Issue of September 1, 2019
Mt. Province
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Carving industry remains relevant
by Jamie Joie Malingan

The rice terraces of Banaue, Ifugao are not the only ones noticed by travelers.

Small shops along the road stand side by side, displaying a variety of woodcarvings from the famed bululs (rice gods) to home decors, tissue holders, and souvenirs.

Big hunter statues and furniture sets are often the centerpieces until recently, small items carved to the minutest detail of a native house, good luck charm, and novelty items became popular.

Woodcarving in Ifugao can be traced back to the pre-Spanish period. The practice of the craft can also be associated to the existence of the old-aged rice terraces as evident in the bululs carved as protection and an important part of the rituals in the rice cycle of the Ifugao people.

After World War II, there was a boom in the tourism industry in the town of Banaue. Along with it, woodcarving became an additional income generating activity for most families.

“Economically, Ifugaos have limited sources of income. Since rice production here is only once a year, families cannot be sustained by just relying on rice production,” said Banaue Municipal Assessor Peter Udan.

Women in the woodcarving industry are usually in charge of the finishing touches of the wood products but not until recently when they started to get involved in carving their own products.

Trinkets, key chains, and earrings are now some of the recent souvenirs that woodcarvers from Banaue produce.

These items may be smaller than your average woodworks but the details put in them take as much hard work and patience.

“What’s unique to women woodcarvers is their patience to carve small items as compared to the men who prefer to carve the larger pieces” said Maribel Dango, president of the Banaue Women Wood Carvers Organization.

The Banaue Women Sculptor Organization started in 2016 with a woodcarving exhibit organized by the local government unit.

With now 16 members from barangays Bocos and Viewpoint, the organization continues to showcase their skills and works during festivals like the Imbayah and the Gotad ad Ifugao.

“The reason we organized an exhibit for them was to adjust the price from P10 per item to at least P35,” said Udan.

Unlike commercialized products produced in bulks using machines, the items carved by the women woodcarvers are handmade. Sometimes, these items are made while the women are taking care of the children or while doing household chores.

Income sources for the typical Ifugao family are usually limited to the father going out to the fields and bringing in cash.

However, with women now active in selling wood carved items, there is supplemental revenue for the family.

“Woodcarving helps a lot especially when it comes to our finances. When the family falls short in money, we can get extra income here,” said Darcy Banghuyao, a member of the Banaue Women Sculptor Organization.

Although the women woodcarvers sell smaller pieces, Udan said they can earn money equal to the value of the larger items.

Usually, when one talks about the woodcarving industry, one cannot avoid to tackle issues of deforestation especially in areas with large forest covers.

In numerous studies, the growth of the woodcarving industry in the province has been considered as one of the contributing factors of declining of forests.

The government also issued memorandums and department orders to ban the cutting of trees that des-troy forest areas.

Contrary to the impression that woodcarving is a dangerous industry particularly for Ifugao forests, Udan explained that the Ifugaos, long before the laws and regulations were put in place, knew how to take care of their woodlots.

“Woodcarving is an industry that knows how to preserve its own natural forest,” he said.

Before woodcarving became a source of income, most farming families clear entire mountains to plant food crops as an alternative livelihood to rice production.

The development of the woodcarving in the municipality helped stop this slash-and-burn agriculture.

“Families will not clear mountains to plant sweet potatoes anymore because by carving two to five trees in a certain period of time, they can already have supply of their basic needs while having the forest preserved,” Udan said.

He said with the women woodcarvers, the raw resources are maximized into coming up with a marketable products from the trunk, branches up until to the pine needles.

Scrap wood from carving large items can also be turned into the smaller souvenir pieces.

Through exhibits in different events and festivals, the Banaue Women Sculptors Organization is now receiving orders inside and outside the country.

Udan said he sees a strong potential of the products in the international market.

“It’s good that the Duterte administration is encouraging enterpreneurship,” he said.

Through the right kind of enterpreneurship and strong government support, Udan envisions the wood carvers as owners of an organization that helps give an adequate and reliable source of income to secure a better life for their families.

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