- Page 1 – Morning in Tabuk City
- Page 2 – Top Loading Kalinga Style
- Page 3 – The Hike to Buscalan Village and its Utter Danger
- Page 4 – The Butbut Tribe and the last Mambabatok of Kalinga
- Page 5 – A New Morning, A New Life
The Butbut Tribe
Buscalan Village has a mountainous topography surrounded with breathtaking views, cool air and green foliage.
The people living in this place are known as the Butbut tribe. These people have the reputation as the strongest in Cordillera. They are feared because of their unwavering skills in headhunting. Leadership is gained through kinship and headhunting. In fact, the word Kalinga came from Gaddang and Ibanag word which means outlaws or headhunters. Their main livelihood is farming and they incorporate traditional dance and music for thanksgiving and cultural preservation.
Highlighting this trip is their unique way of tattooing known as the art of batok. Scholars believe that this practice has been existent for thousand of years; passed on from one generation to another. Currently, we only have one tattoo artist left, and that is Apo Whang Od.
The art of batok is used as a form of recognition based on the achievement of a certain tribesman. There are tattoo designs which implicates the number of heads taken from enemies. The process itself is also sacred, and this kind of practice is only passed on through kinship. Presently, Apo Whang Od is apprenticing her grand niece, Grace.
Meeting Apo Whang Od and my First Kalinga Tattoo
We had our lunch at Bulut’s abode and stayed there for the rest of the trip. Their huts were made with a mixture of both concrete and wood fortified to withstand the angst of nature.
Our room was located at the second level of their hut which is purely made of wood. It can accommodate up to 2 people, and our bed consisted of a thin yet comfortable mattress, a pair of pillows, and blankets.
A balcony sits in front which lets you view the beautiful scenery of green rice terraces and mountain range.
I observed a number of words and phrases written in their wooden ceiling; expressing gratitude from their past visitors. Bulut’s family is very accommodating, and they kept on offering their signature Kalingan coffee. Savoring that hot brewed coffee while letting your eyes awash with the beautiful view, truly mends our tired body and soul. It was a peaceful moment. No noise coming from vehicles, no pollution, and no stress; just peace.
After our quick lunch and bath, Bulut guided us to Apo Whang Od’s hut. As we arrived in Apo Whang Od’s home, there were a few travelers staying in the place.
I saw Grace inking a tattoo to a handsome young man in his left thigh. I observed how tedious their tattoo process is. Grace was holding a piece of bamboo stick with a tree thorn of pomelo attached at the end on one hand, and another piece of stick on the other. The second stick was used for tapping the bamboo with the thorn impaling the skin continuously. They use soot as their ink, and after the tattooing process, they will apply coconut oil in the skin.
The process is painful, and I observed it through the grimaces and facial expressions of the people having this kind of tattoo.
After a few minutes, I heard a voice of an old woman. Suddenly, I saw Apo Whang Od speaking incessantly in Butbut dialect. I stood aghast when I saw her, and I was filled with goosebumps all over. I only saw her in photographs and videos but this time, I saw her right in front of my eyes. At 100 years old, she’s still full of strength, and she walks easily with no pain.
I learned that Apo Whang Od can only speak Butbut and know a few Tagalog and Ilocano words. That was why, Bulut was there to translate the words we said. When I’m about to receive my tattoo, I greeted her with a simple Ilocano phrase. “Naimbag nga malem apo!” (Good Afternoon Apo!) I said. She looked at me and her lips broke into a smile. I think she understood me, and with that simple gesture, we had a connection.
I told her and the other travelers that I dreamt Apo Whang Od one night, and she gave me the hawk tattoo. One local told me that the hawk symbolizes freedom and as a messenger.
Apo Whang Od seated facing my back and prepared her equipment. She started the process by outlining the design on my back with a piece of dried grass soaked with ink. When the outline was done, she began hammering her tool.
With every tap, I felt the thorn impaling deeply into my skin and it was painful. Thankful I have high tolerance in pain, and I was able to endure it. I also felt my blood dripping on my back during the process.
There were a number of times she paused and swiped my dripping blood with a piece of wet towelette.
She hammered silently, and I felt every prick and stick solemnly. I considered this tattooing experience as a reward from the long and arduous ride going to their beautiful village.
After half an hour, my tattoo was finished. Bulut helped Apo Whang Od by applying coconut oil on my newly inked tattoo. “Agyamanak, Apo!” (Thank you Apo) I told her, while feeling the pain of my new batok. Again, she smiled subtly and proceeded to do the next traveler.
Many travelers went towards me to look on my new tattoo. Their eyes grew in wonder and I shared the random feelings I felt during the process. Other travelers also shared their newly inked tattoos from Grace and I was astonished on its meaningful geometric shapes and figures.
Around 1630H, the wind started to become colder, and Apo Whang Od started to shiver. Randy was the last person to get a tattoo on that day, and he received the scorpion tattoo; which symbolizes strength. After the tattooing session, we went back to our abode and rested.