Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Week 7 - Kalinga

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."
- Maya Angelou

Hello Manila. Can't say I missed you too much.

We've gone off to Kalinga for three days or so last weekend.

I guess it's another one of those times when one really sees how much of Manila is covered in blinding lights, bothersome noise and empty promises, where people struggle to barely keep afloat - intent on the belief that what we have is the good life.

I guess I needed the quiet. I guess that I've always longed for a change of pace - something that life in the big, grimy city cannot buy. We're often so busy that we've never really thought about the worlds and lifestyles that exist outside our own.

Maybe it's human nature - albeit a terrible side of it.

I guess it's refreshing to see people do things for the sake of paying tribute to the ways things have been done by their predecessors.

Maybe I'm not used to seeing people working for the common good - and sometimes it makes me wonder if I've ever been capable of seeing such things in people. Maybe life in Manila has a way of getting people jaded and disillusioned.

Or maybe I've always had the assumption that there is no way other than what sort of life I've been used to.

Awong Chi Gansa (A Call for a Thousand Gongs) was something I've never seen before. Hundreds, or perhaps thousands of people in their tribal clothes marching towards the city capitol at half past seven in the morning.

One could see people converging from across the town, still in their morning (or evening) clothes, braving the cold Thursday morning to have a glimpse of the long march in one of the main roads.

It was enchanting.

There was a sense of peaceful rhythm emanating from the gongs - something that I've only seen in those long extinct educational shows of my youth. I guess it brought back memories of those times when television was still seen as a tool for learning instead of profit.

But I digress.

One of the highlights of the festival was seeing Apo Whang Od, the last mambabatok (traditional hand-tap tattoo artist), doing her work.

The steady taps of her tools on her living canvas was almost meditative. Decades of practice did not seem to dull her skill nor the fire in her eyes as she performed her craft. The Internet paints her as some sort of legend, and it's easy to see why.

Over ninety years old, and yet her eyes held more life than most people could ever hope to have. I could only wish that I could remain that strong and dedicated when I reach those years.

The desire to get a tattoo done by her was almost overwhelming - and I feel that not going for it is something I'll regret someday. Still, I felt that this was something reserved for the headhunters and the people born into this culture - or something earned.

Between the afternoons spent digging fresh ginger from the ground, picking off ears of corn, drinking fresh coffee, eating freshly roasted wild pig or "cleaning out" cacao beans (which surprisingly tastes like santol) for future consumption, it's something worth looking forward to going back to.


  1. Oh my gosh, Apo Whang od was there! I have always wanted to try batek, but haven't prioritized it that much. I think there are symbols that are finely worn by average people, such symbols include friend of warrior or some similar animal signs. I heard Apo Whang od herself wouldn't tattoo symbols reserved for warriors and headhunters to average people.

    It must have been such a refreshing weekend!

    1. Refreshing is an understatement. Haha!