To celebrate this October Indigenous Peoples Month and the Museums and Galleries Month, the National Museum of the Philippines features one of the iconic Filipino architectural structures and is a frequently visited collection at the National Museum of Anthropology in Manila — the Ifugao House, and its ongoing restoration.
This was gifted by Petron Corporation in 1998 in time for the inauguration of the Museum of the Filipino People (now NM of Anthropology) for the centennial celebration of the declaration of the Philippine Independence.
Locally called fale or bale, this traditional house is from Mayoyao, in northern Ifugao.
Like most traditional houses in the Cordillera, the Ifugao bale is constructed from hand-hewn timber, runo, and cogon grass (Scott 1962). A distinguishing feature of the Ifugao house is the halipan, rat guards, in each of the four posts that elevate it. Square in floor plan, the bale with its halipan has become an iconic symbol of the Ifugao.
Mr. Juanito Licnachan, Jr., foreman from Mayoyao, estimates the house to have originally been built around the 1930s or 1940s, before it was re-assembled in the courtyard of the museum. Its steep pyramidal roof differs from the low roofing of traditional houses in southern Ifugao.
The posts, flooring, and walls are made of good quality timber with layers of cogon roofing resting on reeds. It is accessible through a wooden ladder, which is removed at night.
The horizontal partitions make the single room multi-functional. Directly under the thatched roof is a storeroom for baskets, harvested rice, and other provisions. Inside the room is a hearth for cooking that also provides warmth and light, while the smoke helps to preserve the integrity of the whole house. This also serves as sleeping quarters while the area underneath is for social functions and rituals. This belongs to the few surviving types that uses traditional materials and construction methods and can be dismantled and moved from one location to another.
Despite undergoing roof replacement in 2013 as conservation measure, the roof deteriorated from extreme rain, heat, wind, birds building nests, and other environmental factors.
Visitors have been allowed to climb into the house which may have further contributed to its degradation. To restore and ensure the preservation of the Ifugao house, the National Museum of the Philippines sought the services of a contractor who provided all materials and employ local artisans in the restoration.
Mr. Marlon Martin of Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMO), helped in introducing the NMP to a group of artisans led by Mr. Linachan, Jr. from the Ayangan group. Re-thatching works began on 1 October 2021 and is targeted to be completed this month and available for viewing as soon as the NMP reopen to the public.
Meanwhile, you may safely visit the National Museum with this 360° virtual tour of the NM of Anthropology galleries through: https://www.nationalmuseum.gov.ph/nma360/HTML5/NMA360.html