Bulul: rice guardian

casaveneracion.com Bulul: rice guardian

I like houses that reflect the personality of their owners. For me, houses like that have real character. I’m not the kind of person who decorate with religious objects but those who do, because those objects are part of what they are and what they believe, have my vote. Might look tacky to some from an aesthetic perspective but I kinda feel an affinity for people who are honest about who they are and are not afraid to show it in the way they decorate their homes.

And when I say “religious objects”, the Philippines being pre-dominantly Catholic, I mean it is not unusual to find one or more Santo Niño or Virgin Mary statues, in varying sizes, in a Filipino home. Most dining rooms have a bas-relief or framed painting, print or embroidery of the Last Supper. Yes, in addition to the one-meter-long wooden spoon and fork hanging on the wall. Everyone in my grandmother’s generation seemed to have both — the Last Supper and the spoon and fork.

There are houses though where the decor is more of an expression of the ethnicity of its owner, or a fusion of his ethnic culture and religious background. A Japanese home, for instance, might have a bonsai or two. The Chinese from whom the world learned about feng shui might have a jade dragon or a koi painting in the house. In Northern Philippines, an Ifugao home may have one more more bulul statues.

Bulul? Isn’t that the word for someone who can’t speak properly? No, the Ifugao bulul is a friendly spirit believed to be the guardian of rice granaries.

The Bul-ul or Bulol is an Ifugao anthropomorphic carving that symbolizes an Ifugao rice god or guardian spirits. It also signifies fertility and is sometimes believed to house spirits of ancestors. A Bulul has a simplified shape of a human being, whether male or female. It consists of a simplified head, a torso, and a pair of hands and legs mounted on a platform for stability. It is carved out of strong narra or ipil wood and sometimes stone. Sizes also vary, depending on its use. Bululs are usually made in pairs, a male and a female, but some are done individually. This traditional art form may seem crude, lacking in sophistication, but it has been praised as a fine example of abstract art.

Although bululs are now produced and sold as a variety of souvenir items or decorative art, it is actually a fundamental part in Ifugao culture.

Bulul plays an important role in the agriculture of the Ifugao people. It is involved in the ritualistic aspects of rice production, from rice planting up to the safekeeping of the harvest in rice granaries. The sculpture is made mainly as guardian of a rice granary… [Unraveling the Bulul’s Spiritual Origin]

Authentic bululs (i.e., not the kind carved for selling) have become collector’s items. Justin, a Filipino living in San Francisco writes about his first bulul and a bulul dealer in Baguio City. He had just lost his mother at the time and having been told that “bululs were a conduit into the spirit world and a way to get closer to one’s ancestors”, he bought his first bulul with money he had saved for emergencies.

Greg Sabado is one of the largest dealers of bulols in the Philippines. Zealous Spanish conquistadors and friars in the 16th century destroyed many of the larger bulols, but a few tribes, such as the Ibaloi tribe, deep in the mountains, managed to stay out of the colonists’ reach, preserving the old gods and the old faith. In recent years, the collapse of the Philippine economy led many of these tribes to sell their treasures to dealers, like Mr. Sabado. [The Palay]

So, while some people display art for their aesthetic (or brag) value, there are those who decorate their houses with objects that speak of their roots or objects that they feel strongly about in a spiritual sense whether it be a statue of the Virgin Mary, a Buddha or a bulul. A meaningful way to decorate one’s house, no doubt.