Let me tell you about Buscalan and how we had arrived there on a rainy Sunday afternoon, panting after the hike up to the village. Fog enveloped the mountains. The village of Buscalan, home to the Butbut tribe, seemed quiet when we got there. And except for the few people who met us, a bit deserted. But, that’s not really true. The villagers were just congregated elsewhere–atop the mountain, at the higher part of the village, celebrating. But that part comes later.

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First, we met our hosts. They smiled shyly at us. They offered us water and brewed us coffee and welcomed us to their humble home. We were staying with Grace’s parents. Grace is Fang-Od’s niece. Fang-Od is the oldest and probably the last tattoo artist of Kalinga that practices the ancient style of tattooing called batok. Grace is a possible successor, if you will—if she chooses to go down that path, that is. It’s still up in the air. Grace wasn’t there when we had arrived. School was in season and she was in college studying to be a teacher.

Grace's portrait in their home. Fang-Od was invited to Dutdutan 2012, but didn't go because she thought that if she went to Manila, she might just get sick. Grace went in her place.

Grace’s portrait in their home. Fang-Od was invited to Dutdutan 2012, but didn’t go because she thought that if she went to Manila, she might just get sick. Grace went in her place.

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We sat outside their home and drank coffee. I watched the animals which were free to roam the village; looked at how the chicks were huddled close to the mother hen for warmth. Saw the pigs, which despite their weight looked lithe on their feet, climbing the steep steps and running about, reminding me more of dogs than the usual lazy versions of themselves. We talked to the people from the village. A small number had now gathered outside the house with us. Our guide, Francis Pa-in, translated for us.

What you see here is carabao meat, segregated into bunches, each one will be given to every family in the tribe

What you see here is carabao meat, segregated into bunches, each one will be given to a family in the tribe

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They invited us to the celebration that was happening at the center of the village, uphill. It was someone’s birthday, an elder member of the tribe. They slaughtered three carabaos for the occasion, cooked sacks and sacks of rice. The feast was open to all members of the tribe and to visitors, too. They offered us food: platefuls of rice, bowls of carabao meat in some sort of soup. More than one could eat. I couldn’t finish it all. None of us could.

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I brought a few boxes of matches with me, as Francis suggested before I went to Kalinga. The two girls, I met earlier in Tabuk, had brought bags of candies. We brought these humble gifts with us to the gathering. They gave these away as prizes for the program they held under a big Technicolor tent. There was singing, and dancing, too. The whole village was there to celebrate. I wished I could give them more.

They held an impromptu singing contest after someone donated this bag of coins.

They held an impromptu singing contest after someone donated this bag of coins as a prize

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The locals dancing a traditional Kalinga dance, with gongs

The locals dancing a traditional Kalinga dance, with gongs

Eventually, we made it back to the house where we would spend the night. The two girls had brought brandy with them but we didn’t get a chance to drink it. I got to try some weed, though. A first for me. I don’t even smoke! But whatever high I see in television or in movies, I didn’t get to experience. I was dead tired. It has been such a full day of traveling by a bus, then a jeep, then a motorcycle. And the hike up the mountain! And being awake since two in the morning! I fell asleep shortly after I laid my head on the pillow and had the kind of dreamless sleep that you sometimes only dream of and at that time, I definitely needed.

***

This post is part of a series I wrote about a recent trip to Kalinga– to the village of Buscalan to meet the famed Kalinga Tattooist, Fang-Od. Check out the other posts by clicking on the links below:

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