Stephen Acabado on the Ifugao Rice Terraces

PANTROPICA Virtual Seminar Series #1: The past, present & future ‘Pantropocene’: Pacific perspectives

A/ Prof Stephen Acabado (UCLA) on Older is not Necessarily Better: The Short History of the Ifugao Rice Terraces

Abstract: The long-held belief in the age of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, pegged at ca. 2000 years, as proposed by pioneer anthropologists of the Philippines Henry Otley Beyer and Roy F. Barton has become a sort of received wisdom among Filipinos.  It has been taken as a gospel truth, that even the UNESCO enlistment of the agricultural wonders highlights its long history narrative. It is no wonder then, that recent archaeological and ethnohistorical discoveries that suggest a short history origin of the terraces have become an anathema to nationalist sentiments about the age of the terraces. In this presentation, I provide the scientific bases for the later dating of the terraces. By doing so, we argue that the shift to wet-rice cultivation (and the inception of rice terracing traditions) in Ifugao, Philippines was a conscious decision by the Ifugao to counter the Spanish conquest. This contention empowers Ifugao communities and forces us to rethink dominant Philippine historical narratives.

Stephen Acabado is Associate Professor of Anthropology and the director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. His archaeological investigations in Ifugao, northern Philippines, have established the recent origins of the Cordillera Rice Terraces, which were once known to be at least 2,000 years old. Dr. Acabado directs the Bicol and Ifugao Archaeological Projects and co-directs the Taiwan Indigenous Landscape and History Project.  He is a strong advocate of an engaged archaeology where descendant communities are involved in the research process. You can find Stephen on Twitter

You can listen to Stephen’s presentation here:

You can listen to the Q & A session here: