• Photo: CSEAS

  • Photo: Madeleine Yakal

  • Photo: Madeleine Yakal

Renewing Ifugao history and cultural heritage through visual storytelling

A new animated film about a village in Ifugao, Philippines brings together many institutions and local organizations in an effort to invigorate highland archaeology and community engagement.

By Lydia Joe (UCLA, 2020)

From 2012 to 2016, Stephen Acabado, associate professor of Anthropology at UCLA, and his team developed the Ifugao Archeological Project (IAP) as a collaborative research program to study the Old Kiyyangan Village, the site of the first Ifugao village settlement in the Philippines. Their research led to the development of The Old Kiyyangan Story, a 14-minute anthropological film based on oral histories and archaeological excavation at the site. At the premiere of the animated short film at UCLA on January 31, 2020, Acabado and an IAP team researcher, Madeleine Yakal, a PhD student in Anthropology at UCLA, discussed the inspiration behind creating this film.

Dating the Ifugao rice terraces

In history textbooks in the Philippines, the Ifugao rice terraces are thought to have been built 2,000 years ago, a belief widespread among Ifugao communities. However, Acabado clarified that the research conducted by IAP demonstrated that the Ifugao rice terraces were at most 400 years old, suggesting that the Ifugao people adopted wet-rice agriculture during a period of intensifying Spanish colonization. By accurately dating the rice terraces through scientific evidence, the IAP was able to show that the Ifugao took to the mountains at that time and solidified their social and political organization to adopt wet-rice cultivation as a strategy of resistance to colonialism.

Both Acabado and Yakal stressed that an important aspect of this project is the focus on community archaeology. Involving descendant Ifugao communities allowed members of the local community to actively participate in the research process and share in the discoveries. Yakal recalled that her engagement with the locals was the highlight of her experience in Ifugao. She returned back to Ifugao each year of the project.

Rewriting local history

 The Old Kiyyangan Story intertwined oral traditions with archaeological details and vivid graphics. The film follows the valiant journey of a young boy and his family from Old Kiyyangan Village escaping Spanish colonizers and taking refuge in the highlands. The feature highlights prominent aspects of Ifugao village life and values, such as the strength of family and community, the training of warriors and hunters, the significant role of women in village leadership, and the use of rituals in raising livestock and wet rice agriculture. The film was produced through a National Geographic Society Grant.

The need for such a film stemmed from the fact that the primary and secondary school curriculum for history in the Philippines has not been updated in the last 100 years, Acabado said. However, there has been a recent push to teach and emphasize local history at the primary and secondary education levels in the country. In line with this shift, Acabado aimed to make this film to accurately document Ifugao history in order to reeducate and empower the youth and redefine Ifugao identity.

The Old Kiyyangan Story is part of the educational materials being developed for Ifugao heritage education by the Ifugao Archaeological Project and the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement, Inc. IAP collaborated with local teachers through 25 workshops to finalize the idea for an animated video as a classroom tool to present accurate local history to Ifugao middle and high schoolers. The creative process took about one year of development and production and was directed and animated by Armando Burgos, based in Singapore. Acabado served as a co-screenwriter for the film and his team helped with 3-D reconstruction renderings of the landscape.

At the film screening, Professor Willeke Z. Wendrich, Director of Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, congratulated the Ifugao Archeaological Project on producing the film. Deputy Consul General Ambrosio Brian F. Enciso represented the Philippine Consulate General in LA to thank IAP for their contributions to supporting Ifugao history and identity. Members of the Ifugao community across California voiced their support, appreciation, and gratitude for the film and project as a whole.

The Old Kiyyangan Story trailer is accessible on Youtube.