The hudhud of Ifugao: Enchanting chanting
- Camille Bersola () - January 2, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The province of Ifugao is rich in cultural wonders, and its people continue to embrace their heritage of pride and greatness. Here, merrymaking is not only fun, and does not need to be glamorized with fancy objects or excessive food. For the people of Ifugao, remembrance of their ancestors is what makes festivities more meaningful.

One of their cherished traditions is Gotad ad Ifugao, or the anniversary of the founding of the province of Ifugao wherein people gather to celebrate the richness of their heritage, particularly in a presentation known as the “Hudhud.”

The hudhud is chanted among the Ifugao only during four occasions: the harvesting and weeding of rice, funeral wakes, and bone-washing (bogwa) rituals. Dating back to as early as before the seventh century, the hudhud was comprised of over 200 stories with about 40 episodes each. The language of the chants, almost impossible to transcribe, is full of repetitions, synonyms, figurative terms and metaphors. Performed in a leader/chorus style, the lead chanter, munhaw-e – often an elderly woman – recites an introductory line to set the tone, and then this is taken up by a chorus of women – the mun’abbuy – to the end of the phrase. This cycle is repeated until the end of the episode. It may take days to complete a story, depending on the situation. The hudhud is a celebration of Ifugao heroes, heroines, wealth and culture.

The conversion of the Ifugao to Christianity weakened their traditional culture. The hudhud is linked to the manual harvesting only of tinawon or indigenous rice. The few people who know all the epics are now old, and young people are not inclined to learn and practice this tradition. But with support from organizations including the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the hudhud is increasingly being appreciated by the younger Ifugaos today. 

Bringing more cultural pride, this Ifugao tradition had also received an accolade from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 2001, it won the title of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” given to 19 outstanding cultural forms of expression from the different regions of the world. In Asia, UNESCO honored six masterpieces, among them, the hudhud chants of the Ifugao of Northern Luzon.

UNESCO defines oral and intangible heritage as “the totality of tradition-based creations of a cultural community, expressed by a group of individuals and recognized as reflecting the expectations of a community in so far as they reflect its cultural and social identity; its standards and values are transmitted orally, by imitation or by other means.”

The NCCA Intangible Heritage Committee (NCCA/ICH) undertakes the inventory of Philippine forms of intangible heritage; and the safeguarding of these. There are five categories: oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship. The NCCA/ICH has completed the UNESCO/Japan supported three-year action plan of safeguarding the transmission of the epic, to rekindle life in the dying chant.

The Hudhud Perpetual Award is the final strategy of the action plan to safeguard and promote the hudhud chants, engaging the active participation of the practitioners and the community, and seriously involving the local government and the Education department in the process which best exemplifies what a country can do to help preserve its intangible heritage.

To encourage the involvement of the community and to ensure the continuous practice of the hudhud in its social-cultural context, the Hudhud Perpetual Award was created and launched in 2006. The annual award encourages the chanting of the stories during harvests, wakes, and bone washing (bogwa) occasions in the participating municipalities.

The NCCA successfully completed this program for the hudhud chants of Ifugao province in eight years. The program was focused primarily on transmission of the hudhud chant to young Ifugao children in different areas of the province through a range of activities including formal education in local primary schools – the Hudhud Schools for Living Traditions – as well as documentation, publications, competitions and festivals.

A signal achievement of the project was its success in maintaining the tremendous local diversity within the hudhud tradition, as each class learned to chant based on the singing of a hudhud elder within the village.

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