I belong to the Kankanaey-igorot people from the Mountain Province in the Philippines. I spent my childhood in my ancestral hometown, Besao, where there was no electricity and the only vehicles were two buses that arrived from the main city in the late afternoons. We raised our own food—vegetables, pigs, and chickens. Sunday was the only market day in our community, and people from all of the villages would come to trade and sell their wares and extra produce.
Igorots possess a sophisticated wisdom of agriculture. Many communities produce 10 or more traditional rice varieties. Our rice terraces, found high up in the mountains with long and winding irrigation systems, testify to the Igorots' expertise in hydraulics and engineering. No machines or plastering materials were used in the construction of our rice terraces, so pressure does not build up within the stone walls. Despite the fact that these stonewalls were built almost perpendicularly to heights often exceeding five meters, they withstand even the heaviest rains. An intricate system of canals brings a steady and well-regulated supply of water to the terraces.
The irrigation system does not simply involve the principle of gravitation. Rather, water pressure is manipulated so that when the water reaches a lower elevation, it is pushed horizontally forward and sometimes even diagonally upward to feed into the next canal. The canals are often carved into the mountainsides, but troughs made of large bamboo or hollowed tree trunks are also used to carry the water across deep ravines.
Wet rice production for domestic use remains the main preoccupation of most Igorots who still live in traditional villages. The agricultural cycle revolves around the phases of rice production, from seedbed preparation to harvesting. Interspersed between these are hunting and food gathering from forests and rivers, and the planting of other crops like beans, sweet potatoes, cassava, and taro.
As a child, I used to join my cousins and aunts to work in the payeo (ricefields). During the planting and harvesting season, we practiced ug-ugbo, a traditional form of mutual labor exchange. We formed ourselves into groups with neighbors and friends, set out before sunrise, and collectively planted or harvested one field, moving on to other fields until the sun set. In the evening we all gathered to celebrate finishing the work.
Our cultural rituals are linked with the phases of the agricultural cycle and the life cycle (birth, weddings, and deaths). The Igorots do not consider themselves the owners but the stewards or trustees of ancestral lands. Land is the source of our identity and it provides the material and spiritual link between past, present, and future generations.
Indigenous values of collectivity, reciprocity, and love for Mother Earth are taught to us at a very early age. The most important lesson is innayan. This Kankanaey-Igorot word can be translated as don't do it, or exercise caution, or have limits. But innayan is more than that. It is a principle and a value system that guides our behavior and relationships with other human beings, creation (animal, plant, micro-organisms), the spirit world, and nature, and governs our relationship to technology. A closely related term is lawa, which means taboo, forbidden, holy, or sacred. Lawa and innayan underpin the traditional animist religion of the Igorots.
We can only preserve indigenous knowledge if we make sure that the Igorots and other indigenous people can continue to live peacefully in our territories practicing our diverse cultures. Protecting biodiversity does not just mean protecting biological resources, but also protecting cultural diversity and respecting our rights to our territories.
Wars and conflicts in indigenous peoples' territories must be addressed, because the threat to the existence of indigenous peoples, especially those who have populations only in hundreds, is very serious. Whatever knowledge is lost is a loss for the whole world, not just for indigenous peoples.