100 Days Journey

Day 15: Whang-od

Kalinga though celebrating its 14th founding anniversary as a province is actually one of the oldest civilization in the Philippines. They have been trading with the river people and lowlanders (and even with surrounding countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and China). Their weaved products have chipped shells as designs and they wore beads that are evidently can’t be found in the mountains. Their beads are priced possessions and were considered currency hundreds of years ago. Not only that, some even believed that they must have been the Pintados that the Spaniards saw in the 16th century. The Kalingas (and the surrounding tribes) have this culture of tattooing both the male and female members of the tribe. For male, the more tattoos, the more battles won; for females, the more the tattoos, the richer and higher the social status.

Whang-od Kalinga Master Tattoo Artist

Master Whang-od (or Fang-od) patiently tattooing Ma’am Vene

Whang-od (some also call her Fang-od), once featured by Lars Krutak of Discovery Channel, is the last living master tattoo artist in Kalinga. She has been tattooing for the past 70 years. She started to learn tattooing with her friends during their teenage years. They would tattoo each other with flowers, hearts and simple shapes that they see around them. Later on, she learned the tradition and meaning and started to make warrior tattoos or bikking– a full-sleeves eagle tattoo that can only be worn by high-class warriors, centipede, lizards or weaved patterns. Not long after, she was on demand in their tribe and even invited by other tribes walking hours and even days because she was commissioned to tattoo the upper class warriors and tribe leaders of another tribe in another valley.

The practice has been unchanged for centuries. The ink is from a concoction of pine wood ashes used while cooking and water placed on a coconut shell. She has this wood to tap the makeshift needle made from a calamansi thorn. She uses a dry twig to outline the design first and slowly follows the pattern until the obra maestra is finished. Each design has meaning- eagle (bikking) is the most important tattoo and can only be owned by a warrior, it starts from the belly to the chest and extends to the shoulder and down the arms. The bikking (warrior tattoo) symbolizes the predatorial attribute of the bird. The eagle is the “King of the Birds” and is believed to be the messenger of their Creator God Kabuniyan. By having this tattoo, warriors believe they can harness the great speed and power of the eagle as they kill their enemies. Centipede (ginay-gayaman) is for protection; it is believed to be a friend of the warrior and those who get this believe to gain aggressiveness and quickness. Head axe is a rare design which can only be worn by high-ranking warriors who have killed more than two men. Lizards or gecko meant “warrior’s companion” and are tattooed on hands, legs or neck of men and on women’s breast. This offered them good omen along the trail.

James with Whang-od

Checking Whang-od’s decades-old full-sleeve tattoo and telling her I’m not yet ready for her calamansi thorn.

Whang-od wanted to tattoo me a centipede which is but fitting as I’m doing a 100-day journey (hundred legs, hundred journey for protection). But because it would take Php1,000-1,500 on my budget I told myself to come back some other time. Also, I don’t think I’m ready to have something permanent on my skin yet. I was lucky as two out of the three that came last night would get theirs today. Oskar who is a traveling tattoo artist and Ma’am Vene, a professor in Ateneo. I guess I’m contended with watching Whang-od tattoo Oskar’s leg with a centipede and Ma’am Vene’s arm with a weaving design. They said that the tattoo session was a little bit painful compared to the regular machine one.

I also fulfilled my promise of joining the farmers plant rice the day before. I wanted to learn and experience how tiring it is to be out there on the paddies planting rice. I guess I was there for a good 30 minutes until I finally noticed that I’m the only male on the field. Later, I learned that female were the ones who plant rice while the males prepare the field or repair the stone walls of the terraces. I had a good laugh on myself as the females talked to themselves smirking at me. It was fun until the Sun began to show his heat. I gave up and started to balance myself on the pilapil towards the residential area. I looked back and saw beautiful rice terraces, more beautiful than Batad, the different shades of green and brown plus the shimmer of the unplanted paddies was a sight to behold.

James planting rice at Kalinga

Learning from the Butbut women how to plant rice at Buscalan Village, Tinglayan, Kalinga

Two students from Manila, Lloyd and Julius, came with Sir Baccoy, another native tour guide in Kalinga, they visited the village to take some photos of the tattooed elders. After meeting with a local missionary and having the aromatic Kalinga coffee and pancake, I joined them and walked past thru the community, stopping on houses to give matches and somehow capture a moment in their fading culture. Noticeable were their names tattooed on the left arms. This has become a norm to ID them should they became victims of head-hunting spree during the older days. Now this culture is not practiced anymore, almost lost in the pages of Philippine history.

In this community, drinking alcohol is prohibited and fined except during special occasions like wedding or fiesta. You can’t find anyone selling beer, gin or Tanduay. But I met someone who showed me marijuana in hash and oil. I was flabbergasted and somehow amazed to learn that Kalinga is the source of Baguio and Sagada and even as far as Boracay. I didn’t tried this during my highschool and college days so why not try it today? I bought Php40 and placed it inside my bag. Please don’t ask me if I used all of it or where it is right now. Or maybe this is just a dream, a snippet just to make the Kalinga story interesting.

By sunset I saw Ma’am Vene interviewing Whang-od while Francis Pa-in, the best guide in Kalinga, translates Kalinga to Tagalog and vice versa. I was just there listening to the rich story coming out of Whang-od’s lips. Her memory is still sharp at 93. She shared about her childhood years, love life and ended with a hair-rising, skin-tingling Ullalim of her desire and hopes when she was still young. Ullalim is a sacred chant by the elderly, done usually by night fall, impromptu, and is about an important occasion or event in their life. It was like a deep cry about their longings, dreams and desires.

I consider this one of the best experience I had during the 100-day journey.

Route: Buscalan Village, TIngalayan, Kalinga

Expenses for today: Php 270

20- coffee and pancake
40- hush
150- homestay and food
60- pork
Php 270


Day 15: Whang-od

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Day 15: Whang-od December 17, 2014