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The History Of Rice In The Philippines

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B. The history of rice in the Philippines

The practice of cultivating rice began about 3200 B.C. in the Philippines. However, the earliest evidence of rice cultivation in Asia as a region is disputed, with alternative forms of evidence suggesting Thailand, India, and/or possibly Yunnan Province in China as the origin point (s). Since early times, however, the cultivation of rice has spread throughout Southeast Asia. Rice made it possible for civilizations to appear in these countries. Before the growing of rice, people were primarily hunter-gatherers. For many millennia, rice grown in dry fields was the most common type of rice in mainland Southeast Asia. Much of this rice was grown by means of the slash-and-burn method of agriculture, and it was glutinous, or sticky rice. It was only in the years after the birth of Christ that wet-field, or irrigated rice cultivation, spread throughout the region.


The earliest found archaeological excavation of the use of rice in the Philippines was found at a site called Andarayan. This is a very fertile plain. The sample of rice that archaeologists found is a mix between wild rice and the cultivated rice that we see today. Another find at the site suggests that the people used rice in a variety of ways, as there are clay pots that contain the stems of rice.


Scientists believe that around the time of 3200 B.C. represents a very important moment in Philippine history, which is when they became a fixed or settled society. They no longer had to move around in small groups and hunt, or gather berries and leaves. They could stay in one area and develop the land, and also spend time developing their culture.


It is difficult to say when rice first became domesticated. Domestication means that the wild rice becomes suited to different man-made conditions by which people grow it, rather then the natural habitat that it was used to when growing wild. Much of the agricultural land in the Philippines is developed for the use of rice. But really no ones knows the type of conditions that led to the domestication of rice, or even how long it took to tame the wild rice.


Rice is primarily known as a crop grown in the lowland regions of an area. But this is not true in the case of the Philippines. Rice was developed in the higher areas of the Philippines. The rice is grown on sculpted fields that are known as terraces. These terraces are cut out of the mountains into flat areas that resemble steps going up the mountain. Farmers then irrigate the land with water, as rice requires careful and constant amounts of water. Special rice varieties were developed that were well-suited to cooler, higher elevations.


Anthropologists once believed that these steps, or terraced mountains, were ancient. Although that still may be true, there is no firm evidence in Spanish records that these terraces existed around the time of the 1600s. The Spanish were known for making pain-staking records of the areas that they occupied, but they never did conquer the highland areas.


Most anthropologists believe that, at the Andarayan site, Filipinos were not yet using wet rice technology. They were still growing dry rice. They also believe that the rice was not fully domesticated at that point.


Some people argue that rice was not the staple food of the upland people of the Philippines. They say that the staple foods were sweet potatoes and taro. But some scientists find it hard to believe that people would take the time to focus so much of their energy on building terraces if they did not use rice as their staple food.


For pictures of rice growing, click on the Southeast Asia Picture Database link on the homepage of SEAsite (, and enter "agriculture", "rice", and the Philippines as the country. You will see terraced highland pictures of rice fields and lowland pictures.


C. How time is determined for rice planting.

In many regions of the Philippines time is measured by the growth of the rice fields. Each new planting of the rice field marks the passing of calendric time.


Filipinos also decide when to plant their crops according to the monsoon rains that occur. They also follow the migration of birds. In some parts of the Cordillera mountains of northern Luzon, the planting season is announced by the sighting of the Kiwing bird. They also will follow the sun in order to see when the rice must be planted. Village elders will look at the sun, and then the rays must fall in line on an ancient stone platform in order to know when to plant.


Some aspects of religion are also timed according to the cycle of rice. Some people believed that the rice was a manifestation of the gods, and that people were the keeper of these gods. There are also rice gods in many upland peoples' cultures that are often represented as wooden images. They oversee the welfare of the spirits of the rice and people, and accept offerings.


In certain areas they decide to harvest the rice whenever the elders decide that it is needed. These decisions are made according to observations of the growing rice and the sun.


D. Different rice rituals that are performed in the Philippines.


In many areas the sowing of rice fields cannot occur unless there is a ritual held. The sowing of rice fields is basically the planting of the field. People observe these planting or transplanting rituals in order for the rice to grow and prosper.


For example, in the mountainous provide of Sagada, planting rice is ritually governed. Elders of the village meet to decide the day of the planting ritual. They declare a day that no one must work in the fields. Then the next day the bangan, or ritual transplanter, starts to plant. The bangan is a noble woman who inherits the role from her ancestors. She dresses in red, and abstains from all worldly indulgences, before she plants the first fields. Three days later her children will start to plant their fields, and then the rest of the village follows.


Another example is from the mountainous area of Ifugao province. A landowner asks a person to perform a rite to use the rice seed in his granary. Two chickens are then sacrificed. A woman, usually a relative of the landowner, then plants the seeds in the mud. The water is then put in the seedbed in order to be cultivated.


These are just two examples of rituals that are practiced in the country. But there are hundreds of rituals that are used throughout the region. The underlying theme in all of these rituals is that people are the human agents who must go through a cleansing process in order to be worthy of planting the rice fields. The right to plant rice fields is a special gift given by grace, water, the sun, the gods, and the ancestors who worked the fields before them.


After the rice is planted, the farmer feels that he or she is the protector of the field. The farmer sees that the field has enough water, or sometimes too much water. The farmer must also keep away insects and any other pests that try to occupy the field. The farmer will sometimes perform a ritual that calls on past ancestors to help him or her protect the field. Sometimes the farmer performs the ritual by himself, and other times the whole town will perform the ritual.


When the time of harvest approaches, a taboo sign may be placed in the middle of the town. It is usually a cross, or some sticks with fresh leaves on them. After this happens, the town elders declare a rest period so that people may show respect for the soil and the rice plants. Even the pond workers are not allowed to leave the village, lest the good fortune leave with them.


In much of upland Southeast Asia, people take great care to harvest the spirit of the rice and to save it for the next planting season. In this way, there is continuity in the rice strains from generation to generation. The Iban Dyak peoples of Kalimantan in Indonesia, for example, usually planting the traditional, inherited rice strain in the center of a paddy. It is carefully tended and kept separate from the other rice varieties planted, and is usually stored in a special place in the rice house. The Shan peoples of northern Thailand typically place the first ear of rice in a bamboo basket; this is the rice of the rice spirit. Special charms are tied to the basket to protect the rice spirit so that it will not leave or be frightened away by bad spirits. It is placed high up in the rice granary house until the next planting season, when it is carefully mixed with the seed rice. Similar practices are found among peoples of Japan, China and India--in all of the countries where rice is the staple crop.


In the lowland Philippines, people do not cultivate rice by rituals as much as their highland counterparts still do. In the lowlands, people follow weather reports and other planting techniques. They are more likely to follow reports of insects moving in, and what special insecticide to use on them. The reason that the lowlands do no follow the rituals as much at the present time is because they have been influenced more by the outside world than have people in the highlands. The lowlands have had more exposure to the West over time than have the more secluded highland peoples.


E. Importance of rice as a food.

Filipinos eat rice at every meal, e.g., for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Having rice at the table is just as important to Filipinos as it is for Americans to have bread at the table. Rice is a staple for the people of the Philippines. Almost all people can afford it, except for the very poor.


Rice can be prepared by many different methods. It can be steamed or cooked in water, which is how it is cooked most of the time. It can also be fried, ground, sweetened, used as stuffing, or in just about any way one can think of. It can even be made into a very potent wine--which is consumed during most highland rituals. No other food is used so widely in Southeast Asia as rice.


Europe and America do not even come close to using any food product as much as Asia uses rice. The only thing that comes close, perhaps, is bread. But bread is not present at every meal. It does not have rituals in order to make it, and it does not have any gods to protect it.


F. How rice agriculture affects social organization.


Irrigated rice cultivation is labor-intensive during the periods of planting and harvesting. Because rice harvesting must be done in a short time, and is done usually with the aid of only a hand-held knife so as not to frighten away the spirit of the rice, cooperative labor exchange is the usual form of labor. Cooperative labor exchange means that households who give another household three days of labor will expect three equivalent days of labor on their own rice fields in return.


In this way, Asia became what some scholars have called a series of societies characterized by a communitarian spirit. Cooperative labor exchange became common in all kinds of endeavors, such as building houses, roads, and other community projects.

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