Buscalan: Paying Homage to the Legendary Whang-Od
From the mountainous Cordillera, nests a small village of Butbut Tribe named Buscalan. Butbut Tribe is known as warriors and headhunters, wherein they were tattooed as a trophy. Eventually, the government prohibited headhunting, but other traditions such as batok or ancient tattooing continue. In this village also found the tribe’s ‘celebrity’ and the ‘last’ mambabatok, Whang-Od.
Her contribution to culture and tradition is the reason why a tiny village such as Buscalan is visited frequently. In fact, most of the tourists going there are longing to see and to be tattooed by her.
To know personally about the living legend of Buscalan and the tribe’s traditions, we, the flock, traveled there from Manila. With the help of a friend who’s already been there before, Google Maps, and research to some blogs, we started our quest to see and meet the internet-favored nominee to become National Living Treasure.
THE ROAD TO BUSCALAN
It was Sunday night when we began riding on Victory Liner Bus from Sampaloc. There’re no available seats for a 1st class trip that time, so we were forced to choose the last trip. The long trip was already anticipated by the group as the bus traversed the lengthy Cagayan Road. So, we just slept throughout the night. The bus did three stops for jingle, snacks, and some stretching. The good points of a night ride are less traffic, and bidding goodnight to travel time and good morning to the destination.
We arrived on St. William Church in Tabuk at 7:30 AM. From there, we asked where we can ride going to Bontoc. It was 8 AM when we started traveling from the terminal. We braced ourselves on a 4-5 hour scenic but dicey ride. Upon reaching Tinglayan, we did a stopover at Good Samaritan Restaurant. Its name is tried-and-true as we gobbled up our late breakfast.
It was already noon when we reached Barangay Bugnay. This is the end for 4-wheelers as they won’t be able to pass through narrow, steep and uneven road to Buscalan. There we met Kuya Jun, our guide. The cool and refreshing wind rushed on our cheeks as we saddled on each of rented motorcycle. The view of the mountains as well as the rice terraces are stunning. After our 20-minute ride, we unmounted and began our trek to the village. Contrary to the usual 25-minute climb according to Kuya Jun, we consumed 45 minutes going to or destination (maybe we’re getting older 🙁 ).
Finally, we arrived Buscalan after 16 hours from Manila. We were escorted by Kuya Jun to the registration area and then to his house for us to rest. There we chatted with him while making ourselves comfortable. Of course, in every fun conversation, a hot coffee is a must, especially in a cool climate.
Then, he invited us to roam around the village. Concrete houses were noticeable as they outnumbered the traditional homes. This modernization is probably due to the village’s booming tourism. After a few walks, we reached Whang-Od’s house at last. There we saw Grace, her grandniece, and heir of pambabatok, as she’s practicing it to tourists. Sadly, Whang-Od was sick that time due to allergy. Still, lots of visitors were lined-up to be tattooed.
For the meantime, we hanged out in the registration area and chatted with the locals. We strolled once more after sipping another cup of freshly-brewed coffee. The environment there is really lightyears away versus the city. No wonder longevity of people here is higher compared to city zombies, not to mention their healthy diet.
WHANG-OD AND HER LEGACY
A bit of info about Apo Whang-Od: she was born on February 7, 1917. Often, she is labeled as the “last” and oldest mambabatok, a traditional Kalinga tatooist. Since age 15, she’s practicing ancient tattooing to headhunters, and later to tourists.
Proposals were made for her to become one of the National Artists of the Philippines or National Living Treasures due being the last mambabatok of her generation, her role in promoting awareness of thousand-year tradition of batok, and training several practitioners including her two grandnieces, Ilyang Wigan and Grace Palicas.
We finally met Apo Whang-Od on our last day. We’re so glad that she’s got better and able to joke with us. The rumor’s right that she’s fun to talk with, and has plenty of green jokes hidden on her sleeves, hehe. So lucky to have a portrait shot with the legend :).
From Sampaloc, Manila, ride a bus bound to Tabuk (P700). After almost half-day travel, ride a bus going to Bontoc (P150) and prepare 4-5 hours more travel. Upon disembarking to Barangay Bugnay, look for a guide and habal-habal (motorcycle). Cost of ride per person is P100, and travel time is around 10-15 minutes. Then on the turning point, begin your 20-45-minute trek to Buscalan.
Guide fee – P1,000/day
Homestay – P250/day with unli-rice and coffee
Please don’t forget to buy some pasalubong to help the locals 😀
Jun – 09106177241