Defining Ifugao Social Organization: “House,” Field, and Self-Organizing Principles in the Northern Philippines


The idea that complex agricultural and irrigation systems lead to centralized control has been refuted in the last three decades. Indeed, ethnographic and archaeological literatures regarding this relationship have been forthcoming in recent years. This article contributes to this body of work by investigating the Ifugao agricultural system. Spatial patterning and ethnographic information from Ifugao suggest that a recursive relationship between the landscape and its users exist where environmental constraints necessitate cooperation among terraced rice field systems. Correlated to this discussion, this article examines the applicability of the “house” concept in defining Ifugao social organization. Results of my ethnographic investigations suggest that the house concept complements kinship analysis, and thus, contributes to a better understanding of Ifugao social relationships. Moreover, this article argues that the agricultural field becomes the node of Ifugao social relationships. In this sense, the agricultural field becomes an emergent property that defines Ifugao social organization. This study provides archaeologists with a model to investigate the precolonial social structure of the Ifugao.