Traditional Ifugao huts are symbols of a centuries-old culture



By Anna Valmero

LAGAWE, IFUGAO—Traditional Ifugao huts are admired for their simple ethnic architectural designs using an indigenous system of construction. Believe it or not, the Ifugaos do not use nails to connect each part of the house yet these are known to withstand earthquakes.

A legend tells about the mythical origins of the first house in Ifugao. One day, the god Wigan looked down to the Earth and saw the lush but uninhabited land of Kay-ang (now Kiangan).

To populate the area, he made a house and then filled it with rice, and tied chickens and pigs on the floor beams and posts. His children Cabbigat and Bugan became the first settlers who passed on their hut-making skills to later generations.

There are four types of Ifugao huts: abong, which is directly built on the ground and inappal, which is slightly elevated from the ground. Both serve as temporary shelters for farmers when working in the rice fields. The bale, which is elevated at about 10 feet high, is a dwelling house for families while the alang or granary house stores dried rice and bulul, Ifugao’s rice gods.

Now the beauty, and the exciting part, in making the huts is the use of indigenous systems of measurement, using the mortise and tenon. Dopah is equal to an arm’s length while dangan is the length covered by the thumb to the pointer finger; the Ifugaos use paltik or a spool of string dipped in staining liquid to mark their measurements for cutting timber, for example.

The parts are joined together through mortise and tenon, rabbetting, tying and pegging. This allows for ‘removable’ roofs that can be easily dismantled and reassembled.

While modern architecture would call for the use of seismic retrofitting techniques, or metal-and-rubber insulation for earthquake proofing, Ifugaos back then place a boulder inside each hole before fitting in the hut’s posts, a system that somehow resembles that used by buildings today.

By separating the foundation columns from the ground, the foundations and posts resist the effects of earthquake tension and shake horizontally. They wouldn’t be called Ifugaos (locally Ipuhaw, meaning “inhabitants of the earth”) for nothing.

Meanwhile, Ifugao hut making is also vital in the development of the tribe’s community culture because it requires group effort (or dangah) from hauling lumber, gathering of cogon grass for roofing and construction of the house.

Those who helped build a house voluntarily do so, an early form of the Filipino bayanihan spirit. In return, they are assured of willing hands available should they need help in the future.

Sadly, the building Ifugao huts is on the verge of becoming a lost tradition as more members of the community continue to abandon their home to join urban settlements, says Wrachelle Calderon, administrative manager of Chanum Foundation Inc.

To preserve the Ifugao’s indigenous culture, the foundation recreated an Ifugao-Kalinga village at the Tam-awan Village in Baguio City through the installation of knocked down and abandoned traditional huts.

During a visit to Tam-awan, Calderon told me that in early 1990s, Ifugaos left their huts to move into makeshift houses. While most of the houses are devoid of wooden anitos, beadwork and sculpture, the huts still stand as symbols of the Ifugao culture.

Zenia Ananayo of nonprofit group Nurtuting Indigenous Knowledge Experts (NIKE) says it is important to promote traditional hut-making among younger Ifugaos. Raymond Macapagal and Dr. Raoul Bermejo helped restore Ifugao native houses in Batad village, according to this Inquirer report.

“One of the most essential qualities of Ifugao architecture is its adaptiveness to ecology… reflected in the environmentally appropriate construction and structural design of the house,” says Ananayo.

Lumber is chosen carefully to give the house a long life (some Ifugao huts are more than a hundred years old) and detachable parts highlight the Ifugao’s inventiveness to prevent unnecessary cutting of trees.

In her report, Ananayo says preserving the Ifugao heritage of traditional huts is important. “For heritage is how one generation shapes, preserves and maintains the past, in the process of preparing and enhancing the present for future generations,” she says.

Photos taken from, and

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