Friday, January 22, 2016

Immersion In Butbut Tribe (Buscalan)

I prepared so much for this trip for I know it's going to be a long one. Thirteen hours travel by bus, an hour jeepney ride, fifteen minutes motorcycle carpet ride and an hour and a half trek. After that, I am dead tired but I have to keep going to reach my destination in Buscalan.  Buscalan village is located in Tinglayan, Kalinga, home to "Butbut tribe" which has a reputation of being the strong people of the Cordilleras and also home to one of the greatest artists in traditional tattoo "Whang Od", the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines.

Welcome to Buscalan!

I have been aspiring to visit the village for the sake of educating myself about their history and culture. At the same time I would like to meet Apong Whang Od, and the villagers on how they cope with the hundreds of tourists which flocks the village to visit Apong. As we arrived in Tinglayan we were not able to get into Buscalan Village because of their traditional rice planting ritual. Visitors were not allowed to come and those who were in the village at that time were not allowed to leave. So we were asked to stay at the nearby village of Bugnay in Butbut proper, just a few kilometers away from the village and the neighbor village of Buscalan. The locals of Bugnay also belongs to the Butbut tribe, they also boasts about their rice terraces along the coast of Chico River. They speak the Butbut dialect, they're courteous and hospitable people. We spent some time chatting with the locals of the Bugnay and learned so many things about their history and culture.

Heaven and earth.

On our second day, we ate breakfast early, got on our feet and rode a motorbike going to the drop off area. From there, we waited for our guide and started hiking. The narrow pathways along the cliff reminded me of the trails going to Pongas Falls in Sagada the only difference is when you fall off the cliff in Pongas you're going to land on the rice paddies while in Buscalan it will be a lot deeper than that and it will hurt. So be steady and cautious! "Assault" was on my mind while walking along the steep and narrow concrete stairs while panting and if I am not mistaken it was approximately an hour and 45 minutes trek going to the village proper. If you're planning to go to Buscalan, please do not just go on your own, you need to be guided by the locals or the accredited tour guides for your safety.

Caution: narrow pathways.

We started to walk at 9 am along narrow pathways and weeds which are deceiving because they are thick, you might think that you can walk on it but not! Be careful while walking and just focus on the direction. The concrete stairs going to the village proper are steep but the moment you see the clusters of wooden houses at the end of the trail, you'll realize you're already there! I got that big smile on my face you know and said  "hey I made it!".

Hello Buscalan!
This was the foreground of the Butbut Tribe as you step on their native soil. A typical village with children playing, mother doing house chores, colorful clothes hanged to be dried, a native hog waiting for its meal, logs, wooden fences. A scenario which I have never seen for a long time and which was exactly I am expecting to see! I heard women's voices singing in their native tongue with the accompaniment of guitar and they were like angels singing.  I rushed and found out that there was a mass going on and hurriedly joined the women even though I don't understand what they're singing. And I thought, that was my first mass on a mountain and felt even blessed celebrating it with the Butbut tribe.


Thank you and peace be with you Father.
We stayed at Manong Atong's house, together with the members of his family. A two storey wooden house which according to Manong Atong was an inheritance of his wife from her parents. The room was very spacious, comfortable and clean as well as with the comfort room which never run out of water. The Kalinga coffee was overflowing as we stayed in their house for two nights, the aroma of it always lingers around the house which makes us ask for more!

Atong's home sweet home.
Since our appointment with Apong Whang Od is on the next day, we roamed around the place to familiarize ourselves with the place and mingle with the village people. Native hogs are all over the place and since they are sacred to the village, they are free to roam around as part of the Butbut tribe, they even outnumbered the dog and cat population. Even animals should be treated with respect as they are inhabitants in the village.

Lazy afternoon.

As we went on our wanderings, we passed by Apong Whang Od's house and I saw her busy rendering her mastery on one of the visitors. I watched her do her craft, she works seriously and silently with perfection. It was my first time to see her up close, she looks so elegant with her headdress
on and some pieces of jewelries. She's still beautiful at her age (98) and I imagined she's even more beautiful when she's younger, what do you think? The tattoo on her added more beauty to her golden brown skin. She said tattoo makes women more that so?

The Master!

She uses pomelo torns as her needle and a special mixture of ash and oil as ink. Can you imagine how painful it is to be pricked by this? Well, I must have the guts to face it! No pain no gain, no guts no glory!
And her weapon for art!

Some of her tattoo designs are drawn on a plywood and you can choose from there, you can also ask Apong to choose a design for you.  By the way I chose "kinilat" (photo in the middle) which means lightning, a symbol for light. The design on your left is bird symbol for freedom and on the right, fern symbol for fertility. Isn't that cool?

Freedom, wisdom, light and fertility
Buscalan Village is not only proud of being the home of the most popular tatoo artist in the Philippines but also gifted with an impressive mountainscape that surrounds the village which protects them from natural disaster like strong typhoons and flood. The rice and vegetable production in the village can sustain their basic needs for nourishment all year round. The fundamental things that anyone needs to survive are just there... air, water and food. What more can they ask for? And I am so envious!

Promised Land

I had my tattoo on the third day of our journey and I was the first one to be inked! It is painful yeah, but the experience and meeting the woman who has been tagged as one of the greatest artists in the Philippines is rewarding!

Thank you for reading.

1. There are two options going to Buscalan. Bus from Manila (Victory Liner) going to Tabuk. Then take another bus from Tabuk going to Bontoc,  the bus will pass by Bugnay. Take habal-habal (motorbike) going to drop off, then trek going to Buscalan.

Bus from Manila (Victory Liner) going to Baguio, then another bus going to Bontoc (GLizardo Bus Lines at Dangwa Terminal or D'Rising Sun Bus at Slaughterhouse terminal). From Bontoc take the jeepney going to Buscalan, which leaves at 2 PM, I have to remind you that there is only one jeepney which goes to Buscalan so don't be late.

2.  Homestay rate is 250/night at Atong Lagui-ao's house mobile#0915 762 2328 and 09192679187.
Please call him a week ahead before you come. If you need tour guides please call Tajab Loyod mobile # 0905524248.

3.  Do not forget to pay the 75 pesos environmental fee.
4. If possible please bring candies for the children, they really like it and waiting for it.
5. Practice Leave No Trace policy. Respect the locals.
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