Rice terraces ‘rediscovered’ in Antique
TIBIAO, Antique—A hidden heritage has been “rediscovered” deep in the mountains of San Remigio town, Antique province.
A cluster of rice terraces spread in a combined area of 600 hectares has been preserved by the Iraynon Bukidnon, an indigenous group in Barangay (village) General Fullon, and is deemed a cultural treasure.
The terraces lie in a valley surrounded by rolling hills and several mountain peaks. To the northwest, a few hundred meters away, are two waterfalls. At the opposite direction, the valley descends and is cut by a portion of the Sibalom River.
It comes as no surprise that few outsiders visit the community because its nearest neighboring barangay is an 18-kilometer trek.
The terraces were detected in February 2014 by Emmanuel Lerona, a faculty member of the University of the Philippines-Visayas and cofounder of Panay Bird Club.
He was browsing Google Maps to look for patches of forest cover connecting Miagao town in Iloilo province with the rest of the Madja-as Mountain Range. At that time, he was conducting a study of birds on the UP Visayas campus in Miagao.
“That was when I noticed curious-looking formations in an unlabeled area between San Remigio and Valderrama (Antique province),” he said. “Upon zooming in, I realized the formations were rice terraces. And the area was quite big.’
He reported his finding to Katahum Tours to help him find the terraces.
On Aug. 27, a team went on an expedition to validate the finding. They literally crossed five mountains to get to the Antique Rice Terraces.
The village of General Fullon is in a valley beside two majestic falls, Iglangit and Igtamoni, which supply the “taramnan” (rice fields) with water. It is close to the head spring of the Sibalom River, which is abundant with freshwater fish and shrimp. For this, the indigenous community generally considers the place adequate for living.
Enrique Viceda, 78, said in Kinaray-a: “There are so many reasons why our ancestors decided to stay in this area. One is that our village is surrounded by three great mountains, Mt. Iglangit, Mt. Igpayas and Mt. Igbangto. This makes our village protected from strong winds, such as amihan or habagat.”
“Because we are surrounded by waterfalls and the river, the water supply is unlimited. Moreover, the quality of the soil for farming is very good,” Viceda added.
Each family that is assigned a parcel of land in General Fullon has a long tradition of maintaining the rice fields.
The entire area is collectively owned by the Iraynon Bukidnon community, which was issued a certificate of ancestral domain title in 2011.
For them, the rice terraces are a testament that their culture and tradition are still intact.
“Antique Rice Terraces is a continuing heritage because we are motivated and inspired not only to preserve but also to expand our rice fields,” said Joel Viceda, 35, one of the teachers in General Fullon Elementary School.
He dreamed of becoming an electrical engineer but later realized that his calling was to serve the community. “I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to settle here to help my father manage our 2-hectare rice terraces,” he said.
4 crops a year
Just like Viceda, the children in the village help their parents in the rice fields. The ample water supply allows the community to have four crops in a year.
“Our rice cropping is in March to May, June to August and September to November. We plant tobacco from December to February,” said Jun Bayog, 51, one of the barangay officials.
But the extent of the rice production is not felt in the town because the indigenous community does not sell their rice in bulk. Most are kept for their own consumption.
Joy Sumagsay, a UP Visayas teacher and a heritage advocate, considers the “rediscovery” of the Antique Rice Terraces of the Iraynon Bukidnon a manifestation that it is a “manggad kang Antique (a treasure of Antique)” that needs to be preserved and celebrated.
“We are happy to know that our town has a hidden jewel,” exclaimed Mayor Glenn Cabigunda of San Remigio, a third-class municipality (annual income: P35 million-P45 million) 21 kilometers northeast from the provincial capital of San Jose de Buenavista.
“We will support the Iraynon Bukidnon by providing them a road network from Barangay Bugo to their village,” Cabigunda said.
Nicolasito Calawag, provincial agriculturist, is confident that General Fullon has a lot of areas that can be developed for farming. He believes that once an irrigation system and new rice technologies are introduced, the rice production of the Iraynon Bukidnon would increase.
“The so-called Antique Rice Terraces is only the tip of the iceberg,” said UP Visayas professor Jonathan Jurilla.
Close to nature
“The Iraynon Bukidnon people and their culture are also [part of our] rich [heritage]. The agricultural knowledge they kept for several generations will teach us a lot about living close to nature. Their literature and artworks will also be a valuable source of
Antiqueño identity,” Jurilla said.
Aside from the unique cultural attractions found in General Fullon, Panay Bird Club cofounder Rupert Quitag has documented wild birds and other flora and fauna in the area. This will be an added value to the beauty of the site.
“The fact that General Fullon has been ‘rediscovered’ with all the natural, cultural and historical heritage in a simple community makes me overwhelmed and inspired,” said Gov. Rhodora Cadiao.
“Being the officer in charge of the Antique Provincial Tourism Office, we will conduct an intensive cultural mapping, documentation and efficient policy support about the Antique Rice Terraces and the Iraynon Bukidnon. In this way, we can be proud of our living heritage,” Cadiao said.
Flord Calawag, Inquirer Visayas
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