MOST parts of the Central Cordillera region used to grow endemic rice species called tinawon in the Ifugao province. These rice species that are either chaya’ot (glutinous) or ipugo (non-glutinous) are usually grown for consumption. The glutinous rice is used for making wine for dessert. Like many of our cultural practices that are being forgotten, however, very few farmers are growing the tinawon rice varieties. There are even rice fields now where the tinawon rice could not thrive anymore.
My mother grew almost all of the tinawon rice varieties in our small parcel of rice field inheritance. The glutinous rice varieties that I still remember are: imbvu-an; in-galitan; in-ngutpur; in-gumallingon; imbvalu’wachang; and in-hubbur. The non-glutinous ones are: inchonaar; imbvu’an; impuha; pingkitan; hing-lu; innawis; unah and in-ong-onggon. These are called tinawon because they are grown and harvested only once a year. They grow tall with long rice panicles that are harvested one by one with a special knife called gamulang in Ifugao. There is a rice variety from the lowland that some farmers grow in warmer elevation right after harvesting the tinawon. This variety is called pindiwa or linawang (second crop). Pindiwa can be harvested by cutting the whole stalks. Unlike the tinawon, the pindiwa’s grains are easily separated from the panicles.
Growing the tinawon variety is tedious. It requires constant care from weeding to putting the right amount of water and performing the necessary rituals. It is harvested and bundled to about the size of your fist so they can easily be sun dried. After sun drying, it is stored in the upper part of the traditional hut where it will continue to be dried with firewood while cooking food. The wealthy people, like the tomonak or chieftain, have a separate hut for rice storage called a-lang.
The rice grain of the tinawon is separated from the panicle by hand before pounding in a wooden stone mortar with a wooden pestle. It is then winnowed to separate the husk before you finally have rice to cook for food or for making wine. The pinidwa or linawang, on the other hand is easily harvested and the grain can be separated by whipping a whole bindle at a time on a plank of wood.
Why is the tinawon rice disappearing?
I personally believe that it is a combination of several factors from the introduction of insecticides/pesticides, inorganic fertilizer and social changes. The altered biodiversity of the pond-fields has a negative impact on the tinawon. Very few are performing the rice rituals due to the change in religious beliefs. Growing rice for cash also makes one take the easier farming way. It takes five to six months before harvesting the tinawon rice while only four months for the pindiwa. The recent introduction of weed killer chemicals is a testimony of the change in people’s mindsets. Who would like to spend a whole week weeding seven parcels of pond-field when one can spend an hour spraying poison that rots even the roots of weeds.
From a health and life’s sustainability on earth perspective, I would prefer farming the tinawon the traditional way. The longer time of growing the tinawon allows the plant to absorb more energy from the sun, water, and the earth that is good for our health. The rice rituals are a way of showing respect to the sacred interconnectedness of life. As documented in the Ifugao Atlas by the late Professor Harold Conklin, there are twenty rice rituals throughout the year-long tinawon production cycle. No wonder why an old shaman once said. “We don’t pray before eating rice because by the time the rice is served at the dining table, it is already sacred.”