Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Old Pictures: The Banaue Rice Terraces

When Burness and I were in Banaue, and went on a three-day trek around the mountainous countryside filled with rice terraces, our guide told us about some old black-and-white photos he had seen. These days the rice terraces are in a permanent state of danger, at risk from neglect as locals prefer to find their fortune in the cities rather than spend their lives farming. The customs and traditions that made the rice terraces possible for up to 2000 years are under threat. Oddly, tourism and the money it brings in is a side-effect of the modern world that actually helps the terraces.

Anyway, although the rice terraces of Banaue and the surrounding area look pretty good today, our guide told us they had once been even better. He told us of these old photos. But he didn't have a copy to show us. I wonder if it might have been these:

These are from a book called "Ifugao Law" published in 1920 by an American anthropologist called R. F. (Roy Franklin) Barton. Aged 23, he moved to the Philippines and for the next 13 years lived and worked there as a school teacher. The latter half of that he spent in the north of the main island, Luzon, in the mountainous district of Ifugao, where Banaue and its rice terraces are. He was more interested in the culture than the rice terraces, but took plenty of photos of both the people and the landscape.

Barton was an interesting fellow, who later became a dentist in America before moving to the newly-Communist Soviet Russia in the 1930s, ostensibly to study primitive societies in Soviet Russia before they were Soviet-ised, although he never seemed to do so and his main role seemed to be subtle propaganda. Mostly though, he was pro-Philippines and just before American and Russia got stuck into World War 2, at the behest of America, he left Russia. He returned to the Philippines, but was soon imprisoned by the Japanese, with his wife, still in Russia, meanwhile imprisoned by the Soviets. He returned to America after the war, sadly dying in 1947 before his wife was released. He seems to have been a popular chap, and produced an autobiography that I guess won't be seen on shelves these days on account of it seemingly featuring three topless teenage Filipino girls on the front cover.

Anyway, Ifugao Law features all kinds of pictures probably not appropriate for consumption today, such as murdered youngsters propped up in chairs (this was, in fairness, a weird cultural tradition, and not some strange sideline of Barton's. I think it goes to show though that its best that not all traditions survive). Here are some more pictures from the book. They're not necessarily from Banaue, but are from Ifugao province, or at least the northern part of the main island. Some landscape pictures first.

And here are some locals working on the terraces.

And here's a traditional house. Once, entire villages would be filled with these. Today, it's corrugated iron roofs and concrete, which obviously lacks a little with regards to charm. 

Are these the oldest photos of Banaue, or at least the area's rice terraces? I can't find any older. I found a few photos taken, apparently, in 1911, but only of the people, not of the scenery. I don't think it matters. Although there have been many changes in the last century, in the centuries before I don't think things changed much.

You can read Ifugao Law for yourself here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/40807/40807-h/40807-h.htm. It's vaguely Not Safe For Work, if work doesn't approve of topless girls and propped-up corpses, even though they're in black-and-white and with a National Geographic type of bent.
I got my details about Barton from here: http://www.academia.edu/2631986/R.F._Barton_an_outstanding_American_anthropologist_as_a_research_fellow_of_the_Institute_of_Anthropology_and_Ethnography_Leningrad_1930-1940._2004._In_English


  1. Very interesting. I think we often take it for granted how agriculture has literally shaped our environment (for example much of Europe's natural state should actually be vast forests, which it was, once).

    This reminds me a little bit of Lavaux in Switzerland, along the shores of Lake Geneva. The vineyards are terraces built into the rather steep hillside. I put some pictures up on Skyscrapercity, the vineyards are about two-thirds down on the page. It is less spectacular than the Banaue Rice Terraces I have to admit, although a very pleasant place for a stroll: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1534971

    1. I'd never heard of Lavaux, but it looks absolutely lovely. Plus, they use the terraces for wine - much better than rice. (You can make rice wine from rice, but it wouldn't exactly be my drink of choice.)


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