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Ink a Heritage On You ( A trip to Kalinga and a Chance to Meet Whang- od)

I have a story from 2016, I am sharing it late because it was just in my drafts since forever. Now, I can start telling you and let me start by saying, I have always been fascinated with tattoos. As early as 2006, I have decided that I will one day have one me regardless of what my parents and my conservative society think. But no matter how much I wanted it,  I could not come up with an image I want to be inked on me.

I heard about batok (tattoo), that were used by the groups in Cordillera. Then I started reading about Apo Whang- Od, the oldest mambabatok (tribal tattoo artist). She was even referred to as the last mambabatok who used to tattoo the warriors from her tribe many years ago. In the olden days, the tattoos signified honor to the warriors who brought heads of the enemies back to their village, a tradition that no longer takes place. Apo Whang-od on the other hand, is passing down the craft to her nieces.

Fast forward to December of 2015, I went to Buscalan in Tinglayan, Kalinga with two other friends to visit the famous Whang- Od. There was not much planning that happened. I told friends I was going and that was where I would be spending a pre-plotted vacation from work and a former boss- turned friend wanted to go as well!

We decided to do it the next weekend and he, fortunately, had friends who went there already and gave him the contact information of a guide who is a local of Buscalan. He brought another friend, too! What do they say? The more the merrier!

We took a Victory Liner bus in Kamias in Quezon city bound to Tabuk. We arrived around 4:00 am and we even missed that we were supposed to get off at St. William’s Cathedral in Tabuk City, Kalinga! Since it was a long walk and it was really dark, we took a tricycle to the cathedral and decided to have breakfast at a karinderya (eating place) and waited for the first trip to barangay Bugnay which was around 7:00 am. We learned that we could take a bus, a minivan, or a jeepney. We opted to take a minivan since we thought it was comfortable and it was supposed to take us directly to where the hiking trail to barangay Buscalan starts. And it was about to leave already and we did not want to wait any longer. It was a 4- hour joy ride with Bon Jovi and Taylor Swift on the stereo. (On our way back we took the top load on a bus, which was amazing but not for the faint- hearted!)

Upon arriving in Bugnay, we met with our guide, Tristan. We could have walked from Bugnay to Buscalan but we were tired and lazy with the scorching heat we decided to take habal-habal (motorcycles normally with extended seats) to minimize our hike. From the turning point, we started hiking to Buscalan which took us about 2 hours because we were slow. I was particularly slow!

Our guide’s family served as our host. Their house was very comfortable and they also had a store where we could buy what we want to be served as our meal. At the time, there was electricity but there was no cellular signal.

We were informed that a great number of people line up daily to get tattooed. The next day, we went to the tattoo place around 4:00 am and to our surprise, some foreigners even came before us! So, we waited until around 7:00 am and we were told that Apo Whang- od was on off but we could still get tattoos from her nieces. My friends and I decided to get tattoos on that day because we really wanted to get tattoos from the village. It’s just that having it done by Whang- od would be great!

I had enough time to choose which design I wanted. What made it easier for me is that designs are already available. I just had to ask them what the designs meant to know which ones to get.

Since we finished early, we had time in the afternoon to hike around the rice terraces and experience the simple life in mountains.

The night before our departure, we decided that we wanted to be tattooed by the great Whang-od since we were in the place already! We tried our luck again the next day and lined up around 3:00 am. We really had to be early because we heard about the new tourists that had just arrived and that they also wanted to be tattooed by Whang-od. Our efforts did not got to waste!

I was so happy about getting the tattoos. I left the place with 3! What I noticed though, is that as easy as it was for a tourist like me to get these, not many of the locals have them. Only the people who brought honor to the tribe could have them. It was amazing how they value the tradition that the batok represents.  It made me feel guilty for a bit as I was no one and still is. But I reverted to the feeling that a touch of tradition is embedded in my skin. That wherever I go, I bring a piece of Filipino history with me. Admittedly, I am not sorry that I got a heritage inked on me.

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