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Ifugao Hagabi Sells for PHP 22 Million

Discover the incredible story of the Ifugao Hagabi's sale at a record-breaking PHP 22 million.

 |  12 min read

Discover how the Ifugao Hagabi bench made history, selling for PHP 22 million and setting new records in cultural heritage.

In the rugged terrain of the Philippines, there's a fascinating story to tell about the Ifugao Hagabi bench, a priceless piece of their culture. This extraordinary wooden bench, crafted in the 19th century, is not your everyday piece of furniture. Recently, it caught everyone's attention by selling for an astonishing PHP 22 million, leaving collectors and art enthusiasts amazed.

What makes the Ifugao Hagabi stand out is its mysterious allure, steeped in historical and cultural significance. It's more than just a bench; it's a symbol of prestige and a doorway into the ancient traditions of the Ifugao people, who are part of the bigger Igorot collective in the Cordillera region. Let's embark on a journey to uncover the secrets and charm of this extraordinary tribal artifact.

The Hagabi: An Icon of Ifugao Culture

The Ifugao Hagabi bench isn't just a piece of furniture; it's a symbol deeply embedded in the rich tapestry of Ifugao culture. Let's delve into its historical and cultural significance.

A Symbol of Prestige and Tradition

The Hagabi is a traditional large ceremonial bench carved for wealthy Ifugao families. It stands as a symbol of wealth, power, and prestige. In the past, only the wealthy, known as "cadangyans" or "kadangyans," were allowed to have a Hagabi inside their homes. This exquisite bench serves as a representation of a prestigious "hagabi feast," marking the beginning of a grand celebration.

A Commitment to Community

The Hagabi also carried great significance in terms of social responsibility. Owners of Hagabis had a duty to their community. During times of famine and poor harvests, the owner of the Hagabi was expected to provide for the community. This bench wasn't just a display of wealth; it represented a commitment to the well-being of the collective.

So, within the Ifugao culture, the Hagabi is far more than just a piece of wood. It's a living symbol of their heritage, status, and the communal values that have sustained their way of life.

A piece of culture shines bright: The Ifugao Hagabi achieves the remarkable sale of PHP 22 million, making history in art.

Understanding the 'Archaic' Tag

The term "archaic" holds a special place in the world of tribal art. Let's explore what it means and why it's significant.

What Does 'Archaic' Mean in Tribal Art?

In tribal art circles, the term "archaic" refers to objects crafted by indigenous peoples before significant contact with the West or foreign colonizers. These objects offer a glimpse into a culture's aesthetics, undiluted by outside influences.

The Ifugao Hagabi is often described as "archaic" because it originates from a time before significant Western or foreign influence reached the Ifugao people. This means that the Hagabi is a window into the purest aesthetics of Ifugao culture. It hasn't been altered or influenced by external forces, making it a remarkable piece of tribal art.

The Importance of Preserving the 'Archaic'

Preserving "archaic" art is crucial because it allows us to understand and appreciate the unadulterated beauty of a culture's artistic expression. In a world where globalization and external influences are prevalent, such art pieces offer a unique glimpse into traditions and aesthetics that might otherwise be lost or transformed.

These "archaic" pieces are a testament to the authenticity and cultural richness of indigenous communities. They're a way to honor and protect the heritage of these cultures, ensuring that their artistic legacy endures for future generations.

In the context of the Ifugao Hagabi, its "archaic" nature makes it not only a symbol of wealth and prestige but also a priceless relic of Ifugao culture, untouched by time and external forces.

Craftsmanship and Significance

The Ifugao Hagabi bench is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, and its features hold deep symbolism. Let's explore its construction and significance.

The Materials and Dimensions

Crafted from narra wood, the Hagabi is a stunning example of woodworking. Narra wood, known for its durability and rich, reddish hue, is a sacred material to the Ifugao people. The bench measures an impressive 4 meters in length. This length is remarkable, considering that it's often carved from a single narra tree trunk, demonstrating the skill and dedication of the artisans who create it.

Zoomorphic Heads and Symbolism

One of the most striking features of the Hagabi is the presence of two zoomorphic heads. These are not merely decorative elements; they carry profound symbolism within Ifugao culture.

  • The Female Head: This smaller zoomorphic head represents the female and plays a significant role in balancing and anchoring the bench to the ground.

  • The Male Head: A larger and stouter zoomorphic head signifies the male. This head also contributes to the bench's stability.

Both heads extend upwards and serve as the anchor for the backrest of the bench. This is where the owner would recline after a day of hard work in the fields, with their feet raised up. The design ensures that when seated, the entire body can fully relax.

The Hagabi's construction is not just about aesthetics; it's a reflection of the traditional Ifugao design and sense of proportion. The blend of functionality and practical design is a testament to the Ifugao's deep understanding of their culture's aesthetics.

The entire piece, burnished by the wear of traditional usage and adorned with intricate native repairs, is a work of art that encapsulates the Ifugao heritage and way of life.

The Hagabi, an icon of tradition, surprises all with its PHP 22 million sale, bridging history and modernity.

A PHP 22 Million Surprise

The recent sale of the Ifugao Hagabi bench for a staggering PHP 22 million left many astonished, setting a groundbreaking world record. Let's uncover the significance of this astounding price and what contributed to its high valuation.

A World Record Achievement

This 13-foot-long hagabi, also known as an "Ifugao Prestige Bench," made history at the recent León Gallery Kingly Treasures auction on Nov. 28. It reached a record-breaking price of PHP 22 million, inclusive of the buyer's premium, for a Filipino artifact. At nearly half a million dollars or $460,000, this sale signifies the highest price ever paid for a Philippine indigenous item. It shatters the previous world record set in 2013 when a bulul or Ifugao rice figure fetched $280,000 at an international auction.

In the Leon Gallery Spectacular Mid-Year Auction 2022 on June 11, 2022, the same archaic Hagabi fetched an impressive PHP 19,856,000. It's a testament to the growing recognition of its cultural and historical significance.

The Astonishing Sale Price

PHP 22 million is no small sum, especially for a wooden bench. The sale of the Ifugao Hagabi at this price is a testament to its remarkable cultural and historical significance. It's not just a piece of art; it's a living relic of the Ifugao people's heritage.

Factors Behind the High Valuation

Several factors contributed to the high valuation of the Hagabi:

  • Cultural Significance: The Hagabi represents not only the artistry of the Ifugao people but also their traditions and values. Its "archaic" nature, untouched by external influences, adds to its cultural importance.

  • Rarity: Hagabis are not mass-produced; they are unique and intricate works of art. The combination of craftsmanship, material, and historical significance makes them rare finds.

  • Symbol of Prestige: In the past, only the wealthy elite, known as "kadangyans," could own a Hagabi. This symbol of prestige and wealth enhances its desirability.

  • Art Market Trends: The global art market has shown a growing interest in tribal art and artifacts. This surge in demand for cultural treasures from indigenous communities has impacted their value.

The Hagabi's sale price isn't just about the monetary value; it's about the recognition of its cultural worth. It serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving and celebrating the art and heritage of indigenous communities.

Ancient Ifugao Bench and Protective Posts from 1912

The Legacy of Collectors

The history of the Ifugao Hagabi bench is intricately intertwined with the stories of three collectors who left an indelible mark on the world of tribal art: William Beyer, Ramon Tapales, and Angel Lontok Cruz. Let's explore their remarkable contributions and their unique connections to the Hagabi.

William Beyer

William Beyer, known affectionately as "Bill," was not just any collector. He was the son of the renowned American archaeologist and anthropologist, Henry Otley Beyer, often hailed as the "Father of Philippine Archaeology." With his mother being Ling-ngayu Gambuk, an Ifugao woman from Amganad, Bill had a unique upbringing. He grew up in Ifugao, giving him unparalleled access to the indigenous communities.

During the 1960s to the 1980s, Bill Beyer embarked on a mission to acquire original objects from Ifugao families. His efforts contributed significantly to his reputation as the most distinguished tribal art dealer of his time. Bill's close connection to Ifugao culture and his unrelenting passion for collecting made him a key figure in preserving the Hagabi's legacy.

Ramon Tapales

Ramon Tapales was no stranger to the international tribal art circles. He was celebrated for his keen eye and discerning taste when it came to indigenous art. His contributions to the field were showcased in the important 2013 exhibition, "Philippines: An Archipelago of Exchange," held at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris.

In his memoir, "Provenance: Collections and Recollections," there's a captivating photo of Tapales from the 1970s, reclining on the very Hagabi we discuss. During his time, he acquired a diverse range of important tribal objects. Tapales played a pivotal role in ensuring that the beauty of Ifugao art was recognized and celebrated on a global stage.

Angel Lontok Cruz

Angel Lontok Cruz, like Ramon Tapales, was an influential figure in the world of tribal art. Both men were "friendly competitors" during the 1970s to the 1990s. This period was marked by significant shifts in Philippine traditional communities, along with a burgeoning interest in collecting both tribal and colonial art.

While many of Tapales' prized possessions found their way into European and American collections in the late 1990s, the collection of Ifugao art assembled by Angel Lontok Cruz remains intact in Europe. Of this impressive collection, only the Hagabi has stayed in the Philippines.

Collectively, William Beyer, Ramon Tapales, and Angel Lontok Cruz left a lasting legacy. They were not mere collectors but passionate advocates for preserving and showcasing the beauty and heritage of Ifugao art, particularly the Hagabi. Their contributions have made it possible for the world to appreciate the cultural significance and craftsmanship of this extraordinary tribal artifact.

A glimpse of communal heritage - a hagabi bench Credit: Roy Franklin Barton

The Unbroken Provenance

The journey of the Ifugao Hagabi bench is a testament to its unbroken provenance, passing through the hands of collectors and briefly finding a home at the National Museum. This journey and the collectors involved profoundly shaped the world's appreciation of this remarkable tribal artifact.

From its origins in Ifugao, crafted with precision from narra wood, the Hagabi was often confined to the homes of the Ifugao elite, known as "kadangyans." It was a symbol of prestige and wealth, a hidden gem in the heart of the indigenous communities.

William Beyer's unique connection to Ifugao culture, Ramon Tapales' discerning eye for indigenous art, and Angel Lontok Cruz's commitment to preserving this heritage have ensured that the Hagabi's legacy endures. It's not just a bench; it's a living record of the dedication and passion of those who recognized its value and committed to safeguarding its cultural significance. This unbroken provenance has left an indelible mark on the world of tribal art, shaping the tastes and aspirations of future collectors and enthusiasts.

The Ifugao Hagabi: a cultural treasure through generations

A Symbol of Tradition and Beauty

As we conclude this journey through the history and significance of the Ifugao Hagabi bench, it's clear that this remarkable artifact holds a dual role, serving as both an artifact and a record.

The Hagabi embodies the highest standards of traditional Ifugao society, combining functional knowledge with a practical design. Its two extended zoomorphic heads, symbolizing the "Female" and "Male," balance and anchor the bench, while the raised ears of the animal serve as a backrest for the owner to lounge and relax after a day of hard work. This intricate piece represents the essence of Ifugao design and sense of proportion, burnished by the wear of traditional usage.

But the Hagabi is not just an artifact; it's a living record of tradition and culture. Crafted before significant contact with the Western world, it remains untouched by external influences. In a world where cultural shifts are inevitable, the Hagabi stands as a testament to the "purest" aesthetics of the Ifugao people.

It is a symbol of prestige, power, and wealth, but it also represents the social obligations of the owner to feed the community during times of need. The Hagabi marks the beginning of a prestigious "hagabi feast," a celebration of tradition and heritage.

The recent sale of the Hagabi for PHP 22 million showcases its enduring allure. This ancient tribal artifact has captivated collectors, enthusiasts, and art connoisseurs alike, underlining its importance in a changing world. It's a reminder that the beauty of tradition can shine brightly even in the face of modernity. The Hagabi's journey through the hands of collectors, from William Beyer to Ramon Tapales and Angel Lontok Cruz, emphasizes the profound significance of its provenance. Their dedication to preserving this cultural gem has left an indelible mark on the world of tribal art and has shaped the tastes and aspirations of future collectors. In a world where the old and new often clash, the Hagabi stands as a bridge between tradition and modernity, a symbol of beauty and culture that continues to inspire and endure. Its legacy remains unbroken, a testament to the rich tapestry of the Ifugao people and their timeless artistry.

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