There’s a lot of information online on how to get to Buscalan to meet the renowned tattoo artist , Whang – Od. With so many suggestions, I didn’t know which one to follow, since I was coming from Sagada then. My route was quite a bit different.
The road to Buscalan in the province of Kalinga, located in Cordellira Philippines, was not an easy journey. Apart from unpaved steep roads, the place is landslide prone, too. But the fear has eventually vanished by the scenic views of lush mountains and rivers, air gliding on my face whilst on the top load of a vehicle together with the locals. They became my tour guide and it was really enjoyable. My only thought was to meet the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines. I’ve been fascinated with Philippine tribes and not to mention my love for tattoos, which lead me to see her in person.
Whilst hiking towards Butbut tribe in Buscalan village, my guide told me that Whang-od was not in the village for 3 days, and many tourist went home frustrated for not even having the chance to have a look at her. “Yes that’s her” my guide told me whilst pointing to a familiar image. Whang od hiking her way to the village. It was a tiring hike for me and I’m in my prime age, so I can imagine how tough the hike was for Whang od
Buscalan is a village in Kalinga that is nested high atop the Cordillera Mountains of northern Luzon, Philippines. The people in these mountains have a fierce reputation of being headhunting warriors, fierce warrior tribe known for taking human heads. This serves as a trophy and having a tattoo after it will be their passage of rite for their status and respect.
They were great warriors during 400 yrs. of occupation in the Philippines, both by Spain and then United States. Kalinga were one of the only tribe not to submit under foreign rule.
I was honored to be invited to stay in Whang –od's house. This also gave me a chance to know more of her up close and personal.
The Kalingas are one of the most extensive farmers and terrace builders in the Philippines. Their land is fertile then can farm wet and dry rice. Kalingas worship many gods, but none is more important than the god of rice, and that’s because rice is eaten in every meal.
At the age of 25, Whang-od’s better half died, and from then on she dedicated her life in tattooing. Head hunting has long vanished in the village, but Whang-od still continued the tradition by giving tattoos to the people around the world who would want to receive Kalinga’s ancient way of tattooing.
Just like any other women, Whang-od likes to see herself in the mirror and comb her hair. Staying with her gave me a whole new perspective on who she is. She is not just a famed national artist. She is like any other elders. Her knees are vulnerable to pain, and she cries when it hurts. She’s a grandmother who loves her granddaughter’s laugh, and her day is not complete without hearing it. She loves her siblings to the point she had to hike mountains and travel 3 hours just to visit them. She loves good food, and I mean GOOD food – meat, vegetables, no additives or chemicals: just salt to taste
Every tribe in the neighboring villages gives their donations whether that's a produce crop or cooked meal. Everyone shares what's on the table.
In Kalinga Tradition you don’t ask for a tattoo. You earn it, and it’s also a bloody ritual. The number of lines on the arms also are the number of heads taken.
The day has arrived for me to receive my Kalinga tattoo. I was second in line and I was able to watch Whang od do what she does first. They've been using "tinik ng suha" citrus tree thorn for centuries. She tapped approximately 100 times per minute, blood coming out of those lines, thorns sharp as sewing needles. Thinking about that going in and out of your skin just sends chill on my spine. Whang od told them that it’s a serious religious experience.
Finally my turn, to be honest, I had no clue what I’m getting myself into. She first scrapped an old cooking pot to make tattoo ink. I told Whang Od to choose a design for me. Whang od told me that the centipede tattoo is a power spiritual guide believed to lead headhunters on their quest on human trophies.
I was excited, scared, and honored all at the same time. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for, being tattooed by a Kalinga Master and one of the rarest tattoo in the world.
I can feel every single prick on that thorn needle going in my skin that sometimes it grabs my skin and pulls it up. It punctured my skin, it hurted a lot, but I endured it. She was going on the same area over and over again, and she’s really driving in the pigment really deep.
I had difficulty getting through that moment, and look how tiny my tattoo is. Can you imagine Whang od when she had all her arms tattooed on her body, which took 3 days to have it done?
I can’t believe I’m feeling the same pain Kalinga warriors have felt for centuries. I’m honored to carry their ancient symbol in my body. After the painful ordeal, she wiped the ink and blood out to reveal the symbol. It’s beautiful!
I’m happy knowing that her spirit and the Kalinga tradition will live on in Grace . I’m proud to carry the legacy of a Kalinga tattoo on my body for the rest of my life.
After my musings in Batad and Banaue, I head out to Sagada about Five thousand feet above sea level is a small and tranquil town of Sagada in Mountain Province. A remote town with such a great amount to offer to any individual who encounters its distinct charm. With its calm climate, wondrous caves and cliff, grand rice patios and waterfalls, delectable nourishment and indulgences, rich history and conventions, Sagada guarantees everyone an exceptional and remarkable experience with nature and culture.
Tourism is dominant in this place, and would not wonder why, it has it’s homey charm and picturesque landscapes, I’ve seen some people who went to some tourist spots just to see where the location of the movie “ that thing called tadhana” was filmed. I've seen the movie but it's sad that some tourists flocked to Sagada just because of this romantic flick and not what Sagada is all about.
On my wandering in Sagada, I noticed that some of them has distinct western features, and most of them speaks if not their local language they speak fluent in English, and an old house somewhere in the northern outskirt part of Sagada revealed to me a window of the past which also answered all of this amusement.
The owner of the house is a retired veteran and have a tight relationship with American people, and i was honored to see these archives.
A trained nurse often called to do the job of a physician and surgeon, Eliza Staunton hiked to Sagada villages making house calls.When summoned to an emergency, she would ride her horse and "dared narrow,sodden trails on black nights of typhoon when no local tribe would venture out of shelter" in this photograph, Mrs. Staunton teaches a crocheting class.
Between 1882 and 1896, the Spanish colonizers introduced Arabica coffee.
On my 4rth night in Sagada, I decided to stay with one of the locals and that happened to be my tour guide, as we were walking towards his place, I saw this sugar cane plantation where a family was cooking mascuvado sugar. Harvesting and making mascuvado sugar only happens once a year.
The following images are taken just outside Roberts house, a garden of Eden.
Since the climate is similar to those of Baguio and Benguet, its crops are likewise temperate products such as cabbage, tomatoes, green pepper, potatoes, carrots, beans, and others, no wonder most of the elders here were hunch backs, they're hardworking farmers.
Ancient coffins – Sagada offers a fascinating glimpse to the ancient times through its hanging coffins, and cave buried coffins. The lumiang burial cave houses roughly 200 coffins that’s stacked on top of the other that have survived almost 500 years of natural and man-made death. Scary yet fascinating the old tradition of burying their loved ones speaks highly of the tribe’s rich culture. Not everyone is qualified to be buried this way; among other things, one had to have been married and had grandchildren.
During the Pre-Hispanic era, relatives of the deceased would travel the off beaten path just to place the coffin inside cave. Prior to that, a 5-day pre-burial ritual was required during which the body was preserved using smoke and oil whilst sitting on a chair.
Once the ritual is over, the relative will move the corpse to a fetal position which also breaks the bones and joints.
Hanging coffins in Echo Valley, Sagada, are reserved for Cordilleran elders with families, because it is believed that the next generations will benefit spiritually from the success of the ‘burial.’ Family members may also wish to carry the corpse to its waiting coffin at the cliff edge in order to be contaminated by the blood which are thought to contain the skills and luck of their dead relative.
Locals believed that hanging the coffin will bring the deceased closer to heaven, placing them in a better position to watch over their families. However, a more practical reason for placing coffins on mountains and within cliff is to prevent them from taking up space on otherwise useful cropland and also for other tribal enemy not to steal the corpse.
Sadly even dangerous heights didn't stop some tourist from doing bad things. Report said that some bones within that hanging coffins were stolen either as souvenirs or for other purposes.
Maybe it's about time for the local government to give all effort to preserve these unusual yet fascinating windows of the our past. Sagada coffins are not just a tourist spot but also a domain of history that deserves a protection.
Nowadays, people chose to be buried in a local cemetery where cows are free to roam. " i will choose to be buried in a cemetery than in a hanging coffin, because most of us don't do it anymore and the beliefs had changed due to our religion" - Robert
They only wear traditional clothes on some occasions like harvesting and festivals, Time is changing was lucky enough to see one last native hut in Sagada that stands still.
I guess change is inevitable, I just wish that Sagada will remain connected with the past as it travels to the window of the future .
Subscribe to receive blog updates via email and sparkly things:
It's me, Melissa fox - a lifestyle,spirited photographer for modern and chic people , Wedding photographer based in Marikina City. I want bigger things in life and I love it when the inner kid takes command. I find passion in creating visual arts.
I have written several blogs about some destinations I've been to and some of the other things I love to do, and the blog section of this website is all about my ramblings! I hope that through my blogs you’ll get to know the person behind the lens and I’ll be able connect with you.