Surviving Progress | Sojourners

Surviving Progress

Survival has never come easily for the Kalinga and Bontoc peoples of the northern Philippines. The Bontoc-Kalinga villages are sprinkled along steep hillsides cut into the northern Cordillere by the wild Chico River. Snatching bounty from adversity, these tribal people have transformed the mountain slopes into remarkable terraces of flourishing, irrigated rice. Working with simple hand implements, a farmer here invests years in leveling and stone-walling a one-hectare field.

Today, several hundred years since these tribes moved into the mountains, vast curvatures of the stepped hillsides radiate a luminous green of growing rice. The irrigation system for these fields--supported by many kilometers of hand-hewn ditches, hollow bamboo pipes, dikes, and simple stone obstruction "gates"--stands as a wonder in hydraulics engineering.

Awe. It is the inevitable response of a visitor driving the narrow mountain roads through this rice-terrace country. Rarely has humankind succeeded so dramatically in beautifying nature.

Some societies have exploited tremendous human resources for monuments symbolizing death, such as the Egyptian pyramids or modern nuclear bombs. In contrast, the rice-terrace cultures of the Philippines inspire the world with their living monument to the ability of human beings to provide life under extremely arduous conditions.

But today the Bontocs and Kalingas face an unprecedented threat. If government plans prevail, many Kalinga and Bontoc settlements and rice terraces will be flooded to create the reservoirs of huge dams on the Chico River.

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