Vernacular architectures are considered as some of the most complex artifacts that, when analyzed anthropologically, show varieties and similarities in building forms and functions among different cultures across time and space. Among other things, traditional houses and buildings for dwelling and other functions reflect a group’s building practices, technologies, decorative arts, environment and available resources, and several aspects of daily life. Further studies on vernacular architecture also unravels information on culturally distinct concepts of space and place, gender, identity, movement, change and interaction, apart from its more tangible aspects.
Three examples from the National Ethnographic Collection featured in this section clearly demonstrate the significance of vernacular architecture in the culture and heritage of various ethnolinguistic groups in the country. Two ethnolinguistic groups are represented here: the Maranao and the Ifugao.
The panolong of the Maranao is an extended house beam of the torogan, the traditional residence of a sultan or datu. A torogan is usually a huge one-roomed structure with a high ceiling and steep roof. It stands on massive wooden posts made out of whole tree trunks, which in turn are secured on large boulders or rock foundations that protect it from damage from pests and during natural calamities. Torogan parts are usually decorated with carved okir designs and their constructions involve the members of the community and are also accompanied by rituals. Apart from housing the sultan and his family members, the torogan also functions as venue for community affairs, planning, and decision-making thus making it a symbol of rank, status and influence of its owner (Madale 1996). In 2008, the National Museum declared a torogan in Marantao, Lanao del Sur a National Cultural Treasure as it was documented to be the “last standing example of the finest of traditional vernacular architecture in the Philippines.” This particular torogan was built by Sultan sa Kawayan Makaantal during the American period and is considered the archetype of torogans.
The panolong is the most dominant and distinct feature of the torogan. Apart from decorating the sultan’s residence, a panolong can also be used to adorn other ritual and important Maranao structures such as the lamin, mosques, and boats.
A comparable architectural feature to the panolong from Mindanao can be found among the Ifugao in Northern Luzon. This is the hagabi or a lounging bench that is made entirely from a single tree trunk with a stylized carving of animal heads on both ends. Its construction involves a special ritual that requires feasting and participation of several members of the community that lasts for days. Because of the complexity of its production, the hagabi has the distinction of being the only Ifugao carving that has not been created by one person alone but through the collective efforts of the members of the community. It serves as the most important custom object during the validation of a community member such as the kadangyan, or the elite, among the Tuwali Ifugao in Kiangan, Hungduan, Lagawe, and parts of Banaue. While the hagabi is a status symbol, it also essentially functions to uphold socio-cultural solidarity as well as reciprocal exchanges of sumptuous feasts and manual labor. Because of the prestige associated with it, the hagabi form is also found in ritual boxes and other wooden carvings. Wealthy individuals are also laid to rest in tiking (carved wooden coffin), carved in hagabi form to demonstrate the deceased’s social rank.
There are different types of Ifugao traditional houses and vernacular structures such as those documented previously by Lambrecht (1929), Scott (1962), and Perez, et.al. (1989). An example of the bale or fale, a house type with a distinct steep roof pitch from the Ayangan group in Mayoyao, Ifugao, was installed at the courtyard of the National Museum of Anthropology in 1998. It is a multi-functional one-room shelter where the entire family lives, sleeps, cooks, and eats. The roof is thatched with cogon (Imperata cylindrica) grass and its four posts are made of sturdy hardwood. Other parts of the structure is made of timber and fixed without using iron nails. Ifugao houses usually have an attic where harvested dried rice stalks are stored. The space underneath the house serves as shade and can be used for different activities such as rituals that involve the community. Underneath the house’s flooring, there are hooks or pegs on wooden beams which are used to hang baskets, chicken coops, spears and other things. Some families build a smaller version of the bale which they use as granary beside their house. It is also used as a chamber for religious practices and other ceremonies.