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Rice Article

Rice Culture in the Philippines:
Crystallized in the National Museum Collections

by Lolita J. Bulalacao, Ph.D.


Tracing the beginnings of rice cultivation in the Philippines is akin to treasure hunting. The history of rice cultivation is buried in time until it is accidentally discovered. The tradition of rice culture in the Philippines probably began along with the search for Palaeolithic sites in the archipelago. Archaeologists made systematic excavations in caves and recovered artifacts and ecofacts which comprise the cultural heritage of the Filipino people. Archaeological sites in the Philippines range from the earliest evidence of the presence of Man in Cagayan Valley, northern Luzon, some 750,000 years ago, the discovery of Tabon Man on the west coast of Palawan, dating back to some 20,000 years ago, the recovery of early rice from the Andarayan site in Cagayan Valley, to the 16th century dug-out wooden coffin burials in Northeastern Mindanao (Ronquillo, 1992). Archaeologists involved in the reconstruction of Philippine prehistory have reported the existence of shell tools used by Neolithic Man.

Shell spoons from the curved portion of Nautilus pompilius or the "Chambered Nautilus" recovered in Duyong Cave in Iwaig, Palawan were recognized by the Tagbanwa or Pala'wan workers as present day "rice scrapers". Another insight into Philippine prehistory is the probability of long-term habitation of the limestone caves of Singnapan in Palawan by the Tau't Batu. The Tau't Batu are swidden cultivators. While significant archaeological discoveries have become the sources of inspiration and knowledge about Philippine cultural heritage, anthropologists have been establishing correlations between modes of subsistence, population density and social stratification and exchanges. They discovered that all majorethnic groups in the Philippines now cultivate rice, whether wet in terraced or paddy fields, or in swiddens in the highlands. The study of plant names , uses, folklore, and cultivation practices in the central Bontoc region in northern Luzon has provided valuable information into the nature of agricultural evolution in the region. Distinctive stone walled, flooded, and terraced pond fields are used primarily for the cultivation of rice. Early anthropologists even believed that wet rice agriculture was an old practice in the Philippines in view of the elaborate rice terraces in the Mountain Province. Botanical research in the National Museum is dominated by plant taxonomic studies. The Philippine National Herbarium is a valuable tool. It contains collections of materials of species occurring in the region and have been preserved for over a long period of time. Vernacular plant names recorded on the herbarium labels explain cultural links between peoples during early civilization or the cultural life of the ethnic groups in the Philippines. Geological research has aided in determining the lithology, stratigraphic relationship and depositional history of the site . The National Museum Visual Arts Collection has representative samples dating back from 1850 up to the contemporary period. In effect it is also a testimony of Philippine history as they reflect Philippine Society.

The present paper attempts to reconstruct the beginnings of rice culture in the Philippines starting from prehistory to the present using archaeological, anthropological, botanical, palynological and visual arts data.

Archaeological Data

Numerous shell beads dating from late Neolithic were recovered in Duyong Cave at Iwaig. Shell spoons made from the curved protion of Nautilus pompilius , the Chambered Nautilus, were also found. A number of bi-valve shells were excavated which had a high sheen along the edge of the shells which were immediately recognized by the Tagbanwa and Pala'wan as "rice scrapers". If these are actually agricultural tools, then there is evidence for the appearance of rice or another grain during the Early Metal Age (Fox,1970).

Shutler (1986) conducted test excavations in the Andarayan Site in Cagayan Valley, Solana, in 1978. They found an intact glume and the associated husk or lemma of rice on the fractured margin of a jar. The specimens were sent to T.T. Chang of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for examination. Chang concluded that the glume imprint is from the genus Oryza and the specimens are intermediate between the cultivated rice, Oryza sativa and its immediate wild relatives Oryza rufipogon Griff. or Oryza nivara Sharma and Shastry. The radiocarbon dates of the rice husk and stem fragments was 3400 _+ 125 years B.P. It has also been documented that rice husk and rice straw were used as earthenware additive by the Ilocano and for the historic earthenware of Northwestern Luzon Redware Tradition. The earthenware manufactured is the dalikan, or floored basin stoves. At Andarayan, rice husks and stems are found in a variety of vessels like the banga (cereal pot) or tayab (viand pot).

Anthropological data

In 1963 Dr. Fox explored the Balabag Cliffs to study a 19th-20th century burial cave. He reported the existence of large wet caves which were used by some Pala'wan families to catch bats. On the other side of the ridge, east of the cliffs, is the basin of Singnapan. Its geology suggests that it was formerly a plateau. The present topography is the result of the sculpturing effect of an ancient river. In this bowl-shaped valley in Barrio Ransang, Municipality of Quezon, Province of Palawan, an ethnic group , the Tau't Batu, lived . During the early phases of the agricultural cycle, the Tau't Batu resided in their cave homes. The Tau't Batu, like other Palawan groups are swidden cultivators but are multicroppers, with cassava as the major crop. Their most important sociological crop is rice. They make use of constellation to cycle farming. Multicropping is the general pattern in swidden farming. After the initial planting of a crop, another is introduced in between the first. Seeding the field is done through the use of a planting stick, by the male, while the woman drops about 5 grains of rice into the holes. When the rice seedlings have grown to about 5 inches , taro is planted in between the first crops, together with patches of sugar cane. Yam, cassava, and sweet potato are cultivated in the field. Rice is harvested after 4 to 5 months, depending on the variety. The major harvest in the field does not fit into the pattern of weather in the area. Harvest is the only thing that keeps the Tau't Batu from going back to the caves at this time of rains and thunderstorms. The first harvest of rice is brought to the granaries. The distributive form of leadership is employed by the Tau't Batu. The oldest man distributes rice to all the households especially during periods when the harvests of rice of other households have been depleted. The pursuit of subsistence provides the reason for the existence of a cyclical pattern of movement. The basic mode of technology is slash-and-burn, supplemented by hunting and foraging. Rice is considered a prestige crop and serves as a primary sociological function.

The I'wak is an ethnic group found in Northern Luzon, Philippines. They utilize the slash-and-burn food production technology based on the cultivation of taro making them the last group in the Philippines known to subsist mainly on this staple food. They use more intensive methods of cultivation such as wet-terrace rice agriculture. There has been a shift in agricultural practices among the I'waks. Taro and sweet potato became the major crops. Rice agriculture moved on to the lower reaches of the river. Cropping in the higher areas is limited to taro and sweet potato according to Peralta ( 1982).

The Ayta of Buag, San Marcelino, Zambales, was also studied by Peralta (1990) .He described the general culture and recorded linguistic data. The area is within the Negrito reservation. The swiddens seem to have been planted to some rice, banana, taro, sweet potato, string beans and turnips. The agricultural activities are based on lunar months and environmental changes. The first month in the agricultural calendar is May or tulong. During this period the Ayta plants rice, sweet potato, cassava and taro. In November or ba-e rice is harvested. This is also the period of flowering of Saccharum spontaneum. Harvest time for rice continues until December or kuliket. The wordlist used by the Ayta includes terms for rice such as, pale (unhusked rice), beya (husked rice) and kaen (cooked rice).

Botanical data

One of the earliest botanical works is Father Manuel Blanco's , Flora de Filipinas, published in 1837, 1845, 1887 and 1883. Inspite of his advanced age and recurring illness, he was prodded by the Sovereign Queen and some persons of distinction and note to write a treatise on plants. He warns, however, that his work is far from perfect, from the view of the learned. He says that, "Whoever would like to continue this line of investigation, should be ready to work very hard and suffer continous disappointments ".

Father Blanco describes 9 varieties of Oryza sativa growing in water as well as in high dry terrain. The varieties growing in water are Oryza sativa Binambang (binambang rice), Oryza Sativa Lamuyo ( Lamuyo rice ), Oryza sativa Glutinosa ( Glutinous rice), and Oryza aristata ( Aristata rice). An example of Father Blanco's description is as follows: ORYZA SATIVA BINAMBANG.BINAMBANG RICE. Leaves ,sword-shaped, with short hair, especially in the upper part. Flowers in a panicle. Cal. extremely small as in the genus. Cor. the valves of the glume, covered by short hair. The larger one has two ribs that follow it's length ending in a small white horn. The minor valve has a small scale at the base, cleft in the middle, in two parts, with a small horn at the apex, smaller than in the other valve. Estam. six. Filam. very long. Stigmas, two, divergent and hairy. Seed, narrowly covered by the glume of the corolla. = This variety, like the others, grow more or less to four feet. It grows in water and flowers in December.

The varieties of rice that grow well in dry land are Oryza sativa Praecox (Early rice), Oryza sativa Quinanda ( Quina rice), Oryza sativa Pilosa ( Hairy Rice), Oryza sativa Rubra ( Red rice ), and Oryza sativa violacea ( violet rice) .

According to Father Blanco, Oryza sativa Lamuyo is the one most cultivated and which forms the regular sustenance in Batangas for those who live near the beaches. Glutinous rice is called Malagcquit or sticky because it manifests that property when cooked. Natives claim it is tasty but which in reality is indigestible especially when mixed with coconut milk. It also serves to whiten walls, mixing lye with this type of rice and it is important to note that the white-wash is very firm even when exposed to rain. Arista rice is common in Ilocos and which grows in water though in Batangas it grows in dry land. The Ilocos variety has a bulky grain though in reality it is not one of the tastier one to eat since it has certain roughness.

Early rice is the variety that grows in the highlands and not in stagnant water. The natives call it dumali which means early, because it is gathered in three months. Though this rice grows very fast, the natives do not sow it in quantity because being early, the insects and birds destroy much of it. Quina rice is much sought after and the one mostly sown in quantity in Batangas. The natives prefer it because of its taste and the grain expands more after cooking and necessarily needs a little bit more water to boil. Hairy rice a variety of dry rice, is not preferred by the natives but they sow it because they say that it is not easily attacked by diseases. Red rice is noticeably sticky to the taste. The natives sow a little of it along the seed-beds. This variety of rice is given to horses who suffer from worms. For this purpose the rice is mixed with the chaff, a little water and honey. Violet rice grows on high terrain and is sought after for its taste.

Father Blanco in his book also briefly explains the method used by the natives of Batangas province in cultivating rice. Finally, he describes the many uses of rice among the natives such as the rice chaff (called Palay) for fevers, the bleaching liquid of the straw from burned rice, is used in removing dandruff and an excellent medium for shaving. The well cooked rice is applied lukewarm with good effects to swollen testicles. It is also applied to abscesses of women's breasts with the Malagcquit being even better for softening the hardest tumors.

Merrill, a noted botanist, listed 3 species of rice, namely, Oryza meyeriana (Zoll. & Morr.) Benth. Ex Pilger, Oryza minuta Presl, and Oryza sativa Linn., in his book, An Enumeration of Philippine Flowering Plants (1925). Of the three species, Oryza sativa is extensively cultivated in the Philippines but not a native of the archipelago, although of prehistoric introduction.

Ethnobotanical data

Reid and Madulid (1972) listed ethnobotanical names in Guinaang, Bontoc, Mountain Province . Included are bastikang, balsang, bolit , k(in)awayan , tappi or bayag for Oryza sativa, a kind of non-glutinous rice, binittilaw , minakmakliing, for a kind of rice, boyaboy for any of the several varieties of glutinous and non-glutinous rice characterized by long awns, kangkangaw, kinollong, lastogan, odpas, pak-ang for glutinous rice and pagey for unthreshed rice or rice plant.

Agricultural evolution in central Bontoc, northern Luzon , was studied by Bodner (1988) using archaeological and ethnobotanical techniques. Rice agriculture dominates the Bontoc landscape. Stone walled, flooded and terraced pond fields or payew are built on mountain slopes wherever water is available for irrigation or flooding. When the pond fields are flooded, the edges are planted to taro. When pond fields are not flooded, these are converted to ditch-mounded fields or baliling for growing sweet potatoes or cash crops such as garlic, beans, maize or peanuts. The ethnobotanical information on Oryza sativa includes its Tukukan vernacular name, English name, scientific name, phytogeographic status, plant use and plant treatment. Thus, rice is pagey in the Tukukan dialect, introduced to the area, the grains are cooked for food, fermented for beer; stems used for water buffalo fodder; husks burned to ward off malevolent spirits; stems burned and ashes used as shampoo, soap in washing clothes; stems sometimes worked into pond fields as fertilizer. Rice is cultivated in the area.

Gutierrez, et al. 1983 studied the ethnobotany of the Tau't Batu, which according to them, is an ethnic group living in a bowl-shaped valley in Sitio Singnapan, Barrio Ransang, Municipality of Quezon, Palawan. Tau't Batu has been practicing swidden farming for many years such that at present that there are many clearings in the area. There are a number of Tau't Batu names for rice and its varieties: paroy, baliyot-landapan, bigas, binatikal, dinalapas, dina-dino, dinara, kabo-kabo, kinolba, landakan, langkaway, limbayan-bakis, malindaganon, monding, samber, sinenggok, sipago, supang-ya, and tumba.

Palynological data

Fundamental studies of rice pollen are very important for palynologists and allergologists. Palynologists are mainly interested in the function and structure of pollen grains. The allergologists wish to find out which structures are associated with the allergens present in the pollen grains.

The study of potential allergenic plants in the Manila area was started by Payawal and Laserna in 1965. Grasses were given priority since these were the most widely abundant plants in the area and were known to shed enormous quantities of pollen grains. Payawal and Laserna described a few species by the nature of their abundance and time of pollination. Oryza sativa Linn. is one of the three rarely abundant grass species cited by some foreign authors as causing inhalant allergies . Kahn (1924) cited the pollen grains of rice as a source of allergic reactions in some areas of Southwest Texas. Bulalacao and Agbayani (1986) reported that Oryza sativa is an allergenic grass causing allergic rhinitis and bronchial asthma.

Pollen morphological studies of 19 species of Oryza were carried out by Chaturvedi and Nair in 1998. The pollen of wild and cultivated species were obtained from plants growing in the International Rice Research Institute, at Los Baņos , Laguna. The others were taken from the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack, Orissa. The wild species of Oryza investigated were Oryza brachyantha Chev. et Roehr. (African species), , O. meyeriana (Zoll. Et Mor. Ex Steud. ) Baill., O. officinalis Wall ex Watt, O. ridleyi Hook. f. ( Southeast Asian species) and O. sativa (cultivated world wide).

Using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) the pollen morphology of the Oryza species were described as typically graminaceous, being monoporate with annulate pore. The exine ornamentation is categorized into three basic types: granulose, spinulose and granular.

The prevalence of a stenopalynous condition in grasses which is 1-porate-annulate pollen grains appears monotonous when examined under light microscopy (LM). The SEM, however, has considerably broadened the scope of exine surface patterns.

In an investigation of the pollen morphology of some allergenic grasses of the Philippines, using SEM, Bulalacao (1999) found distinguishing features of the exine not discernible at lower magnification, especially under LM. A peculiar feature of the exine surface of allergenic grasses is the occurrence of frustillae, tectum with spinuliferous sculpturing , the spinules often bluntly conical or acute.

Bulalacao (1997) describes the pollen grains of Oryza sativa Hochst. ex Steud using Light Microscopy . The pollen grains of O. sativa are monad, heteropolar, radially symmetrical, and monoporate. Pore diameter 3.19 um, annulus diameter 2.11 um, slightly protruding. Size of grain is 36.72 um.

The Herbarium

In botanical research, the herbarium is an invaluable tool for the identification, nomenclature, and classification of plants based on a collection of preserved plants built up over a long period of time. The herbarium contains materials of species occurring in a region. For conservation purposes, it is a source of information on the pattern of distribution for every species with regard to range or possible rarity.

The Philippine National Herbarium contains 132 herbarium materials for the species Oryza sativa Linn. Table 1 shows information about 23 specimens labeled Oryza sativa Linn. The following local names were used for O. sativa: Paray magzayad, paray barusinay, paray lakaz, paray kasundit, paray lupaw, paray kasakaw, paray kabanay, paray kagaykay, paray hamutan malagtis, paray kabuggit, paray kalinu, paray sulyap, paray kadapug, paray bihud, paray bintatan, paray lubang, kaburuy, pugad dalag, paray karuykuy and paray kalubag (collections from Mt. Yagaw, Mindoro, by Harold C. Conklin in 1953), parai (collection of R.B. Fox in Polillo Island, Quezon Province in 1948), a collection of G.E. Edaņo in Davao Province in 1946, and pagen (collection of G. Banlugan in Banaue, Ifugao , Mountain Province in 1961.

Visual Arts Collection

Viewers of the National Museum's Visual Arts Collection take delight and pride in the wide array of artistic expressions that the Filipino is capable of. Art, history and society converge and crystallize in paintings. Through a wide range of images the National Museum narrates the history of our country (Guillermo, 1991). To Filipinos, no food can be more important than rice. Thus, many paintings portray cultural tradition of rice cultivation. Genre paintings tell us about the daily life of people, their various occupations, games, entertainments, their work and play. One of the earliest genre paintings is Simon Flores' Feeding the Chickens. The young woman in baro't saya is scattering grain for a mother hen and a brood in the yard. The high point of genre was reached in the American Period with the painting of Fernando Amorsolo, Planting Rice, which won in an exposition in the United States. It heralded the golden age of Philippine genre. A much more recent painting is Jose Blanco's The Harvest. Another example of farm genre is Manuel Rodriguez Sr.'s Return from the Farm. Religious paintings were done in the Spanish Colonial Period but continued to be done in the 19th century. A painting by Manansala which expresses Filipino religiosity is I Believe in God showing a group pausing to pray in the midst of farm chores. Majority of the historical paintings in the National Museum dwell on the traumatic experiences of the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. Dominador Castaņeda painted the Death March. The episode of the death march from Bataan, where the surrender to the invading forces took place, all the way to Capas, Tarlac where the guerillas were herded in a concentration camp, was treated by artists as one of the most unforgettable episodes of the war. The picture of defeat and humiliation was painted against a landscape which is a ricefield.


The list of evidences for which early rice was found and has spread in various parts of the Philippines are too few, for us to be confident enough to try to piece together a picture of its history . But the evidences found in the collections of the National Museum, particularly, archaeological, anthropological, ethnographic, botanical, palynological, and visual arts , however, suggest that rice was discovered early in the Cagayan Valley dating to about 3400 _+ 125 B.P. , work in the Duyong cave led to the recovery of Neolithic shell tools with silica glass, probably used for agriculture by inhabitants of the cave c. 4630 -+ 250 B.P. or 2680 B.C. Ethnological studies reveal that all ethnic groups in the Philippines cultivate rice. Rice has been regarded as prestige crop and serves as a primary sociological function. The general culture and linguistic data show how rice flourished in the archipelago and has become an integral part of the cultural heritage of the people. Botanical data recorded by Fr. Manuel Blanco cited both water and dry land varieties of Oryza sativa. Fr. Blanco described 9 varieties of Oryza. He used local words to name the varieties. He also provided notes on the many uses of rice among the natives. Merrill, on the other hand, noted 3 species of rice, namely, Oryza meyeriana, O. sativa, and O. minuta. He further wrote that O. sativa is extensively cultivated in the archipelago but not a native of the area. Two of the 3 species mentioned by Merrill are wild species as reported by Chang (1975). These species are O. meyeriana and O. minuta. He reports that Asian rice O. sativa is widely cultivated in the Philippines. It was introduced from Indonesia and spread to the Philippines and Taiwan. Earlier in history, O sativa evolved on the South Asian plate and cultivation began in Indonesia and spread to Malaysia and the Philippines. The Chinese influence on rice cultivation can be seen in the spiketooth harrow extensively used in Malaysia and the Philippines. It is used for puddling the wet soil prior to transplanting. The harrow was brought to the Philippines by Chinese traders and settlers. Madulid (1991) mentioned the importance of using local plant names in tracing the identity of the species and also in tracing the origin and history of cultivated plants. Gutierrez et al. (1983). found out that the Tau't Batu use at least 19 vernacular names for the various varieties of cultivated rice. The herbarium collections housed at the Philippine National Herbarium, contains 132 specimens of O. sativa. Most of the collections were that of Conklin in 1953.

In Texas (1924) and in Japan (1998), the occurrence of rice pollinosis have been reported. This is an allergic reaction to airborne pollen grains of rice. In Japan, rice pollinosis was observed among researchers working with rice growing. In the Philippines, the unpublished reports of Agbayani indicated that O. sativa causes allergic rhinitis and bronchial asthma. Pollen morphology studies of Oryza sativa were conducted to elucidate on the various exine patterns using Scanning Electron Microscopy, for taxonomic use. Three identified races of O. sativa, namely, Indica, Japonica and Javanica showed variable exine surface patterns (Chaturvedi and Nair, 1998). These characteristics are significant in delimiting the varieties. In Bulalacao's (1999, unpublished report) description of allergenic grasses in the Philippines, she uses the terminology of Faegri and Iversen (1986). For the exine surface , she uses frustillae, instead of insulae, and describes further the spinules as having a conical or blunt tip. There is no other subject often used in paintings to depict the daily life of the people, his occupations, games, work , traumatic experience, religiosity, than rice. In many of the historical, religious , genre paintings housed in the National Museum, rice is a favorite subject.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Rice is the most important resource of the Filipino people. Through time, Filipinos have depended on rice for subsistence. It is therefore critical to promote understanding of the development of rice culture in the Philippines, through research and education. Through research, the use of archaeological data to gain insight into rice cultivation by early Filipinos , the use of basic anthropological data to study production and consumption of rice by ethnic peoples, the use of palynological data to gain insight into crops grown by early Filipinos and civilizations and how rice affects the health of the people, use of harbarium techniques as a means of cataloguing the country' rice resources and document ways of exploiting rice resources commercially and sustainably. The education component shall put up exhibits on rice culture, local and regional, organize lectures and symposia, organize local and regional competitions on ethnic and contemporary meal preparations using rice.


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