is changed, the original structure is remained [maintained]. We do not like to change it total because it is where our forefathers grew [up] and where we were born. So the native houses are still there although we build modern houses” and “we are thinking what if this generation passes and what if the next generation doesn’t want to build the native house any more. That is the fear” (RF5).
While most Ifugaos were slowly giving up their native houses, some non-Ifugao people, even from abroad, wanted to preserve them. Tourists are typically disappointed at the loss of the native houses, as one of them told me the native houses were “more matched with nature” (VI8) whereas the modern ones were “little boxes, that is all” (VI8). Sometimes this difference in perspectives can cause conflicts. An interviewee told me, “I am against those foreigners who said we should not put any electricity in the hut. For them, they just experience it for a day, so they don’t like that we are using electricity” (BW12). And he recalled that “an Australian family once bought a small hut for 250,000 [pesos] (U.S. $5,000). The [owner] family and local government agreed to sell but when they [the Austrailians] moved it to Manila, the Indigenous People Agency said they would buy the hut at double price, and keep the hut in the national museum[5]. But the Australians insisted. Then I do not know what solution or settlement they had” (BW12).
Such anecdotes raised concerns that “those foreigners [would] come here to buy huts and move [them] to their country to make money” (BW12). Thus, calls for preservation were made in the Ifugao communities. It was suggested that “the government can make donation of the roof, and the family who owns the hut can do some community service either in their homes or in the school as payment” (BW12). Another interviewee said “now the government gives some cogon grass here. That is why you can see some new roof” (BW8).

1.2        Ifugao clothes

Consisting of red and black or white stripes, the Ifugao tapis and g-strings appear in every photo of traditional Ifugaos. An elderly interviewee recalled “our uniforms in the past were tapis and g-string, and our clothes were the bark of a tree[6]. They wove [it for] clothes and blankets” (RF7). However, as one interviewee said, “in the year 1963, the children of a German researcher were the first girls to wear pants. At this moment, only a few women are wearing their traditional clothes” (RF6). An elderly interviewee remembered the time he take off his g-string. He said “I am still proud [that] when I was a little boy, I could remove the g-string because my parents could work and buy short pants” (RF5). Nowadays, one can hardly see anyone wearing these traditional clothes. Only in rare instances can one meet an elder woman wearing the tapis skirt on a jeepney, who takes the same journy from some village along the route. However, although it is rare to see Ifugaos wearing traditional clothes everyday, they still keep them in the wardrobe. One interviewee told me that “we don’t use our [traditional] dress every time, only once in a year” (BW4). It is now during festivals or on special occasions when the Ifugaos still put on their tapis and g-strings. An interviewee once jokingly told me he would like to wear g-string not in Ifugao, but outside, because he would immediately become the center of attention. Similarly, one reason the Ifugao tapis is still being made is tourism (Figure 46). A storekeeper said, “the people from the homestays[7] would come here to buy souvenir items for their visitors. They don’t buy for themselves” (BW16).
Figure 46: Elderly dressed in traditional clothes for photography
Along with the change in the use of tapis is the change in the techniques of weaving. Traditionally, during the dry season, Ifugao women would sit on the ground floor under their houses and use the back straps to weave. But now some professional weavers are using loom machines. However, an interviewee said, “there is something unique in the handwoven ones” (KE11), but passing this skill can be a problem as the weavers said, “I want to teach them if they want to learn. So when I die or be[come] old, there will be people making this still” (KE 14).
While beng woven by hand made the traditional clothes unique, it also made them more expensive. “Actually the traditional dress is very expensive because it is handmade. So take the ordinary women’s native dress [as an example]. Now it is about 700 pesos (U.S. $14), but with 700 pesos you can now buy many new dresses” (KE4). Meanwhile, the interviewee also said “you cannot always wear g-string or tapis. There are inconveniences.” Apart from the objective reasons in the traditional clothes, people’s perception changed as well.[8] Some interviewees said, “sorry, I don’t like to wear it [the g-string] so much because of much hair here [on the legs]” (KE4) and “children now are ashamed of wearing native clothes” (KE7). Another interviewee admitted that “what do they [other Ifugaos] want me to wear, like g-strings? Well, we talk about cultural change. There are things that need to change” (KE8).
One of the possible measures, according to an interviewee who went to Thailand for a cultural exchange trip with a group, was to “put [in] some improvement” (KE3). So “we designed a new blouse to replace our tapis”, but they were criticized for not following the tradition, “but one from our group, a young member, said, if you want to follow the tradition, in the old days of our grandparents, they did not even have any tops. They were naked. So if we are to follow the tradition, we should not wear any upper garment.” Compared with that, a more commonly accepted measure was through festivals, as one said, “that is why during the fiestas, they bring all the g-strings and the tapis to wear [so] the children will see and know the culture here in Ifugao” (BW1).

1.3        Ifugao dances

In several interviews, the Ifugao dances were brought up by the interviewees as the symbol of the Ifugao culture. These dances, along with the music by the brass gongs, used to occurr often and had religious and social significance in the traditional life (Figure 47). But now, “they [Ifugaos] only dance on occasions, because most of them find the music not good[9], and even though we asked them to join, they don’t” (GW4) (Figure 48). At an official event I attended, there was spare time before lunch and the moderator invited the officials from different municipalities to dance on a lawn by the stage. None came until several minutes later when one walked up and a couple more slowly joined. But they were shy and their movements were stiff. Soon the small group was dismissed.
Figure 47: Performance of Ifugao dances
In order to conserve the dances, a performing group has been organized and in schools, students are being taught to dance. One interviewee related to these activities said, “[the students] know that some movements symbolize a kind of bird. Well, we accept that sometimes it is boring, but with the awareness of the performance and the hudhud[10], at least people will not forget” (GW2).
However, a majority of the interviewees said, like one of them, that “there are meanings [in the dances] but I don’t know” (BW15). At the same time, as many performances of traditional dances are being put on for tourists (Bulilan, 2007), critics said “the people are abusing the culture. They commercialize the culture. They dance and then tourists will pay them” (RF2).
Perhaps, as the young people learn to dance in school they will also learn the meaning and conserve it as a part of their culture. An elderly interviewee shared her experience, saying, “I was not interested in the cultural dance especially [since] I did not know how to dance, and then whenever I went for viewing, it was so boring because I saw [the dances were] almost the same, the same movements and the same clothes. And I could not understand what the point was. But when I started joining this cultural activity, I learned and I developed to love that culture. And I enjoyed [it]” (RF2).
Figure 48: Learning popular dances outside a municipal hall

1.4        Betel nut chewing

In houses, jeepneys, stores, rice fields, or on roads, almost everywhere, one can see Ifugaos, young and old, with a “chewing mouth.” What they chew is called moma, which consists of a betel (Areca catechu) nut wrapped in a piece of piper vine (Piper betle) leaf and some lime powder, some also with a piece of tobacco leaf to add to the favor. So ubiquitous is the chewing that according to an interviewee, “there is a culture that we have, a tradition of chewing betel nut” (RF4). It also became a social skill. An interviewee said, “if they [Ifugaos] are along the trail, and they are chewing the betel, they would invite the friend to also chew the betel because that is an important part of Ifugao culture. That one has many purposes for us. That alone helps you strike up a conversation. For example, you can ask others if they have an ingredient. So the communication starts from there” (BW12). While this “snack” is believed to make people warm and strong, a young Ifugao told me that “it dirties the teeth” (YP1). Because of new perceptions like this, some places like schools and hospitals are forbidding betel nut chewing.
In Banaue, which is the tourist center of Ifugao, people were concerned that the red spits of moma along the roads are damaging the image of the town and thus they are considering regulations. One possible solution is for people to “always use the waste can to put [in] the betel nut [spits]. That is a matter of discipline”[11] (GW3), said one interviewee.

1.5        Impression of places outside Ifugao

While it may be true that “there is so much division and separation that I think it slows down some of what maybe the western world would call progress but maybe it is really slowing down the invasion of other cultures” (VI9). Through tourism, media and a number of Ifugaos travelling to the lowland Philippines (Figure 49) and even foreign countries, Ifugaos are getting to know more about other places. From their perceptions, clues about the change in their own lifestyle may be found.
Figure 49: The most popular form of transportation in Ifugao
The common impression of the life in foreign countries is that “everybody is so busy and disciplined. They are catching the time[12]. When they meet together, they need to have appointments” (BW18) and that “people there are very disciplined, because if their government asks [them] to do something, they do [it]” (RF11). One young interviewee told me that to him “they have everything. Yes. They have cars [and things] like that” (BW4). One of the pieces of evidence of such perceptions influencing Ifugaos is pointed out by an interviewee as she said “colonization taught us to prefer to work in the office and write, write and write. And it is too hard carrying stones for many people” (KE1).
However, at the same time, as a few learned more about other places, they saw that “there are a lot of young people in the western world who become farmers and work as carpenters and do more manual jobs. So maybe it is changing” (KE1). And at the same time, some realized some dark sides of other places. “In Manila I can see the very rich people and the very poor, but in Ifugao I think people are almost the same. There is no very poor or very rich but just the middle” (YP1). Another interviewee said, “I guess I won’t be happy there” (BW1).

1.6        Intergenerational changes

The life of present day Ifugao’s young people has changed greatly from their grandparents’. All elderly interviewees recalled that when they were young, they “helped their parents” (BW14) who “were only thinking about the work in the field” (BW4). Back then, material goods were not abundant, as one interviewee said that “we didn’t have slippers. We had only one [piece of] clothes. In the past, there was not so much paper. That was why we used the banana leaves to draw. And like now it is raining and when we got wet and arrived home and put [our clothes] on top of the fire to get dry and tomorrow it will be dry. We didn’t have shoes so we tied the betel nut stalk. But it was slippery so sometimes we slipped” (RF9).
Nowadays, Ifugaos are using electric lights, gas stoves, and computers. Smart phones are getting more and more popular as well. Many Ifugaos, especially those who experienced the “difficult” old time are pleased with these changes. One said, “we are happy having all these gadgets around because we will not be far behind. At least we are keeping up with the modern things. You know, with all these things around, we cannot help. Especially, the children are educated to these things. They are very helpful when [the children] use them for research or communication. In fact, I have just learned to use text with cell phone” (KE3).
Similar lifestyle changes took place in the life of Ifugao young people as well. They told me during vacations that, the time they spent on “basketball [was] almost three hours, but internet games [was] maybe five [or] six hours” (Figure 50) (YP1), likewise on the TV[13] and cell phones. In terms of future plans, young interviewees all “want to have a better life” (YP2) by working as a government employee or running a private business. This is also reflected in their drawings of the ideal life (Figure 51).
Figure 50: Internet game room full of young Ifugao men
Figure 51: Four drawings of young generation’s ideal life[14] (IL 02, IL5, IL10, and IL15)
However, the trend that the Ifugao young are neglecting the terraces is not desired by the elders (Catajan, 2015). Two of them complained to me that “young people are lazy. They cannot do what I did in the past” (BW9) and “they are already spoiled. They are not used to hard works. Do not expect them to go to the field” (BW12). Even the middle age interviewees complained about the young. One of them said, “my nieces speak English in the house and want nothing to do with anything traditional Ifugao. They were like ‘No, I will wear my skirts, not the Ifugao skirts’” (KE8). Nevertheless, some of these middle age interviewees admitted that the changes happened in themselves as well. One told me “in the past my parents would cook everyday and after eating, they would pack their lunch and then they go to the rice terraces to work. And in the afternoon, they [would] return home. Even [if] it is raining or the sun is hot, they also work. But me, when it is raining, I am [too] lazy to go to work because I don’t like to work in the rain” (BW14). Another said, “our parents would wake up at four or five o’clock, cook, and leave for the rice field at six o’clock. But now, they wake up at eight o’clock, sit down, chew betel nut, go to market, and even though the population is growing, there is a shortage of man power. I have a harvesting now, and I was telling them to invite six people to go but only four showed up. So the next day, they needed to harvest again” (BW3), said another interviewee.
Figure 52: Four drawing of elder generation’s ideal life[15] (Grandparents of IL1, IL2, IL4, and IL8)
In the afterthoughts of the “ideal life drawing” activity[16], young participants after comparing their ideal life with their grandparents’ (Figure 52), realized the differences that the elder generations “always look forward for a simple yet happy life” (IL7) and “concentrated on life existence” (IL2) while the younger generations “would like to live in a community where there is a bit of modernization in terms of technology” (IL6) and “want a luxurious life” (IL4). Through this activity, the young participants recognized that “time and changes in society could have a great impact on how people think” (IL2). And hopefully, this can help bring the generation gap closer as one of them wrote, “I always look at myself and never consider others…but I have to consider also, the people and the family around like my grandma did” (IL7).

[1] Ifugaos refer to the grass material for native roof as cogon grass but the canegrass (Miscanthus sp.) appears to be more similar to the actual material used in roofs.
[2] In Nagacadan, Kiangan, there are native houses that are museums. In a sunny day in late June, I found it very hot being in one with metal roof wheras in a one with thatch roof, it was much cooler. Also during my research in Batad, I slept in one native house with thatched roof. I did feel warmer that night than the rest of the nights spent in guesthouses.
[3] Some interviews were conducted in rooms with metal roof when it was raining. Even though the interviewee and I was almost shouting, it was still very hard to hear each other. (Imagne transcribing those interviews!)
[4] The wood columns of the native house are each attached with a flat wood discs with a larger diameter than the column about two thirds of the way up the columns.
[5] When I visit the Museum of the Filipino People next to the National Museum in Manila during the research time, there was a native Ifugao house on display.
[6] Possibly abaca fiber.
[7] Homestays are local homes that accept tourists for accommodation.
[8] In the 16th century, Spanish colonizers regard the Ifugao clothes as improper and immoral.
[9] On various occasions, like talent competition, engagement and at home, I heard Ifugao young people singing and listening the popular music only.
[10] Hudhud is the native chants of Ifugao, which is inscribed as Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO.
[11] At a jeepney from the nearby city back to Ifugao, I was sitting next to a young Ifugao man who was chewing much less obviously. He spitted into a water bottle and put it carefully back in his backpack.
[12] I was told repeatedly after arriving at a meeting on time, that Ifugao time runs at least half an hour later that the actual time.
[13] The most popular program on TV in Ifugao during the reseach period was the Voice Kids, a reality singing competition show. During the break time, commercials about instant powder drinks, dish soaps, and hair shampoos are most played.
[14] These four drawings are chosen here because they represent all major components of all of the drawings.
[15] Likewise, these four are chosen because they show the commonality of all of the drawings.
[16] In this activity, young students participated at a focus group activity on the “comparison between the ideal life of the young and elder generations.” They were asked to first draw a picture of their ideal life together at class. And later after they each returned home, they asked their grandparents about their ideal life and also drew a picture of it. After comparing the grandparents’ ideal life with their’s, the young participants wrote down their thoughts on the back of their drawings.