Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga
Philippines
2015

In February 2015, a few days before my 29th birthday, my friend Issa and I endured a fifteen-hour trip to Buscalan to be tattooed by the legendary Apo Whang-Od, known as the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist) from the Butbut warrior tribe and oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines.


While waiting for our turn in the session, I took the chance to roam around and explore what life was like up in the mountain village. 

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I remember we arrived during the planting season. A mass harvest was about to happen in a few days. A tribe ritual is practiced during this period. Those who will go up the mountain village and pass by the rice paddies are not allowed to go down. But if it's really urgent for a tribe member or visitor to leave, they can't go back up within the day and will just have to return the next day. 

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We passed by a group of ladies sharing domestic activities in one communal area. it's where they wash their utensils, cookwares, etc. 

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Domestic animals can freely roam around the village. I was surprised to see black hogs, big and small, everywhere. 

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I saw this young man contemplating while I passed by in one of the alleys and quickly took a photo of him in that state. 

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Issa and I went to the tattoo session area of Apo Whang-Od. It was  a Sunday morning. The place was crowded and noisy. Some were playing hip hop music, smoking and checking out tattoo designs while others were plainly bored and waiting for their turn. This is just another day in the office for the old lady.  

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Apo Whang-Od at work. The mambabatok uses citrus thorns, bamboo and soot as her tools for tattooing. 

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Grace, Whang-Od's niece, is next in line to carry the old lady's title. But what does it mean nowadays when there are no more tribe warriors to be tattooed and the traditional art of hand-tapped tattoo has become a novelty for tourism? 

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Apo Ma-yao, if I remember her name right, invited us and fed us into her home. She only speaks Ilocano and their local dialect but this didn't hinder us from getting to know her. She showed us her cool tattoo which she got during her younger years. 

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I found this boy watching other children playing and men hanging around the area. 

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A boy playing under a Kalinga house. 

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I passed by a small river where some of the ladies were washing their clothes.

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This is kuya Charlie's house, our host. But we slept at his relative's house. 

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I found this at the back of kuya Charlie's interesting home. 

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Northerners normally bury their dead beside their home. 

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An old man making a case for his knife. 

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An old man lighting his pipe.

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Wang-Od checking out the tattoo design for Issa. 

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Wang-Od's tools.

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Homeward-bound by Monday. We were supposed to go home on Sunday but extended our stay for another day so we can spend an intimate and quiet tattoo session with Wang-Od. We were lucky to have that moment.

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