Provenance: Provenance: Private European Collection Osmundo Esguerra Private Collection, Manila


Much has been said about the lounging bench called the Hagabi, and how it is the ultimate symbol of rank and social status of the Ifugao Kadangyan class. But to understand the true significance of the object, we must look at the process and the rituals that attend to the commissioning and creation of the bench, as well as the usage of the object in traditional Ifugao society. As an object, the Hagabi is a large bench carved entirely from the trunk of a narra , ipil or molave tree. The upper plank peaks at the middle and descends gradually ending in a stylized representation of animal head and snout on either side. While it is generally accepted that the animal head depicted is that of a pig (an important sacrificial animal among the Ifugao), other informants say that the head and upturned projections could symbolize the head and horns of a carabao, an animal whose sacrifice is associated with important ancestors. It is this “head” that forms the seat or backrest upon which the owner may lean while lounging, their feet facing upwards towards the peak. In some archaic examples of the Hagabi, one head may be smaller than the other, indicating a male and female pair of animals. Beyond the physical form, the Hagabi symbolizes the concept of wealth in traditional Ifugao society. For the Ifugao, wealth is to be shared with the community, and the most effective way of both showing and sharing their wealth is through giving prestige feasts in which animals are butchered, the meat shared with the entire community . A Hagabi cannot just be commissioned instantly. The prestige of owning one must be earned through feasts that proclaim the generosity of the family . Among the Ifugao of Kiangan, the possession of a Hagabi begins with a series of prestige feasts / uya-uy held over a number of years. In these feasts, the Kadangyan family commissions architectural details for their home like the Haldak shelf, the Kinabigat center post and other functional objects that proclaim their status. The installation of each is accompanied by feasts. While the meat is given freely and the community fed, the skulls of the butchered animals decorate the outer walls of the home, themselves a reminder of the family’s largesse. The Hagabi is the last object commissioned, the culmination of years of preparation and community feasting. Both the object as well as the ritual that attend the carving and installation are referred to as Hagabi. The Kadangyan-to-be couple who has completed the cycle of feasts are referred to as Himmagabi. As with the carving of Bu’lul, every stage is ritualized by the mumbaki / shamans, from the selection and the felling of the tree, to the carving of the bench. With each stage the Himmagabi are obligated to supply the carvers and the attendant mumbaki with food and rice wine. The installation of the bench begins when many men are tasked to carry the bench from the forests where it was carved to the yard of the Himmagabi. In each stop along the way, rice is distributed. On the final stretch, the owner is allowed to “ride” the hagabi, as it is carried into his village, while throwing handfuls of rice among the villagers. Traditionally, three to ten days of feasting and ritual follow, after which the Himmagabi couple have completed their social obligations to the community and are now officially, Kadangyan. It is also recorded that many Hagabi were commissioned during Tialgo, periods of poor harvest when the village goes hungry. Thus, the Hagabi, now ensconced under the Kadangyan’s home, was a reminder of how the family had provided food for those in need. Its usage was not limited to the family that owned it. The neighbors and their children could sit on it and use it as they pleased. Rather than a status symbol used exclusively by the owners, the bench was also an object for the use of the community. As a symbol of prestige and wealth, the Hagabi embodied the social responsibility that distinguished true Kadangyan. The piece offered in this auction traces its provenance to the legendary dealer, Osmundo Esguerra. It is a fine example of the classical Hagabi form as well as traditional Ifugao aesthetics and design. The peaked plank rises gradually, and shows much wear. The tips of the two animal heads rest on the ground providing a steady balance. On one snout, the concentric circles of the center wood is clearly seen, indicating that the piece was carved from the hardest, choicest and most spiritually-potent part of the tree. Symmetry, balance , form and function come together in this exceptional piece. The wear and patina of use remind us of the communal spirit that was behind its creation.