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This Ifugao bench was sold at a world record price at an auction

The rich culture of the Ifugao tribe has been showcased at the recently concluded The Kingly Treasures Auction 2020, held by Leon Gallery on November 28, 2020. Its prestige wasn’t just showcased, but the hagabi “Ifugao Prestige Bench” was sold for a whopping 22 million pesos, including the buyer’s premium, from its starting bid of 1 million pesos. The sold late 19th-Early 20th-century hagabi made of molave wood traces its provenance to dealer Osmundo Esguerra.

Just how prestigious is this wooden tribal chair from Ifugao for it to cost about five-hundred fifty (550) pieces of Finnala Chaise Lounge Chairs from IKEA that costs around 40,000 pesos each?

Perhaps the secret lies in the rich culture involved in the process, rituals, and the number of people who participated in creating the hagabi.

What is a Hagabi?

In its physical form, the hagabi is a lounging bench made out of wood. It is commonly carved out of the trunk of a narra, ipil, or molave tree. The physique of the bench, where the upper plank peaks at the middle and decends gradually with snouts on either end of the chair, is likened to depict the head of a pig, which is an important sacrificial animal among the Ifugao), or the head and horns of a carabao, which was an animal usually used to sacrifices involving important ancestors.

Hagabi equals Prestige

In traditional Ifugao society, the hagabi is not just any lounging chair. It is a bench reserved for the wealthy and highly respected Kadangyans. The Kadangyans measure their wealth through the possession of large acres of lands, gold, animals, and other traditional wealth. Their prestige is also measured through their ability to throw grandiose community feasts wherein animals are butchered and the meat is shared with the community.

In order to become a Himmagabi, the highest-ranking and most elite of the Kadangyans, one must be able to proclaim wealth and generosity through a series of uya-uy, which are prestige feasts held over numbers of years. Along with these celebrations accompanied by a ritual, architectural pieces are commissioned for the Kadangyans and are installed in their home to proclaim their status.

After the numerous uya-uy or ballihong formalities have been done, only then can the Kadangyan-to-be proceed with the hagabi ritual. The hagabi is the last architectural piece to be commissioned to complete the cycle of community feasting, which means that they have completed their social obligations to the community and are therefore officially Kadangyan.

The Hagabi Ritual

It takes a village to create the hagabi. According to the National Museum of the Philippines, the collective effort of the community is needed from the start to finish of the ritual because of the complexity of its production and logistics leading the bench to the Himmagabi’s home.

The hagabi ritual includes the selection of the tree (narra or ipil), cutting off the tree, hewing the log, hauling the roughly carved bench to the host’s place, bestowing the blessings, and the final buffing up of the bench. It takes more than a week to finish the process from selecting the tree to crudely carving the log and 2 to 3 days to transport it, requiring the strength of men to execute the demands of tedious labor and the support of women through the preparation of rice, wine, and other offerings. Relatives of the himmagabi, who live along the way during the transport, also help in providing food and drinks for the movers when they need to stop to rest or spend the night.


Hagabi as a symbol of solidarity

The hagabi ritual is usually done during tialgo– a time of the year where there is scarcity in rice supply, which is usually before the new harvesting season begins. This is a time when the villagers can go hungry due to poor harvest. The prestige of the Kadangyan allows him or her to share his or her resources with the community during a time of scarcity. Another fun fact is that while the hagabi is a symbol of exclusivity, the bench was an object for use by the members of the community.

Ifugao Villagers using the hagabi of a kadangyan

Hagabi in the Time of Corona

The rich Igorot culture of solidarity and looking out after one another still rings true to today’s times especially during the time of Corona. When the pandemic hit in March and the whole world was shaken by the virus, a lot of livelihoods were affected after the whole country has been placed under community quarantine. This resulted in a lot of our kailyans seeking help from the government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s relief program.

In Sadanga, Mt. Province, though, Mayor Gabino Ganggangan decided to not avail of the relief and instead mandated the kadangyans in his municipality to open up their agamangs or rice granaries to their kailyans who are in need.

RELATED: Sadanga Mayor Uplifts Indigenous Practice of Helping by Humbly Refusing to Receive Relief

While the hagabi is truly an embodiment of the prestige and social responsibility a kadangyan can contribute to its community especially in times of need, it is the strong spirit and culture of solidarity and healing as one that has been passed on up to this day that can be truly called priceless.


Sources: The Kingly Treasures Auction 2020, National Museum of the Philippines

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  1. this article makes me more peous of our Cordillera culture

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