Philippine Woodcarving

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Philippine woodcarving has a long tradition. Some carvings are merely decorative, but many carved objects and motifs have a symbolic meaning.

Ethnic woodcarvings

  • The bulol of the Cordillera peoples are carvings of simplified human figures. They are commonly mistaken for rice gods and fertility symbols, but cultural archivist Tommy Halfalla points out they are actually meant to be used in a ritual healing process. The bulol is anointed with the blood of butchered animals in order to transfer the patient's illness to the bulol. Because the figure is no longer needed after the ritual is completed, some farmers would put them to use by placing them in their rice granaries as a warning that illness or death could befall those who attempt to steal their rice. This has led to the misconception that it is a benevolent guardian of rice.
  • Okir-a-datu are elaborate curvilinear carved motifs made by the Maranao and Tausug tribes of Mindanao. The main okir motifs are the sarimanok (mythical bird), the naga (mythical serpent) and the pako rabong (fern). Such motifs are used to decorate the houses of Sultans.
  • The Tagbanua bird and animal carvings are religious symbols that are carved in blackened wood with incised geometric designs that stand out in the light original wood color against the blackness.

Other woodcarving traditions

  • Paete is known for all kinds of woodcarvings, especially santo figures.
  • Pakil is known for filigree-like woodcarvings.
  • Betis, Pampanga is known for its artisans' skillful carved embellishment of wooden furniture.


Guillermo, Alice G. An Essay on Philippine Visual Arts. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1989. Man with 'a Bird's Nest of a Beard' Shares his Wisdom