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Marked by Apo Whang-Od Part 1: About Buscalan, Tinglayan

Sharing significant pieces of the village's history and culture

 |  4 min read

Whang Od Oggay also known as Maria Oggay Copyright: BBC News

Living within the same region as the world-renowned indigenous tattoo artist Whang Od Oggay would definitely spark any person's passion for travelling, history, arts, and culture. The constant urge to travel and meet her will always be there. To be in her presence and personally witness the practice of an ancient tradition is already an honor in itself. And to be part of history and be one of her canvass? Epic.

All these were thoughts and emotions that I have kept to myself over time. Until on September of 2019, I finally got the chance to travel to her hometown - Buscalan, Tinglayan.

The village of Buscalan is located within the landlocked province of Kalinga. It is one of the hidden gems and protected areas of the Cordillera Administrative Region in Northern Philippines. The village itself offers a unique experience of their well preserved and vibrant culture, breathtaking landscapes, traditional art, and rich history.

Buscalan Village Copyright and Photo by Jeff Wilson

A few of the paintings that can be viewed within the village Photo by Aya May Dayaoen

The village is home to both historical art forms and extinct tribal traditions. One notable extinct tradition is the village's headhunting customs. These are often practiced by village warriors during tribal wars. Decapitated heads of enemies would be displayed in shrines and territorial boundaries to serve as a warning to invaders and as an offering to guiding spirits and powerful gods for their favor.

Though the headhunting tradition in Buscalan may have dated back to thousands of years until the end of the 1800s, its first records were found in colonial sources in the early 1900s. A contributing factor to the late documentation of such tradition was the village's topography and geographical location. It is surrounded by a ragged terrain and the village remained as one of the least explored places in the Cordillera Region until the late 1900s. The whole province of Kalinga also remained uncontrolled by colonizers over the centuries which ultimately led to the preservation of its tribe's indigenous culture compared to other provinces and regions in the country.

Following their headhunting tradition is a strong tattoo tradition called "batok". For male members of the community, a tattoo can serve as a rite of passage, number of kills and skulls collected, bravery or courage, and ranking either as a great warrior or as a wise tribal elder. For women, it serves as a statement of beauty. Women would be adorned by tattoos to get more suitors or before marriage. The more tattoos, the more beautiful. This tradition is practiced by a village tattooist called "mambabatok".

Kalinga Warrior Copyright: Lars Krutak

Traditionally, only men are allowed to learn this ancient art form. However, the tradition has become dynamic since the late 1900's and women were allowed to learn with the blessing of the tribe. This has served as its salvation since it remained a living tradition due to the 106 years old Whang Od Oggay who is the last mambabatok from her generation.

The batok is done using a pomelo needle at the end of a short bamboo twig, at least a foot long hard stick, a blade of grass, and a coconut bowl containing a mixture of water and soot from the mambabatok's fireplace which serves as the ink. The mambabatok would dip the blade of grass in the concoction and uses it to draw a pattern in one's skin. The pomelo needle will then be dipped in the bowl for more ink and repeatedly tapped in the skin using the hard stick in a quick pace.

Whang Od has also tattooed warriors from their village in her young age and is currently training two of her grand nieces to keep the tradition alive. Due to her contribution to the preservation of an ancient art form, she was nominated for the country's National Living Treasures Award (Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan) on 2017 and was awarded the Dangal ng Haraya Award in 2018 by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.

More art forms and tribal traditions can be experienced within the village of Buscalan. In addition to these, they also offer a breathtaking view of their maintained rice paddies and the municipality's majestic mountains.

A painting of Whang Od Oggay hanged at her own house Photo by Aya May Dayaoen

Be respectful of the community, their culture, and their environment when visiting the village. They offer humble accommodations and small-scale stores are available for food and necessities. To reach the village, it requires a 30 minute hike from the end of a concrete road that reaches the first zone of the village. From there, a path goes downhill to one of the tributaries of the Chico River where rest can be taken before a steep ascent to the village. This can be physically demanding for most. Difficulty and access may change due to continuous infrastructure development.

Article orginally posted by the Author in Medium:

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