Against the Grain

The Taguibong people, an indigenous group in the Philippines’ Kalinga Province and Terra Madre 2010 delegates, continue to grow the Chong-ak variety of traditional rice, a rust-red, plump, medium grain rice known in the local dialect as the Unoy. Despite the availability of a rice milling machine recently sponsored by the government, some of the Taguibong have deliberately chosen to continue to thresh and pound their traditional rice species by hand with the tools that their ancestors have used for centuries. In the traditional process, the women thresh (loosening the edible grain from the inedible chaff) by hand, using instruments similar to a large pestle and mortar. They beat the rice as if beating a drum – with the perfect amount of force so as not to damage the rice grains, but to gently remove the grains from the husk. Whole grains are separated from broken ones with a hand made, wooden and woven rice sheath sieve. The whole grains are used for family consumption while the broken grains are either eaten immediately as a snack or for animal feed.

The indigenous women of the area are the primary guardians of this traditional knowledge and continue to use these wooden instruments, maintaining that it is softer on the rice than a machine, and therefore results in less breakages and waste and a better flavor. The process is carried out daily to provide food for the families, and is passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.

Slow Food along with the Taguibong people are working to protect and safeguard the traditional methods of growing, storing, preparing and eating their traditional terraced rice varieties, with the Chong-ak rice recently being accepted as an international Ark of Taste product, Slow Food’s catalogue of high quality products at-risk of extinction. Chong-ak will join the nation’s two other rice varieties on the Ark, Imbuucan and Ominio, whose producers will also be present at Terra Madre.

For more information:
Elena Aniere
[email protected]

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