By KC Santos
BAGUIO CITY, BENGUET – Tucked in the outskirts of this city is a village where generations of Ifugao wood carvers have been making a living out of a centuries-old tradition.
Passing by Asin Road some five kilometers away from the main city, you will find giant wooden statues of Igorots, saluting Indians and other wood carvings of all shapes and sizes, including the famous “man in a barrel”.
“I can see my children and their children taking on this skill,” says Laurel Gaño, son of Manuel Gaño, who owns Gaño’s Native Crafts, one of the oldest businesses at the Ifugao (or Itogon) Wood Carvers’ Village in Asin.
Ifugao wood carvers are acknowledged to be the best in the Cordillera region, staying in the forest for days carving on fallen tree trunks. The best wood carvers are said to have originated from the town of Hungduan in Ifugao province.
In the 1960s, a lot of them migrated to Baguio partly due to the demand for crafts and souvenir items among tourists. Led by a tribal elder named Reynaldo Nauyac (who later became a barangay captain), they found refuge and built a village along Asin Road.
Passing by Asin Road gave me a feeling of awe. A carver striking a hammer on his chisel as he sculpts on a piece of wood, or others spraying lacquer as a finishing touch, are the most striking sounds I’ve heard that quiet afternoon.
A wood carver himself, Laurel says wood carving is an innate skill among Ifugaos. But it’s their eye for symmetry that makes their woodcarvings stand out from those in other regions or provinces.
“We don’t rely on patterns to come up with a design and finish an artwork. We rely on our imagination and giving it form on wood,” he says.
Ifugao woodcarvings are usually inspired by nature and their own culture. You will find life-size statues of eagles and other animals and of course, images of Igorot tribesmen.
Laurel says every piece of woodcarving is worth its price if only for the meticulous effort put into it.
“We have learned this skill from the ground up so there’s no room for mediocre work. You could say we are perfectionists.”
Hotels and restaurant as well individual collectors are among the most frequent buyers in Asin. A life-size statue can costs as much as 50,000 pesos. Small souvenir items and other decorative pieces, of course, cost a lot less.
Laurel has faith this Ifugao tradition will continue for many generations to come.
“This is our art and livelihood, it has endured for the longest time. It represents who we are as people; I do not see an end to it.”
How to get there:
By car, pass through Harrison Road in front of Burnham Park and pass the intersection to Abanao Road. Go straight and on the next stop light, turn left to Naguilian Road (the right leads to Bokawkan Road). Asin Road is located on the left (near Puregold). If going there by taxi, it is advisable to have the driver wait or come back for you.
Get more information about Gaño’s Native Crafts
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