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The Sacred and the Secular: Practical Applications of Water Rituals in the Ifugao Agricultural System

  • Stephen Acabado and Marlon Martin


Water symbolisms permeate Ifugao religion, rituals, and oral tradition. Water plays a part in death, rebirth, and cleansing in Ifugao cosmology. As such, Ifugaos consider water as sacred. However, water is also central in Ifugao economy and politics. As a culture that highly values intensive wet-rice production in a mountain environment, managing access to water is necessary to maintain stability. Ifugao practices follow what Richard O'Connor described as the “agro-cultural complex” in which agricultural practices, social systems, and political, historical, and, cultural changes are understood as interlocking processes (O'Connor 1995). In this paper, we focus on the relationship between Ifugao water and agricultural rituals with the synchronizing and sequencing of agricultural activities. Using the concept of self-organization, we argue that water and agricultural rituals in Ifugao are not only meant to reinforce community cohesion, they also synchronize the farming activities crucial to a terraced ecology. Utilizing the practice of puntunaan (a ritual plot or parcel in the centre of an agricultural district) and the institution of tomona (the ritual leader of an agricultural district) as a case study, we observed that disruptions in the water and rice rituals stimulated great change in Ifugao sociopolitical organization.

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