Wooden Ifugao Figures from Anthropology's Philippines Collection

by AMNH on

From the Collections posts

In the mountains of northern Luzon in the Philippines, the Ifugao people cultivate rice on elaborate terraces with intricate irrigation systems, a landscaping effort grand enough to have earned designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For the local population, rice is the primary subsistence crop and the cornerstone of daily life.

Banaue Rice Terraces (ifugao)
These elaborate rice terraces are cultivated by the Ifugao people in the mountains of northern Luzon, in the Philippines.
Sam Isleta

Some households keep carved wooden bulul figures representing mythological deities to ensure good harvests and to protect the fields and granaries. These figures are venerated and passed down for generations.

Ifugao figure
Catalog no. 70.5/287 and 288
Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology

The male and female bulul pictured here were collected by Harold C. Conklin, who worked at the Museum as a young man and later became an authority on the peoples of the Phillipines; he acquired these carvings while working among the Ifugao in the early 1960s.

Striking examples of the genre, they are about 12 inches high. They are part of a group of several hundred Ifugao objects obtained by Conklin and now part of the Museum’s collections.

These include wooden paddle spades for moving the soil to construct and repair pond fields where rice is cultivated as well as woven rattan trays for winnowing and baskets for storing the rice. Many other objects demonstrate the central role of this grain in daily Ifugao life.

Conklin, professor emeritus of anthropology at Yale University, has been involved in Philippine research since 1945. In the course of field research in many regions of the country, especially in Mindoro and northern Luzon, he published extensively on Philippine ethnography and linguistics. All told, almost 1,500 objects he collected were acquired by the Museum.

The Museum’s Philippine ethnology collection, the most comprehensive of its kind in the world, consists of more than 14,000 objects representing the varied cultures of the archipelago. The Museum’s Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples currently displays 145 items collected by Conklin, including 71 Ifugao objects.

Less than 3 percent of the Museum’s anthropological collection is on permanent exhibit. The rest is housed in climate-controlled storage facilities, which Museum Members can visit on occasional behind-the-scenes tours. The online collection database includes information and digital images of about 200,000 objects from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas.

A current special special exhibition Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture, includes more information about harvest rituals, farming rice, and other related topics.

In a glass display box, a model of a low mountainside scalloped with rice terraces. with the figures of three farmers and one working animal that looks like a water buffalo.
To see more about rice farming, and to see this model of mountainside rice terraces, tended by Hmong people near Sa Pa, in northwest Vietnam, visit the Our Global Kitchen exhibition at the Museum.
© AMNH/D. Finnin

A version of this story appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.