Domoguen: The future unfolding in the rice terraces

HISTORY is but a recording of realities that happened in a place. Those realities and events were an outcome of individual and shared thoughts, ultimately acted out.

History is story. We create, make or let things happen that ultimately gets written as history. Our stories should better be good ones.

That thought about creating our own reality, actually came to me while we traversed Kennon Road sometime last year. Then, I imagined what happened there. Somebody first thought about cutting a road on steep mountain slopes, another prepared the design, and yet another organized the labor force and supervised construction work.

From the many stories I heard about the construction of Kennon Road, one may see it as an international endeavor among Americans, Filipinos, Japanese and Chinese. That road should remain intact as a symbol of friendship and cooperation in our time, even if it was built under different circumstances prior to the Second World War.

In Banaue, last month at twilight, I was snapping different versions of photos for my collection of these magnificent structures in these latter days when the memory about the construction of Kennon Road came back. From where I stood, I see that unlike Kennon, the rice terraces of Banaue and the other provinces of the Cordillera, for that matter, were built by native hands and ingenious engineering skills and prowess.

A cool gentle wind was blowing in my direction and bits of information from various times started feeding my mind about how the terraces were built as a nature-based food production machine in the highlands. The vision shaped by these information against the backdrop of rows upon rows of houses that emerged and began crowding above the rice terraces, over time, inform me that this precious heritage is being handled from a perspective very different from that of our ancestors.

The way we think about the rice terraces today is impacting on their present and ultimate destiny – a reality towards complete oblivion. In any case, it is only in Ifugao that the original shape of this heritage is more or less discernible and can be understood as a whole. I pray this reality is true in the other provinces of the region.

In Ifugao, you can yet associate the watersheds to the rice terraces and the culture and traditions of a people in the villages as operative in rice production, not just recalled or imagined as irrelevant history. Of course, much of the practices in their tradition may have been relegated as part of history too.

It is my assumption that our generation disrespected our culture, by entirely relegating ancient practices as old and impractical in our time. Education improves on and enhances good practices in the culture.

Watching the rice terraces and discerning what they tell us now is certainly sobering. They tell us about sacrifice and how much our old folks gave of themselves to preserve a way of life and its resources for the future of their children. The question now is, what are we doing to preserve and improve the viability of the rice terraces for food production, education, and other better utilities in our age, not just leave it to go to waste, ultimately.

The rice terraces are probably as old as that of the Sumerian Empire. Egypt, Rome and succeeding empires that all collapsed because in practice, these empires share the same characteristic that plundered nature and its non-renewable resources, the forest.

Our rice terraces and our old folk’s oral histories remain. These are mostly stories of relationships, caring, conservation and protection among people and their natural environment. The stories speak about a people who saved their nature-capital for the future, for their children, not wantonly wasting and taking it all in their time. The precious and ancient mountain soil, is a good beneficiary of this ancient culture, It was preserved and remain to this day and not carried down to the sea by the onslaught of heavy rains and strong typhoons, or mined out of its nutrients by exhaustive farming strategies or poisoned by chemicals and salted throughout time like the fertile but now deserts of the Middle East, parts of Asia and Africa.

All around the world, things are changing fast and collapsing along with the industrial culture. Unbeknown to us, the wiser and richer nations have adopted a culture of conservation on their own. The USA opted to conserve and protect its natural resources including oil and coal. China has embarked on a one-thousand year planning cycle, not annual as most nations do it. Even their policy of one-child to a family is directly related to protecting and conserving resources for the expected long winter coming, already a perceived reality of the future. What is happening in the West Philippine Sea could have been planned by the Chinese several decades ago. Both nations (USA and China), by the way, are currently major users of non-renewable oil but are also in a race developing alternative energy sources.

We will be hard pressed catching up with other nations as they prepare for new emerging realities under a climate-changed world. When we have run out of our forests, and cannot fight with stronger nations for fuel, we should at least, like them, change and evolve a point of view that can create sustainable landscapes of survival in our own mountains and plains. It is time we take a second look at our rice terraces, taking a position of saving these structures and the farmers that manage and sustain their multi-functional roles for economic, social and environmental quality and health in Northern Luzon.

Finally, here is a deep expression of gratitude to our DA Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol for his personal appreciation of the Cordillera’s rice terraces (#Brown4GoodLife), and declaring that the region’s heirloom rice development and promotion be officially supported by the DA as a high value commercial crop of the country.


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