Friday, February 13, 2009

The Bontoc Museum - A Repository of the Ifugou.

Our tour in the Philippines took us to Bontoc, one of the main settlements in the mountainous region in Dec. 2, 08. Despite the size, most tourists would give the town a pass but we read that the quaint museum was worth a detour. Soon, we found the Bontoc museum next to the post office and were glad that we did.

According to many write-ups, the two-level museum is a must-see repository of the Ifugou culture and heritage, and a leading historical authority of Ifugou heartland. While the admission at 50 pesos is rather steep but think of it as a little contribution to conservation efforts by this church affiliated establishment.

The museum stands out from its neighbors with its unique traditional roof. It was established by Belgian missionary in the early 20th. century. Inside, there are galleries to showcase intricate traditional costumes, old photos and hunting and farming tools but imagine the shock we had when we encountered very graphic black and white photos of a headless victim.

We soon learned that the entire mountain region was engulfed in some gruesome tribal wars and enemy skulls were the preferred trophy for the victors.

Nevertheless, the main draw has to be the Ifugou village replicas just outside the museum. At the yard, we found well-preserved stone shelters known as Ilis - to protect the Ifugou against all weather elements.

We could see the design of Ilis has many similarities with other traditional farming houses. Tribal house served more than just a place to sleep over and each home comes with a stone pit for household animals, usually pigs; and storage areas for farm produce.

Every detail is given a thorough effort to project a sense of a working village including having a meeting area - a must in many Ifugou villages. In this aspect, the museum has done a remarkable job incorporating these elements.

The Bontoc Museum is where you go to see Ilis - the tribal homes up-close, without risking joint aches from conquering the hills to see one.

Sadly, Ilis are rare sights now in the mountains. With modern ways making inroads into the highlands, many Ifugou villagers have replaced tradition with convenience – ancient wooden houses now come with zinc top and modern amenities.

In my view, the Bontoc Museum is the best of its league and the only reputable establishment highlighting the Ifugou community in all of Cordilleras.

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