Chapter 7 Value of the Ifugao culture in the face of global development trends
In this chapter, I examine how the changes in the Ifugao culture mentioned in the previous chapters are connected with the prevailing trends of development around world and share some of my thoughts on it. My purpose here is not to evaluate whether these cultural and lifestyle changes in Ifugao are positive or not. Rather, I aim to place the Ifugao culture before the mirror of the global trends of development and identify what is of value in the Ifugao culture that should be conserved, and what may be of referential value for non-Ifugao societies in their development.
In Ifugao today, most farmers no longer go to the swidden fields, let alone to the woodlots or forests. Compared with the farmers in the past, they also spend less time in the rice terraces. Despite that, their production has not decreased dramatically due to agricultural changes. For the farmers who are growing two seasons of the new variety rice with machines, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides, the production has increased (Chapter 2). Considering all this, the agricultural productivity or efficiency in Ifugao has actually improved when measured as output per labor hour.
Although the means of production, the land, can still be inherited, the original purpose of the tenant system, to allow landless people to have a means of production, is giving way to the new mechanism of concentrating land with a few owners who can specialize and perform professional production (Chapter 2 and 4). Tenants are asking for a larger share of the harvest, so that they have more incentive to increase production (Chapter 4). Others, who are driven out from farming, also specialize in income-generating jobs. Meanwhile, small terraces where production is inefficient are being abandoned (Chapter 4).
With these changes in production, subsistence for many individuals or small households decreased. Rice farmers, who now only grow rice in their field and swidden farmers, who produce export crops like winged beans, are dependent on the income to buy food produced in other places (Chapter 2). While business workers make money from tourists, their life becomes difficult when their amount of business decreases (Chapter 6).
As a result of the decreasing level of subsistence, Ifugaos, farmers or not, need to increase income in order to have enough for living. Yet the mechanism of increasing income is highly dependent on external resources, like synthetic fertilizers or feed for animals, and the number of tourists for business workers. Some Ifugaos are being proletarianized and at the same time, some, those owns land and capital and hire labor in farming or business keeping are becoming capitalists (Chapter 4 and 6). All of this shows that the social classes are being differentiated. With that, the cycle begins and develops the capitalistic economy that prevails in the present world (Wood, 1998).
After World War II, developmentalism became a theme of the world (Truman, 1949). Increasing the income per capita became the goal of agricultural development in many developing countries (Johnston and Southworth, 1967; Staatz and Eicher, 1998). This was believed to be achievable by a very capitalistic notion that external capital investment in agricultural production for export could assist a country to develop (Sachs, 2006).
However, while the absolute materialistic standard of living in many developing countries might have increased, it was found out that by exporting primary products and importing manufactured products, their relative economy to the developed countries would deteriorate (Harvey et al., 2010; Singer, 1950). At the same time, deep globalization and integrated value chains can cause various domestic social issues in these developing countries (Byerlee et al., 2009). Summarizing the lesson from Japan, Soda (2006) wrote that agriculture, under the logic of free trade rather than differentiating based on regional differences, may cause serious problems in related regions which affect the survival of local people. Moreover, even within a nation, it was argued that the capitalistic economy would widen, the disparity between rich and poor (Piketty et al., 2014).
Thus, the problem of capitalistic development is that it inevitably widens the dispartity between rich and poor, affecting both individuals and countries. At the same time, it extends beyond the scope of the economy, but also to society and environment.
The capitalistic economic change mentioned above runs on a utilitarian principle where actions are governed by its hedonistic efficiency of pleasure over hardship. Despite the known unhealthy effects, Ifugaos are eating more processed and frozen foods because these foods take little time to make but taste better (Chapter 5); the difficult traditional religious practices that require economic sacrifice and place taboos on pleasure are being replaced by “easier” Christian prayers (Chapter 4); and less labor intensive jobs like tour guiding and more leisure hobbies like computer games and online chatting are being favored by Ifugao’s young people (Chapter 6 and 7).
While the problem of hedonism is philosophical and can be controversial, it is argued that people can be blinded by materialistic hedonism (Figure 53), the hedonistic treadmill, and dehumanizeed, when value of people is measured by their material prosperity (Adas, 1990). After the period of economic boom in Japan, opinion poll from 1970 to 2000 marked an increase in the number of people (from 40% to 60%) pursuing spiritual richness rather than material richness (Japanese Satoyama Satoumi Assessment, 2010). While it may be argued that such spiritual searching and realization comes after material prosperity, living with no modern technology, ancient Chinese poet Tao (living in a much lower materialistic standard than today) responded to the hedonistic life philosophy of “when you can get wine, be sure to drink it.” In his poem he wrote, “let us strive and labour while yet we may. To do some deed that men will praise. Wine may in truth dispel our sorrow, but how compare it with lasting Fame” (Waley, 1946).
Figure 53: Spending all on a wallet (Source: endlessorigami.com)
From this hedonistic ideology toward life, individualism also develops. The traditional Ifugao religious practices become expensive as people no longer want to share their food (Chapter 4). As the traditional religion that stresses community connections disappears (Chapter 4), Ifugao famers no longer follow the synchronized agricultural calendars, but base agricultural activities often on personal considerations (Chapter 3). At the same time, tourism is creating tension among community members as they compete for business (Chapter 6). Young people are thinking more for their small family rather than for the clan (Chapter 7).
Similar developments of individualism in Western societies were examined by the political scientist Fukuyama. He found an “increasing levels of crime and social disorder, the decline of families and kinship as a source of social cohesion, and decreasing levels of trust” (Fukuyama, 1999:60). The combined philosophy of individualism and hedonism strengthens the zero-sum game of political ideology, where individuals’ and parties of individuals’ well-being depends exclusively on the materialistic enjoyment. And thus, a competition on the exploitation of natural resources is initiated, creating more environmental changes. While modern liberalism argues that one’s actions should not be prevented as long as there is no harm to others (Mill, 1966), it is argurably impossible to make any action that consumes natural resources without affecting any other people. Moreover, unfulfilled wishes for a better life are explained as not trying hard enough and therefore misfortunes are not understood or sympathized with. Malice accumulates until violence breaks out.
Many economic and social changes have environemtnal costs. In Ifugao, higher productivity from the rice terraces depends on synthetic fertilizers which are produced often with fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases (Chapter 3). Compared to the native Ifugao houses, more energy is needed for the new houses, from the making of the material such as cement and metal, to the running of them (Chapter 7). Apart from higher energy consumption, the current lifestyle also creates more pollution than the traditional one, such as pesticides killing native shellfish (Chapter 3) and garbage from packaged snacks (Chapter 6).
The danger of environmental degradation may be learned from history. When analyzing the reasons for the fall of the four ancient river valley civilizations (the Nile, the Mesopotania, the Huang he and the Indus), historians concluded that environmental change played a big role (Sivers et al., 2011). It was found that together with the shifted purpose of technological advancement from farm production towards the pleasure enjoyment of higher classes, the slow but accumulating environment degradation was the last straw.
However, people today are not learning this lesson of history. The slow but accumulating environmental changes are taking place today as scientists warn about global climate change (Parmesan and Yohe, 2003), among many other environmental issues like biodiversity loss (Cardinale et al., 2012) and soil degradation (Blaikie, 1985). Ironically, the focus of technological development today also seems to be more on the enjoyment of life rather than on environmental protection. Any negative feedback from nature, such as a disease or pest outbreak, is muted by solving the symdrome (Read et al., 2011) instead of the cause, only adding to the “debt.” Signs of regional and global environmental changes are neglected because actions would be “too costly and not efficient.”
Contrary to the current global development trend, in which the problems mentioned above occurred over a short period of merely half a century, Ifugao culture has existed for at least three centuries (as old as the youngest dates given to the rice terraces), and probably much longer. Although some may argue the fact that Ifugao people are more or less adopting the modern culture shows the relative value between the two, to me, the long sustainable history of this culture is more convincing that there are very valuable aspects of the Ifugao culture relative to the modern one.
One element of the Ifugao culture interviewees regarded as valuable was the bayanihan, the communal cooperation spirit. Interviewees said, “our culture has the trait of helping someone in need. For example, when someone needs help from others, he can invite people and [in return] serve food for them” (GW1). At the same time, “[the help people offer is] voluntary. They go and cut wood, they prepare everything, even the big cooker. That’s free. They just come even if you don’t invite them. It’s our culture to help” (BW18). In additional to sharing work that requires labor, Ifugaos also share what they have for others in need. An international worker said “in Ifugao it is sort of shameful if you allow somebody in your family to go hungry, homeless or wanting something. So people here take care of their families and take great pride in providing to their families” (VI9). A farmer told me something that seemed contradictory. He said, “never sell the rice at home because it is a gift from God. If you have enough, you can share it when someone is in need” (RF4).
This spirit sometimes extended to be a kind of universal love. “The basic unit of Ifugao society is the family. But not the family as defined by the Filipino standards because the Filipino family would be the father, the mother and the children. For the Ifugaos, it extends to [a] wider membership. So I would refer to it anthropologically as [a] ‘kinship group,’ [which includes] your immediate family, your cousins, and a village eventually” (KE8). Therefore, to some interviewees, “that value is what has made the Ifugao community intact because with that you honor your relatives and you cannot kill anyone because you consider them relatives, and you cannot steal from anybody because you consider them relatives” (GW7). Another interviewee said “one important thing about the culture is being in a good manner, trait and character as a human being. And you should be good and responsible to human fellows” (RF6).
This value of communal cooperative is of value in today’s world because it undermines the capitalistic value of life based on personal materialistic enjoyment. Instead, the communal cooperative value emphasizes the non-exclusive spiritual gains when sharing and being shared with. Misfortune can be alleviated before any violence takes place, creating a strong unit of humankind where individuals act as one. At the same time, by multiplying the enjoyment of a single unit of material when it is being shared, the well-being of humankind is no longer linearly limited by the amount of natural resources. Therefore, the urgent problems of environmental change due to over-exploitation of natural resources can be avoided by a collective action to minimize environmental disturbance, but at the same time maximizing human well-being.
In addition to facilitating the solution of existing problems that require collective cooperation, valuing collective cooperation may have the potential in creating a new world order. Take abolishment of the inheritance of political power for instance. The social problem of serfdom in feudalism was solved when political power was returned to everyone, and the belief of “all men are created equal” became the consensus. Yet while it may be surprising if any serf in the past took the inheritance of political power for granted, modern people seem not to have any question with the idea of inheritance of economic power and nationalism, which arguably are the causes of rich and poor disparity and war. Yet with the communal spirit, material is no longer the only consideration in life and thus can be shared with children of others. Likewise, due to the geographically uneven distribution of natural resources, people would be allowed to migrate wherever so that a geographically balanced standard of living may be achieved.
Ifugaos understand the importance of sustainability of their agricultural activity. This can be seen in beliefs in the traditional Ifugao religion. Religiously it may be explained “because the animals are given by the God. They believe the animals were given by the God so they have to appreciate or offer to the God before they ate” (KE10). And an interviewee, after demythologizing the phenomenon, explained the reason why after harvest, mumbakis forbid eating any shellfish. She said that, “when I think about it, it is because during that period, the shells lay eggs. Even [if] there are many shells in the rice field, we do not catch them” (KE05).
This understanding of the importance of agricultural sustainability develops into a special perception of the relationship between human and nature. One interviewee explained that “if they [people] look at the typical Ifugao lifestyle, one has to look at it from a philosophical perspective not something materialistic” (KE8). That is why for some farmers, even though they are economically poor, they “do not depend on the rice field for finance, only for food. They don’t want to sacrifice the fertility of the soil for gaining more income” (RF8). To them and many other Ifugaos, “[the value of nature] is spiritual, not economic” (KE1). Therefore “the land is a very important part for Ifugaos and they will fight and do everything to preserve and take good care of it. You know we are connected with our land. We value it” (GW2). This relationship even places nature beyond a physical object. An interviewee said, “it [the environment] is not just a source of timber, not a source of gold or any material thing. It is a brother. It is a sister. You need to work with it harmoniously, not just extract everything from it” (KE8).
Agriculture is the most crucial connection of mankind and nature, which in essence is a series of human activities to collect consumable primary energies and resources such as food and fuel. The Ifugaos understand that such activities satisfy human survival, but at the same time inevitably alter the environment on which human survival depends. Although agricultural production is highly specialized and technical today, the fact that human survival depends on the primary energies and sources has not changed. And therefore, the paradox between production for survival and production affecting survival still exists. It is easy to continue the debate on insufficient production and environmental damage. But what may be needed is our realization that all food and essentially everything we are using has a cost of production higher than what the price tag shows. It includes the direct environmental cost and thus the cost on those (human and other species) whose well-being is harmed, and the indirect opportunity cost of the resources or energy to be used for other purposes.
Apart from production, agriculture also involves demand and distribution. The difficulty today is that modern people seem to believe their living is independent from nature. A community composed of those who have no interest to learn the miracle and difficulty of agriculture production naturally would not value the material they enjoy. And therefore this community would not appreciate the fruit of any production. The value of the Ifugao relationship of humans and nature is that it extends the boundary of morality beyond humankind. And together with the communal cooperative value, people’s well-being can be achieved by “sharing with nature”, or without any materialistic consumption.
Chinese scholar Liang Shuming pointed out three key relations for human life: the humans versus the matter or the natural world; human versus human; and human versus the spiritual self (Liang and Alitto, 2013). The two sets of values of the Ifugao culture, the values of communal cooperation and sustainable relationship with nature, originate from the relationship between human versus the spiritual self (as the values denote spiritual or conscious judgements of the worth and importance of an action), but answers as well the other two relations. I believe that all pracitces of Ifugao culture, from agriculture (the relation of humans and matter) to the collective work (the relation of human and human) animated and evolved from these two values. Therefore, although practices may be different, the two values may have universal value even for non-Ifugao societies. A farmer interviewee concluded, when asked for any final thought of the interview, “the only way that we can live here on earth is to love it, love each other, and have peace in mind and share what is enough with you” (RF4).
 It refers to the thinking that personal pleasure is sufficient for happiness.
 The short time of happiness from a new material good or experience which promotes the pursuit for new happiness and restuls in no permanently stable level of happiness.
 The poems, Substance, Shadow, and Spirit are attached in the appendix E.
 Also see appendix B for this value in traditional California agriculture.
 In 1945, after the atomic bombs Albert Einstein alerted that “there is no other salvation for civilization and even for the human race than the creation of a world government with security on the basis of law” (Einstein, 2007). And more recently, Stephen Hawking also warned in December 2016 that “the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together…we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity…right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it. To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations” (Hawking, 2016).
 Shuming Liang (1983-1988), a leader in Rural Reconstruction Movement, was considered to be the Last Confucian.