Traditionally, social differentiation has been based on wealth, measured in terms of rice land, water buffalo, and slaves. The wealthy aristocrats are known as kadangyan. The possession of a hagabi, a large hardwood bench, secures their status symbolically. They maintain their high status by giving feasts and by displaying their heirlooms, including hornbill headdresses, gold beads, swords, gongs, and antique Chinese jars. Kadangyan tend to class endogamy. The less wealthy are known as natumok; they have little land, which forces them to borrow rice from the kadangyan at high interest rates. Because of these high rates, it is nearly impossible for natumok to rise to kadangyan status. The poor, nawatwat, have no land; most of them work as tenant farmers and servants to the kadangyan.
The Ifugao have little by way of a formal political system; there are no chiefs or councils. There are, however, approximately 150 districts ( himputonā'an ), each comprised of several hamlets; in the center of each district is a defining ritual rice field ( putonā'an ), the owner ( tomona' ) of which makes all agricultural decisions for the district.
Bilateral kinship obligations provide most of the political control. Beyond local areas, in which people are controlled largely by kinship behavior, are areas that are more and more unfriendly the farther outward one goes; at a certain point one reaches what was formerly known as a "war zone," within which Ifugao once fought head-hunting battles.
Social control is a combination of kinship behavior and control by a monbaga, a legal authority whose power rests on his wealth, knowledge of customary legal rules ( adat ), and especially a large supporting group of kin who stand behind his decisions. The monbaga's main sanctions are death and fines. The degree of wealth of the offender or the degree of his or her kinship relatedness mitigate the severity of the punishment; the less wealthy or the more distantly related the offender, the more likely that death is the sanction. However, the monbaga could not control feuding between kin groups within the larger group and warfare with outsiders. Feuds were often of long duration; if they ended at all, they were most often concluded by intermarriage between the feuding groups. Warfare often took the form of raiding, with up to 100 men in a war party. Raiders not only collected heads for display on the skull shelves of expedition leaders, but also took slaves for sale to lowlanders. Blood feuds and warfare ended with the U.S. occupation of the Philippines, headtaking by mid-century.