The Ifugao people in Luzon, one of the islands of the Philippines, are known as the 'people of the earth' because they carve magnificent terraces from the mountains and grow rice on them. Rice growing is very important to the Ifugao people - it is their main source of income. The success of a harvest means the difference between a year of plenty and a year of starvation.
Consequently, the Ifuago have many rituals and ceremonies to ensure a good rice harvest. At the beginning of the planting season the men of the village consult the omens to check if it is the right time to begin. They visit a sacred place and check for favourable signs, like a birdcall. Then they take part in a sham fight followed by group dancing and singing. Animal sacrifices to appease the gods are very important and pigs, chickens or dogs are killed at the foot of sacred trees. If all the omens are good the planting can begin and a woman chosen by the village chief will sow the first of the crop.
There are similar ceremonies when it comes to harvest time. When the time is auspicious the village chief gathers in the first rice crop and at the end of the harvest the village celebrates with a two-day feast. It is likely that the village chief would wear this headdress in leading the rice planting and harvesting ceremonies.
This rice god Bul-ul is associated with the rituals surrounding rice cultivation. Sacrifices are made to gain favour with the Bul-ul prior to planting. After gathering in the harvest the figures are placed in a granary house or attic where they are believed to make the rice grains multiply and guard the crop from vermin or thieves. During the harvest feasting, the Bul-ul are brought out to share the bounty of the harvest. There are over 1500 gods in the Ifugao religion and there is a specific god for every aspect of life - one for the welfare of animals, one for war, one for property etc. The Bul-ul is a key deity which features widely in peace and healing rituals, and statues of him appear throughout the Ifuago culture.
The crown was originally thought to be a headhunter's head-dress, but as it dates from the 20th century, this is unlikely. By then, headhunting had long ceased. In the thousand years before the Spanish took control of the Philippines in the 16th Century, headhunting was part of tribal culture and went on between warring neighbouring tribes. The Ifuago were particularly known for their headhunting prowess and they would return from forays into enemy territory with the heads of their victims. During the rice-planting rituals, the sham fights hark back to the old headhunting days.