Long before the arrival of Islam and its later, almost complete, supplantation by Roman Catholicism, the Ifugao peoples of the Cordillera mountain range of northern Luzon were at the core of the civilised indigenous culture of the Philippines, presiding over a remarkable culture for over two thousand years around the area of Kiangan. 

The society was plutocratic in nature, having neither king nor emperor, instead ruled by a council of elders, and enjoyed harmonious relations with its neighbours, living in abundance and prosperity.  

Their great cultural legacy is the remarkable and dramatic agricultural engineering sculpted artfully into the landscape. While some new research controversially contests the received wisdom on the dating on which its UNESCO World Heritage status was awarded, that the famous rice terraces are between two to three thousand years old, what is certainly true is that they are a remarkable hand-made feat, whenever they were built. 

There are five clusters of exemplary agricultural workmanship in the Cordillera, which have earned the coveted status, being those of Nagacadan, Hungduan, Mayoyao, Bangaan and Batad, all of which represent superb craftsmanship, a brilliant understanding of irrigation and water management, and sustainable agricultural mastery. 

The terraces are carved into the steep sided valleys following the natural contours of the landscape, utilising only stone and mud, and artfully extracting rainwater from the upper forested hilltops. The skills which have figured this landscape are not only functionally adroit but also as aesthetically pleasing and beautifully blended with the natural world as any civilisation could hope for. 

The rhythms of the Ifugao agricultural lifestyle are likewise drawn from an understanding of the natural precession of phenomena, such as the interaction of lunar and annual solar cycles. Remarkably, pest control is entirely organic and highly successful, utilising a sophisticated complexity parallel planting of various herbs.  

Although individual sections of terrace are privately owned and passed on to future generations through ancestral right, the terraces are managed and harvested collectively by the whole community, which represents in every way a thriving, wholly authentic, harmonious society.   

Traditional dwellings are also likewise intrinsically environmentally sound, structured of wood without the use of nails. 

Culturally underpinning these practices, is an ancient animistic belief system, which stretches back beyond reckoning, invoking the ancestors, involving chanting and the use of symbols to maintain the harmonious balance of natural forces upon which the Ifuago society depends, rituals which themselves have also been given UNESCO recognition as an Intangible Heritage. 

The inevitable encroachment of the modern world edges ever closer to destroying this remarkable beacon of sustainability, and the corrosive cultural onslaught began with the Spanish Christianisation of the Philippines, which the Ifuago people, who had been peaceable throughout almost the entirety of their history, fiercely resisted. 

The area was finally brought under Spanish and later American control, but has always managed to resist attempts to force abandonment of their ancient lifestyle, which has survived culturally intact, even despite the region becoming a fierce battle ground between Japanese and American forces during the Second World War. 

Nowadays, the area is governed as part of the Cordillera Administrative Region, and although threats from mining and dam proposals still may yet disrupt the idyllic life of the Cordillera, the real long-term danger to their way of life is an education system inherited from the Americans which sadly does not value their culture or traditions and may seduce the young away from their villages to work in the cities. 

Despite this, many of the indigenous communities now thankfully include traditional ethnic history, knowledge and wisdom within educational curriculums, but these are seldom treated as the equal of the more standard educational fare served up to young minds, and risks the loss through gradual attrition of this amazing ecologically intelligent way of life, which might have much to teach us, when our short-term and often destructive modern agricultural systems fail in the future.