Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Traditional Kalinga village built by Alonzo Saclag © Renato S. Rastrollo

Octagonal House of the Kalinga

Kalinga Province lies at the centre of the Cordillera Region, Northern Luzon, Philippines. The terrain is mountainous with elevations ranging from 400 to 800 meters above sea level. The low-lying eastern side, however, is distinguished by synclines and anticlines.

The Kalinga, also known as the ‘Peacocks of the North’ due to their colorful dress, are composed of three groupings: southern Kalinga, eastern Kalinga, and northern Kalinga. The southern Kalinga cultivate rice in terraces and in swidden, and they have settlement patterns with up to two hundred houses with patches of small villages. The northern Kalinga, engaging in swidden farming, settled in dispersed hamlets of six to thirty houses.

Kalinga have a number of house types, including: forny, buloy, fulong, buyoy, and binalyon or finaryo, which is the distinctive Kalinga octagonal house of the elite. The forms of the houses generally are organic forms responding to environmental imperatives. The binalyon/finaryo type, however, is distinguished by the social ranking of the owners, who are usually pangats the most respected persons in the community. Only ranking families can own such houses.

The foundation of the binalyon house is formed by four posts, two girders, and three floor joists. On top of these joists are stringers that run from front to back, and at the end of which, a post is set in the ground. Mortised into the stringers are four sturdy posts, two of which carry a crossbeam that, in turn, carries two queen posts. These queen posts support four purling in the form of a square. Three short ridgepoles draw the rafters together and these are bowed over the purling and fastened below to the upper sills of the outside wall. These fills are supported by eight additional posts.

The whole roof appears rounded from a distance, but this not so in structure, as the bowed rafters are not duplicated at the front or back of the house. Rafters run up straight to the upper crossbeams and then continue to the ridgepole formation to make it stable. It is just the thickness of the grass thatching and the extent of the smoke hole overhang that give the roof the appearance of roundness.

The house itself is equilateral, about six meters on each side. The floor is raised approximately one and half meters above ground. The space between the ground and the flooring is often covered by logs and other forms of timber to completely enclose the area beneath the floor. This is for protection since the floorings are detachable. The floor to the rafters is about three meters. There is no ceiling. Entry into the house is thru a low staircase leading up to a doorway. The doorway is closed by means of a number of wooded slabs, one on top of another, that slide to a side. This allows reduction of the amount of opening thru the doorway depending on the need. One may retain only the lower slabs to prevent animals from getting in while people inside can still look through as if through a window. There is another doorway on the opposite wall of the house as a back entry. The walls are made of vertical planks or plaited flattened bamboo called sawali. The flooring is made of reeds tied together in sections and shapes depending on the structural limitations of the posts and beams. The flooring can be rolled up and detached and taken to the river for cleaning if need be.

The central square of the octagonal house has been extended on its four sides, and in addition to the four central posts, marking a square at the centre, eight outer posts forming an octagon are added at an equivalent distances from the centre of the house to support the wall. Eight short sills grooved to receive the wallboards connect these posts together. The structural support is made of the twelve posts with four inner posts. The house is not an equilateral octagon, with the four diagonal walls being shorter than the front, back, and side walls. The floor is also not a perfect octagon since the corners are not all floored over.

The baknang class of wealthy families is distinguished by their octagonal houses. And one distinguishing characteristics inside the octagonal houses of the baknang families are racks or shelves on which heirloom pieces such as gusi (jars), bongor (beads), panay (Chinese plates), and gansa (gongs) are shown.