The Ifugao Hudhud

Their rice terraces get all the attention, but the Ifugao have another ancient tradition recognized by Unesco. The epic oral chants collectively known as the hudhud are sung by the Ifugao around Kiangan to alleviate boredom while planting and harvesting the rice fields.

The hudhud records the history and traditions of the Kiangan Ifugao. It pays homage to the deeds of heroes and heroines both mortal and immortal, to battles won, to heads taken and to riches gained. The complete hudhud consists of more than 200 chants, each with its own chapters and storylines. Reciting just one chant can take up to four days. It is mainly women who commit these marathon chants to memory and sing them in the fields. The chants are also recited during funeral wakes.

It is believed the original chants date from the 15th century, although some scholars think they predate the rice terraces, which could make them more than 2000 years old. Legend has it that the legendary hero Pumbakhayon was one of the main authors of the hudhud. Bored with the same old monotonous chants, he appeared one day on a rock and belted out an entirely new collection of chants, which were duly recorded for posterity by two sharp-minded female admirers (you can visit the platformlike Rock of Pumbakhayon in the village of Kuto, near Kiangan). The hudhud of today probably bears little resemblance to its earliest incarnation. Like any oral chant, it has been modified over time by collective re-creation.

These precious chants are now in danger of dying out as younger Ifugao feel they have better things to do than undertake the Herculean task of committing weeks' worth of lyrics to memory. In an effort to preserve the hudhud\ a government-funded school of living traditions has been established in Kiangan to teach younger Ifugao the hudhud and other ancient tribal customs that are under threat from the modern world. Unesco named the hudhud a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity' in 2001.

Across the lawn from the shrine is the Ifugao Museum ( h 8.30am-noon & 1-5pm), which houses a small collection of Ifugao artefacts. Ambuwaya Lake, 3km east of town, is a good spot for a swim.

The Unesco World Heritage Nagacadan terraces and Julungan terraces are about 10km west of town, accessible by tricycle. You can hike up into the Nagacadan terraces and then descend to Maggok village (three hours). For longer hikes, talk to tourism council head Remi Allaga at the Kiangan Municipal Hall.

Pangaggawan Cave is a three-hour hike from Kiangan; there are other caves in the vicinity. From town a classic vertical Igorot trail leads IV2 hours up Mt Kapugan, from where there are exceptional views of the surrounding terraces.

On 1 May, Gotad Ad Kiangan Festival cele brates Ifugao performing arts with traditional forms of singing, dancing and chanting.

The Kiangan Youth Hostel (%0910 324 3296; dm/d P150/300) has passable rooms.

Autobus has a bus departing Kiangan for Manila at 6pm (P450, nine hours); the bus from Manila leaves at 9.30pm. You can also take a jeepney to Solano (P60, two hours) and flag down a bus to Manila there. KMS

has a bus to Baguio departing at 5.30pm (P350, nine hours).

Getting to Banaue involves taking a jeepney to Lagawe (P25, 30 minutes, hourly), then another to Banaue (P25, 30 minutes, every 30 minutes).

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