Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Mixed Views on the Philippines' Ifugao Rice Terraces: 'Good' versus 'Beautiful' in the Management of a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Mixed Views on the Philippines' Ifugao Rice Terraces: 'Good' versus 'Beautiful' in the Management of a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Article excerpt

Despite the centuries-old practice of terraced wet-rice agriculture throughout Ifugao province in the Philippines, only five specific terraced landscapes, and their villages, were designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, as the 'Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordillera'. (1) The site is spread across four administrative districts (municipalities) and include the following inscribed 'heritage clusters': Batad (1,240 ha) and Bangaan (116.70 ha) in the municipality of Banaue; the entire municipality of Hungduan (22,789 ha); Nagacadan (818 ha) in the municipality of Kiangan; and Mayoyao Central (2,597 ha) in the municipality of Mayoyao. (2) The zoning of the heritage clusters categorises the landscape of the four municipalities into bounded core and buffer zones (see fig. 1). Core zones consist of the actual villages in a heritage cluster, and are subject to tighter conservation management guidelines and development restrictions. Buffer zones are adjacent areas that allow for commercial and residential activities, but must continue to support the conservation efforts in the protected core zones. While the Ifugao have three major ethnolinguistic groups, Ayangan, Kalanguya and Tuwali, this article concerns the Tuwali Ifugao. In particular, Tuwali is the major language spoken in the municipalities of Kiangan and Hungduan, the communities featured in this study. (3)

Conservation dilemmas have emerged from the schism between the Ifugao visualisation of rice fields based on a concept of 'good' and the heritage agencies' concern with the visual experience of the rice terraces. While acknowledging the principle of stewardship in conservation, the Ifugao fear that such activities may compromise present and future improvements to their livelihoods. (4) Judith Okely's distinction between 'seeing' and 'looking' is useful here for analysing these contrasting visualisations of the terraces. (5) Thus the Ifugao 'see' (rather than 'look' at) their terraces, a form of perception that requires the whole body as the means 'to understand and resonate with the world', (6) whereby the frame of visualisation shapes expectations. (7)

Ifugao visualisations of their rice terraces relate to expectations of the good harvests necessary for community well-being. It is not only the farmers who rely on these fields, but landowners who, although not directly involved in agriculture, also benefit from a bountiful harvest. A rice field embodies the potential for prosperity for the whole community, that is, the well-being of the field is tied to the well-being of all those who depend on these fields. On the other hand, heritage conservation bodies often emphasise the need to protect the visual integrity of a site. Hence, for the Ifugao, the expectations of the conservation organisations--UNESCO, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines (UNACOM)--often represent potential restrictions to economic opportunities, social and physical mobility, and access to services.

These divergent views of the terraces emerged in the socio-spatial relations involved in mapping as part of the conservation efforts. This article describes Ifugao responses to the final Joint Reactive Monitoring Mission carried out by UNESCO, ICOMOS and UNACOM in 2011. The Mission's objectives required mapping the core and buffer zones of each heritage cluster. Maps do not simply provide a representation of space, but also serve to influence how spaces are transformed by the very exercise of being mapped. In the case of the Ifugao Puce Terraces, areas to be demarcated were measured and surveyed, thereby enabling other means of measurements (such as the percentage of abandoned terraces, eroded walls, and the impact of road widening).

In this way, heritage management in practice is both shaped by and shapes maps, which then translate into actual zoning practices. …

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