Bululs are rice deities carved by the Ifugao people of the northern Luzon Cordilleras of the Philippines. This geographic area is recognized for its extensive cultural inheritance focused on the centrality of wet rice agriculture, of which bulul-making represents a plastic expression of the divine in the interrelation of rice, its cultivation and cultivators.
The bulul-making is organized into precise steps that compose a complex and highly structured ritual. The process starts with the selection of the appropriate tree by the mumbaki, the male “shaman”; the tree is typically the dark and hard udyàw, known by most Filipinos as narra (Pterocarpus Indicus), but it can be also softer woods, such as pine. The ritual proceeds with the choice of the part of the tree that will disclose the bulul figure; the rest of the tree is buried or burnt as it is considered sacred, whilst the ritual continues until late at night with feeding and nightly feasting. The bulul is then sculpted with adze or chisel in a long and highly controlled process; when the figure is complete, the ritual ends with the pouring of sacrificial blood on it, as to give life and transfer power to the idol. With time, the sculptures are thought to gain power from the presence of the ancestral spirit, therefore they were treated with care and respect to avoid the risk of the spirits of the ancestors bringing sickness.
For most of the year bululs reside in the alang, the rice granaries, but they are taken out to presence in the rice harvest rituals. Each year their sacred power is reinvigorated by the mumbaki during a ritual that includes caressing the figures after immersing his hands in a bowl of blood of sacrificed chickens and pigs. After many decades of rituals, a solid, blood-saturated, rough patina forms, covering large areas of the smooth surface of the bululs. Ownership of bulul and a large alang (granary) are prerogatives of the wealthy families belonging to the kadangyan, the plutocracy of the Ifugao Cordillera highlanders. A particularly large granary may need two bululs, and particularly wealthy nobles may also have one or more bulus in their house. Currently, after five centuries of bulul-making and three generations of substantial out-migration, bululs represent for the Ifugao a tenacious symbol of the survival of their culture.
68 x 19.5 x 18.7 cm
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