3 Interesting Filipino Traditions for Yielding a Bountiful Rice Harvest


Photo by Rachel Claire from Pexels

Rice has been a staple food of the Filipino people for hundreds of years. Even before the advent of modern agricultural methods, rice farmers have already found ways to cultivate this hardy and versatile crop and bring food to the tables of people in their communities. For many indigenous and local peoples in the country, a successful rice harvest involved more than just human labor and the work of the elements; it also involved a celebration of their spiritual, philosophical, and social values as practiced through their customs and traditions.

Below is an overview of three sets of traditional beliefs for rice planting from the three island groups of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Here, you can learn more about the cultural aspects behind rice farming in the Philippines.

The Rice Traditions and Rituals of the Ifugao People

A discussion on rice planting traditions in the Philippines wouldn’t be complete without the contributions of the Ifugaos, one of the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras. The Ifugaos are known throughout the world for the beauty of the Banaue Rice Terraces, some of which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Ifugao communities have historically been structured around their agricultural management. Rice lands are inhabited by kin groups and organized into “districts,” each led by a ritual leader called a tomona. Among the primary duties of the tomona are the agricultural concerns of the families living in their district.

Bountiful rainfall upon the mountainous Cordilleran landscape yields healthy rice harvests, which the Ifugaos take special care to sustain. In their tradition, twelve special rice planting rites serve as the basis for the agrarian calendar. These rites—which are administered by a mumbaki or local priest—begin in December with the lukya or opening ritual. They end with the ani or harvest day ritual to commemorate the arrival of sacred rice from the sky world, the upin or blessing of the harvested rice, and the kahiw orthanksgiving rite.

The Ifugaos are also known to keep a number of sacred ritual objects related to rice planting. The most commonly known are the bul-ul or “rice gods,”which represent important deities and ancestral spirits of the Ifugao. Kin groups also possess their own punamhan, or wooden ritual box with accoutrements for rice planting. These include pakhuy or unhusked rice, rice plant stems, flat irons shaped like the blades used to cut rice, and stone amulets. Some may also contain stems of runo, or local dried grass, that are theorized to have been used as makeshift accounting records. Each stem is thought to have stood for a number of pigs traded for a rice field.

Folk Traditions for Rice Planting Among Leyteños

In the Visayas region, old folk traditions in the province of Leyte are of particular interest. These are a blend of animistic beliefs from the Leyteños’ precolonial ancestors and Christian beliefs inherited from the Spanish.

Rice farmers in the municipality of Julita, for example, observed the pagsabod ritual or sowing of the rice nursery before All Souls Day. Seeds that were sown in the month of November were believed to dry up easily after sprouting. Farmers from the municipalities of Julita and Dulag would also follow the practice of placing a needle, a comb, and a tabog or mulberry plant in the middle of their rice lands. While the tabog would serve as a scarecrow, the needle was believed to invoke straightness from the rice stalks and the comb was alleged to prevent interlacing with other rice plant leaves.

In the municipality of San Isidro, farmers would mix their rice grains with rice that had been blessed during the past Holy Week. Then, when it was time to sow, they would throw ashes from their stove in the hopes that their rice seeds would be scattered just as thoroughly by the wind and grow far and wide in their fields.

Some of these beliefs may not be practiced today, but a love for rice and for delicacies made out of rice grains still live on in the province. Rice-based products are a key part of the merriment in the Kasadyaan Festival, which celebrates the harvest bounty as part of the Leyteño community’s happiness.

Ritual Rice Farming Practices Among South Cotabato’s Magindanawn People

The SOCCSKSARGEN region is considered to be one of Mindanao’s major rice baskets. The Maguindanawn people, who have inhabited Central Mindanao for centuries, ascribe a deep spiritual significance to their rice harvest. 

According to the Magindanawn tarsila, or the people’s genealogical narrative, rice production is a means of communicating uyag-uyag, or life sustenance that originates from Allah. The rites for planting are overseen by a leader called the apu-napalay.

The adat or customary practices observed by Maguindanawn farmers include calling the names of the stars, angels, and Muslim caliphs before rice planting, setting aside a kanduli or food offering, performing special rituals for the health and hardiness of the plant, and giving alms or zakat after the threshing of the rice. Farmers believe that observing proper rituals yields a long and enjoyable period of rice consumption, while the neglect of rituals would shorten this time and result in an inferior harvest.

Celebrating a Culture and Society Built on the Bounty of Rice

The Philippine agriculture sector may now abide by modern farming practices, but it draws from a rich heritage that is steeped in the rituals and traditions of the Filipino people’s forebears. These customs tell an enduring story of how rice has nourished Filipinos—and how rice planting has embodied quintessential Filipino values of faith, perseverance, community-centeredness, and respect for one’s origins.

The next time you dig into your favorite rice meal or partake in kakanin for your merienda, do so with extra gratitude. There’s so much history behind each rice harvest that makes its way to you—and that’s part of what makes Filipino life so delicious and enriching.

Lifestyle Mommy Blogger and Virtual Assistant from Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines. Aside from doing product reviews and events coverage, she blogs about solo parenting, homeschooling, and things in between.

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