Tenda, Joan

Harmonizing Technology and Ecology

by Joan Tenda


The people of Belwang resonates in some ways with the experiences of the people of Bhutan of the Himalayans who were able to evolved common property and other collective institutions for resource management and sustain ecological balance. This success among the people of Bhutan is claimed from the success of the practice of Buddhist ethics which played an important role in blending culture with technology (Gupta Anil K). In the life of the people of Belwang and the rest of the Igorot communities the current status of environmental awareness and concern of the people is rooted in all aspects of community and individual life of each member. The rice terraces of Ifugao and the rest of the Cordilleras are testimonies of a way of life that effectively managed the natural resources to last for future generations. It is obvious that building the rice terraces entails a kind of technology and exceptional skills that surpassed the test of times and forces of nature. Nature provided every detail of the secrets of the Igorot who built the terraces. It is revealed and written in every corners and aspects of the terraces. Its cycle tells about the cycles of life of the people. The majestic rice terraces speak of the stories of the Igorot community, its culture, technology, ecological consciousness, economy, politics spiritual and other aspects of human existence.  The rice terraces are the testimony of how the Igorots harmonize with technology and ecology. It is the ethics of respect for all the beings- elders,nature and all that is that sustains the Igorot community and the rice terraces. However it is no exception that challenges brought about by the current trends threatens this claimed pantheon of the Igorots. Part of the paper tried to reveal as after descriptions of how the people of Belwang Mountain Province harmonize with technology and ecology. The paper was organized and presented with following concepts as guidelines during the discussion and analysis of the subject matter.:

I.             Overview on the profile of Belwang which reveal the interdependence of all aspects of community life including cultural, economic, political, education, and spiritual

II.           Life in the farm and Meaning systems. It is discussed here how the life in the rice terraces organized the whole aspects of life.

III.          Harmonizing technology and ecology. here I enumerated the common technologies present in the community which evolved in the kind of life and meaning systems of the people.

IV.          Technological Development in Belwang and its observed impact to the people.

Details discussed here maybe applicable only to the community of Belwang while other Igorot community have gone changes which was not included in the paper. Belwang is one of those groups in the Cordillera that tried to preserve and sustain their culture. For the purpose of this paper I have included details which may not be subject to exposing outside.


Information about Belwang have not been formalized and mostly scattered in random documents. The succeeding information was taken from the initial research I did during my undergrad study and enriched with the updates taken from available sources from the Internet and available literature.

Geographical Location

Belwang is located seven (7) kilometers away from the municipality of Sadanga, the seat of the Local Government Unit. Sadanga is 10th municipality of Bontoc Mt. Province and is located at the North-West of Bontoc in between the provinces of Kalinga and Abra. Sadanga is politically subdivided into 8 barangays- Anabel, Belwang, Betwagan, Bekigan, Demang, Poblacion, Sacasacan, and Saclit.  From Sadanga, Belwang is more than an hour hike depending on one’s speed and strength. Belwang is surrounded on the Northern part is Saclit, the southern part is Maligcong and Mainit, on the western portion are the dense forests towards Tubo Abra; and on the East is the Municipality of Sadanga.

Political Subdivision

Belwang is the second largest barangay of the municipality of Sadanga. It is composed of four puroks namely: a) Filig, b) Chetar, Gawana, and d) Lamokay.

Belwang has a land area of 2, 360 hectares. This figure is a rough estimate while boundaries is yet to be resolved between Abra and Kalinga. Among the people of Belwang they claim ownership of the ancestral lands, which they till and care until now. The people are resolved to state that their claim over their old hunting grounds, uma/kaingin and the named mountains, which from time immemorial they own as, indicated in the map and oral history of the community. 

Belwang is generally rugged and mountainous characterize with steep and deep ravine slopes.  Most of the total land area of the barangay is covered by unclassified mountain soil. The mountains were carved which best suited for wet rice farming. On the swidden farms, most of the soil are classified as sandy loam which are very favorable in the growing of varied legumes especially the red Kentucky Wonder, and varied vegetables the famous of which is tabungaw which when matured, seed- pakwan are sold in the local market.

Most of the land area of the barangay on the western portion is vast and dense forest. This forest and pasturelands are very much conducive for breeding up of animals.  Besides, wild animals, cows and carabao abound in the circumferential grassland areas in the western part. The mossy forests are the hunting ground of the village people. These forests serve as watershed that supplies the village with abundant potable water supply. Its streams and waterfalls supply the irrigation water needed by the neighboring villages.                      

Agriculture and Agricultural Products

            Rice farming is the main occupation of the people in the village. The cultivated terraces are the main source of livelihood of the people in monocropping of planting traditional varieties of rice due to the cold climate.  The main varieties of rice produced is the tokpar and because of its good quality when cooked. The secondary varieties raised are the glutinous type called waray, pokor and the vutilao which are for market purposes due to its market demand and higher prices. These are sold in Bontoc and Baguio City. Sometimes, agents from different places like Kalinga and western part come to the place and barter their goods with their glutinous rice and may even directly buy it with the same market price. Other volumes of glutinous rice are preserved as rice wine called tapey and for other purposes used during social gatherings and for home consumption. Barangay Belwang is also Famous   for   its   red   Kentucky Wonder Beans mostly demanded in the local and city market;  pakwan  and Kigaw (wild deer)  which are taken from their swidden farms and dense forest. In some dry farms, they grow camote, squash and other varieties of legumes or beans. They also produce sugar cane, which they locally process into wine popularly known as fayas. Varieties of bananas are the only fruit available all throughout the season. Most of the supplies come from neighboring village bought from the market in Bontoc and Tabuk. Livestock production, is in demand with most especially cows and carabaos which are the main animals being butchered during rituals and wedding ceremonies.

Demographic Profile

In 2005, Belwang had a total population of 1,534 people with 239 households and 247 families. The gradual increase in population, during the 1980’s led to the division of the barangay into four puroks for the following reasons: To have an easier in monitoring residents with ailment; to have a better way of making records especially in health services; in politics, it is easier to identify those who vote, register and who do not participate in some activities at all; and to facilitate organization of women, men, elders and youth in doing some church and other community activities.

Land Ownership

From generation to generation, the parents will give their tawid (inheritance) to their children once they get married. The customary practice is that the father gives his land to his sons and the mother also gives her properties to her daughters. The division of share is in accordance with their birth order wherein the older ones own more than the younger children. If the parents have fewer properties, only the older children have something to inherit. The first son and daughter have the preference to automatically inherit the properties from their parents. In case all the children are all males or all females the first child is given the chance to choose.  While the parents are still alive, they retain some parcel of land to cultivate for their source of livelihood. Part of inheritance is the house. Houses used to be made of pine trees with roofing and side walling made up of cogon and sticks. It has only one room just enough for the family to sleep, cook, pound rice and eat.   The house of kadangyans or the rich member of the tribe is the finarey made of pinasek (hand chopped wood) its walls and roofs were made of wood.                                  

II. Way of Life and Meaning Systems

The people of Belwang are among Igorot communities and ethnic groups of the country that have retained and continued to live their indigenous cultures despite heavy and unrelenting inroads of westernization and globalization. Life ways were deeply rooted within the seasons of agricultural and social life. The majestic rice terrace carved barely by our ancestors speaks of the varied yet simple and meaningful lifeways of Iverwang (person from Belwang).  It is the ultimate landscape of real stewardship to nature that yielded culture, traditions, customs, rituals, lifeways, and identity. Life in the rice terraces nurtured the seed of genuine rootedness to nature. Every aspect of life is directly connected to the cycles of the life in the farm. The seat of social system, which is the Ator/Dap-ay organize its social functions to sustain a good harvest. The elders watch the phases of moon all throughout the year in plotting the agricultural calendar. The end and beginning of each phase determines the kind of work and activities to be accomplished. Planting season is done during the different stages of the moon and end when the moon is out in the sky.

   Agricultural calendar of the Ator starts with the month of chagon (dry season: March to June). This month is so called because of occasional rainfall and the water from the rivers and brooks are directed into the fields. Each season ends before the appearance of the new moon. Period of  (respite and rest days) are scheduled before the new moon appears also. No one goes to the fields nor leaves home during this period to ensure success of the season. The te-er is a ritual meant for pest and disease control which deemed to affect the people. The time duration of te-er would depend on how the village elders perceive the virulence of the pest.

          The declaration of te-er marks the end and the beginning of each season. The third month of chagon (May) is comparatively a month when works in the rice terraces are over except for the weeding which is done by women. Men are in the forest hunting for wild games and in the rivers fishing. There is abundance of wild games and fishes so that people are in better shapes.  Beginning at the middle of this month they begin clearing their uma/ kaingin on the mountainsides. Then Ator declares another te-er for saray-at and ap-apoy (ritual after transplanting) as soon as planting season is over that is toward the end of the month. Since planting is over women engage in cleaning while men in plowing, repairing and excavating stonewall. Iverwang do not spend all their time working in the rice terraces. Some may go to the uma/kaingin start clearing it to dry and ready for burning to plant before the rainy season.

In the months of April and May the Ator declares panagfeverew (literally driving of prey) then kik-ilaw (setting scarecrow, noise making devices and other device for pest control around the rice terraces) to drive any kind of pest or predator like rats, tilin (bird of prey) for a good harvest. This is one of the seasons that young girls and boys look forward to during summer because they can have their own life in the farm and socialize with the neighboring owner of the terraces.  In the rice terraces women clean walls and the paddies of the rice terraces. Men are busy preparing the pathways, dikes and the vacant space near the granaries for the coming harvest. The kaingin, which were prepared during the past month, are now planted at the start of the rainy season. Kentucky wonder beans are the most popular crop in the uma and others like mongo, pakwan, pumpkin, camote, tobacco, etc. Iverwang while in the uma dry logs to store as firewood and fuel as part of preparation for the rainy season. After the works in the fields, and in the uma/Kaingin; some may find work for cash in the neighboring tribe. Women usually plant variety of legumes on the taban (vacant portion in between rice terraces) for consumption. This is also advantage to maintain the part of the rice terraces away from possible pest that might harm to the growing rice. Crops were planted basically for consumption; surpluses were shared if not stored to last until the next season. When all the rice terraces are planted te-er is declared to mark its end and a ritual called ap-apoy (blessing of the newly planted rice terraces with fire, chicken and vativat (sticks) followed with patay (offering in the papat-tay (sacred ground).                                                    

Most of the work in the rice terraces entails collective labor thus ob-ovfo (rotation of working from farm to farm until all the farm of all the members is done) made tasks more bearable and easier. The Ob-ovfo groupings were done according to kinship, friend, peer and Ator or Pangis membership.

The following month of May is a period of fegnash (Festival) and rain calling. This is facilitated by the Ator.Dap-ay. At this time most of the rice paddies are starting to look gold.  The following month of June to August are harvest seasons also drying, and storing the newly harvested rice in the granary. By the time the seventh moth, comes around, harvest in the rice terraces is all over. The rice paddies are again ready for plowing and the dikes are already for clearing. These then are again the main activities in the rice terraces. It is time for weeding the kaingin. The month of August, September, October, until November is spent in the rice fields, kaingin, forest, rivers with varied activity meant to sustain their life and the culture as a whole with the facilitation of the Ator. Thus for Iverwang the year is a round of varied activities and always one of hard labor with a minimum of leisure.

          Tack-cheg is the customary practice in the Ator where men in the Ator go up the top of the tribe and observe their idew for good or bad omen.  All members of the Ator will gather their spear and shields in the Ator and then go up the nearest mountain to see and observe any omen for the coming year. After making their observations, they go back to their Ator. Any members with a dog or pig bring it along to be butchered for a meal. The children are brought along to share with the meal.


III. Ritual-Harmonizing Element

                 The life of the people of Belwang and other Igorot communities is governed by norms and rituals that seek to function in for sustaining collective living and harmonious interpersonal relationships with all the beings they believe as part of their community life. The faithful and sincere observance of customary life seeks for well-being of the whole community. Part of the well being of the community is sustaining the relationship with the spiritual world specially that of the spirits alive in the natural world and spirits of the ancestors.

The rituals performed in the community are all linked to farm life for productive harvest enough to sustain them for the whole season. The economic activity rituals performed in every season and circumstances by the Community led by the Ator are dependent on the readings of the omen in the physical environment. Dr. June Prill-Brett noticed that the role of ritual as mechanism for coping with agricultural is deeply embedded and very evident in the Igorot culture. For instance, religious beliefs and rituals performances give farmers confidence and some feeling of control and security over their daily encounters with unpredictable natural phenomena. These rituals emphasized the relationships between farmers, the biophysical world, the social world and supernatural world. Likewise, rituals reinforce the coordination of agricultural activities that must be accomplished within a specific time frame to ensure good harvest and to minimize risks caused by environmental stress.

Rituals are the most natural act of connecting to the divine through nature. It is through nature that people of Belwang and other Igorot community sustain their spiritual connection and sense of well being-harvests are plentiful, marriages fruitful, journeys rewarding, illness cured, new houses safe and relationships are bonded. The responses of the spirits were ascertained by reading the idew (omens) indicated in the color, size, shape and position of the bile and the liver of sacrificial animals and by observing other natural phenomena such as the appearance of a bird or a snake crossing one’s path. In case of unfavorable omen, the planned activity had to be cancelled or delayed and more rituals were performed to gain the favors of the spirits. Totems are proof of the depth of interconnectedness and harmony of the people and the technology available at the present.


IV. Indigenous Technology

A. Early Technology

The picture on the lieft corner are the 3 basic technology used up till now in building the rice terraces. The takoyo (rattan woven basket) is used to remove, carry, and transport soil. The Shed-shed (wooden pestle) used to press and compact the soil in between the stonewalls of the terraces. The crobar is use to dig and move stones. During the olden times when metal is not yet available sharpened woods were utilized. The method of building the rice terraces in Bontoc area as compared to that of Ifugao differ such that the terraces in Bontoc area like that of our place is buil on a rip-rap/ stonewalled foundation. Each stone is made to pile piece by piece glued by the clay part of the soil. The stones were crashed and shaped to fit perfectly on each other. It is greatly built with extra engineering skills and hard work. The terraces were built collectively most especially during the establishment of its foundations. But at times when everybody gets busy to catch up with the season an Igorot man continue to build his terraces alone.

2. Gongo-Compost Pit

The gongo is multi-purpose but basically a pigpen where literally all kitchen waste, rice shaft and bran, stalks and other waste that the pig can eat were thrown. The wastes of the pigs were allowed to accumulate and decompose then it is gathered during the preparation of the rice fields to fertilize the newly planted rice. It is also use to fertilize any plants during the each season. The gongo is strategically located at the sides of the house or near the garden. To minimize the bad smell it is regularly maintained.                           

3. Arado (hard-wood with metal plough and Carabao)

The plough pulled by carabao is a technology that made work in the field easier and faster. With the absence of the carabao farmers till the soil using simpler tools. The carabao is too expensive to many and very difficult to afford. So most farmers manually till the soil. The field being plowed here was made to dry (naipeg-an) to allow the fertilizers which came from decomposed weeds to subside in the soil then it is plowed again ready for planting. There are designated areas where a method of farming includes (peg-an) drying. It is also dependent on the variety of rice being planted on the field. The field thus is literally plowed 3 times. This is not only to ensure good harvest but it is also to maintain the stability of the terraces. Plowing it the 3rd time makes the soil healthy not allowing pest to create holes in the terraces that creates leak that weakens the stonewalled of the paddies.

4. Basic Technologies

(The tools were enumerated from left to down) Shakrang (Ladder), Over (mud fish catcher), Agkhawin (Shell pouch),

Shaknong (woven try use to sift shells) pakki-yos (Head-axe), Shanggap (digging/cleaning tool), fading (bolo), ligao (winnower), rooster and me.

            The tools were brought to dry under the sun. The photo was taken during the month of January- the season of cleaning and preparations of the rice terraces for the planting season for the next month shown at the background. The season allows people to get varied foods on the rice fields such as mudfish, shells, vegetables and etc. At this time the field are made to rest and it is a period to weed, plow, and fix every corner of it then allow all the weeds to decompose and fertilize the soil. Pest were also removed such as kohol (Imelda kohol) and other kinds until it is ready for the planting season.                                             

4. Fire.

The fire is vital technology among the people of Belwang. The cold climate of the mountains allowed the people to innovate varied sources of fuels. Here I took a shot of a burning sha-reng (variety of pine tree with much resin content that makes it very easy to make fire). The sha-reng  and pine wood is the basic source of fuel. It is abound  in the mountain. The men are the one responsible in gathering wood for firewood and for other purposes. Like any culture fire is vital source of light. The light from the pinewood of our mountains enabled the elders and the young generation to continue the culture of simple living and in harmony with nature. It is the light from the fire burned at the center while we gather around as a community to plan for the common good. It is the fire that continuously make us proud of our culture that is trying to survive amidst the challenges coming from the mainstream.

5. Arop (Burial place)

            The arop is made out of two-hollowed pine logs where our death rests in peace while it is placed beside our homes and granary. It is sealed with lockets which was custom built on both ends. Sometimes the sides of the arop are sealed with carabao’s dung. The arop shown here was painted with white but mostly it is plain pine. Even to our death we are made to rest at the heart of mother tree/nature. To me the arop captured the essence of how we humans should harmonize with nature. At times when the body already decomposed the bones which is the only remains of the person will be gathered then wrapped with woven cloth then the arop will be shared to another dead relatives or part of the family. Like any forms of burial the manner of how one culture treat the dead reveals unique consciousness of how they regard also the human connection to nature. 


V. Modern Technology and its Challenges

            The following were technologies introduced in the community of Belwang and other Igorot communities which posed great challenge among the people. The discussions made may appear to be too simplistic but these were observed facts as of the moment and within the current generations. Other impacts have yet to be observed closely and objective study must be done as regards to the extent of its impact to the relationship of the people with their environment.

1. Introduction of Cash Economy

Introduction of monetized economy Specific example of significant change in the social system is the adoption of cash. Reciprocal labor exchanges are now replaced by paid labor since some of the farm owners are employed outside the village and cannot reciprocate the labor exchange. Traditional social relations are beginning to be undermined by the introduction of a cash system. As a consequence of the above changes, there is a noticeable decrease in village solidarity and self-sufficiency.  Economic pursuit is slowly becoming individual quest for accumulation instead of considering the common good through genuine sharing.

2. “We and Them” Consciousness

Peace pact pointed out the relevance of maintaining social ties in the neighboring villages. This process took center stage in the matter of settling boundary disputes and inter-village conflicts that resulted in the loss of life. It is a new technology that expanded the consciousness of every village member ensuring safety passages on their way to navigate opportunities for trade and labor after the hard work in rice terraces.

3. Road Constructions and Advance Transportation

The recent building of roads facilitated drastic change in the economic socio-cultural life of the people of Belwang and the neighboring villages. The easy means of transportation via jeepneys created the need to access the market and other public services available only outside the village. The adoption of cash is one significant change in the social system. Reciprocal labor exchanges are now replaced by paid labor since some of the farm owners are employed outside the village and cannot reciprocate the labor exchange. Traditional social relations were undermined by the introduction of a cash system. When one is helped to carry luggage on top of the mountain one feels obligated to give cash complements until it became an option of earning extra income. The coming of modern means of transportation gave the community more varied options of engagement that brought impact in their life. It facilitated migration in and out of the village.

4. Introduction of Formal Education

The elder laments the effect of education which they observe among the youth today. Education is seen as a tool to alienate the young generation to the wisdom embedded in the life in the community. The whole package of the educational system disrupted the simple lifeways of the young generation. It failed to harmonize with farm life. Those people who have been the prime movers of the introduction of this system labeled the elders as illogical, uncivilized and backward. The elders were the first to be alienated during this process. Their wisdom no longer relevant and their presence were just ceremonial during rituals.  Formal education separated them from the realities of farm life making them lazy and outside the bounds of the natural calendar. Education forced young generation to move and leave the village to access education in the nearest town. This prevented students to attend seasonal rituals and farm life. Parents were forced to make things possible just to provide for the education of their children.

5. Coming of Electricity

Our elders usually complain how we became so different as compared before. They claim that we take everything for granted and loss our meaning system.  The introduction of technological events like electricity, commercial textile, rice mill, television, cell phone, etc. are landmarks in the consciousness of our elders, and they use it as a reckoning point of what lies ahead of us. Some of the positive changes brought about by the coming of electricity are the conservation of the forest. Electricity became an alternative source of fuel aside from the pinewoods from the mountain. It has saved also much time spent for preparing fire and firewood most especially during the rainy seasons. People now adopt a new lifestyle to adjust with the introduction of this kind of technology.

6. The Coming of Religion

The coming of Religion is another important landmark for the events of our elders recollection of how simple their life then. Religion threatened the traditional venues of learning like the Ator. A new form of institution came in when religion was introduced among the people of the village. The Ator and the Ulog were no longer the sole source of wisdom and meanings. It became the entry point of foreigners and unknown people in the village. The people experienced new spiritual culture which is different at the same time similar with their belief system of the spiritual world. Despite its long existence and proliferations of many other sects rituals surpassed the tests brought about by this new technology.  

7. Construction of Big Houses-Chain-saw and Modern Cutting Machines

          Chainsaw and other cutting machines made possible the construction of big houses roofed with galvanize iron sheets in the community. Old houses were replaced easily and furnished with beautiful pinewoods. Furniture making became a means of income to most families. The construction of big houses brought impact to the daily patterns of life of the people. This lessens social opportunities most especially for the youth who now sleep inside their own home. The daily sessions of sharings in the ator became rare. Sleeping in the Ator and in the Pangis is very much valued to be the means of teaching the young generation the practical lessons and wisdom that will serve and guide them to continue the tradition in their own generation.

8. Use of Fertilizers

The uses of fertilizers in the fields were believed to be the source of uncontrolled pests that lowers the amount of harvest because it is unnatural. It has brought many forms of pest that eventually destroy the quality of soil suited for rice. The soil turned harder and difficult to cultivate for the next harvest. It affected the growth of rice even its grains.



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