October 24, 2012

Kalinga - Part IV - Old Tattooed Women

From the mountains we derive our strength,
the rivers our peace, the valleys our hopes,
and from the skies, the wisdom of our ancestors.
~ Kalinga proverb

The last traces of a centuries-old tradition are soon to be lost to humanity.

The Butbut, when still a fierce warring tribe, celebrated the victories of its headhunting warriors with intricate and meaningful body tattoos. Since the heads of enemies are no longer hunted and it is considered an affront to the elder warriors to get tattooed without the bravery proven in tribal wars, very few men get the traditional tribal tattoos in modern times. The fully tattooed men of Buscalan have all died; and I've heard a handful of old men still survive in the province, but we did not meet them.

Besides the national treasure Whang Od (Part II), we did, however, meet the last old tattooed women of Buscalan, high up in the rugged rice terraces of Kalinga (Part I). The batok (tattoos) of these women were not only designed to enhance their beauty and confer status, they also symbolize their female strength and stamina.

These are my some of my favorite portraits. 

This first woman was the oldest of the tribe, a young 103! All the rest were in their 80s and 90s. Several of them were blind or near-blind.







Kalinga, 2012

These old women readily removed their tops to show us their intricate tattoos. Sadly aware that they were the end of a tradition, they patiently posed for us to chronicle their beauty and grace with our cameras. 

Today's younger Kalinga women have a different sense of aesthetic and few are willing to undergo the pain of the process of tattooing.

I end this post with another quote from Lars Krutak
For the Kalinga, nature has always provided a kind of talisman against unbridled change and a link to ancient traditions because it is constant, perpetual, and eternal. Nature was the basis from which many Kalinga cultural traditions sprang and none more so than the ancient art of tattoo. Tattooing was a natural language of the skin that gave voice to the ancestors and their descendants who attempted to emulate them by sacrificing their own bodies to make them more lasting and sacred.
Sadly however, Whang Od’s generation may be the last to wear these indelible symbols so closely tied to nature, Kalinga identity, and the ancestral past. And like the marauding headhunters who once roamed the mountains and forests of Kalinga only a century ago, these elders are the last vestiges of an era that will soon fade away into memory; but one that will always remain in story, song, and above all spirit.
___

It's been too long since I joined the fun crowd over at ABC Wednesday! The letter of this week is O - and from me that's O for old.

Oh, and I'm still planning a Part V... stay tuned...

20 comments:

EG CameraGirl said...

Thank you for this, Francisca! I have enjoyed reading the first four parts and look forward to the fifth. It's interesting what different cultures find beautiful. I'm trying to imagine what in western culture would seem very odd to the Kalinga. Lots, I bet!

Seeing these old faces makes me wonder what the women looked like when they were young.

photowannabe said...

Welcome back. I have missed your glimpses into places that seem like fairy tales to me.
These are amazing photos of absolutely amazing women.
I'm so glad to could document them before they are gone too.

Roger Owen Green said...

These traditions do move on.. inevitable change, I suppose.
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Carver said...

Great post. I love the portraits. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

ewok1993 said...

I love portraits too. Its sad to know that this beautiful tradition is looking at its end. But I don't blame the new generation if they don't find the need to continue it.

Anita Johnson said...

What beautiful, beautiful women. Your photos are so honoring of their traditions.

黄清华 Wong Ching Wah said...

Amazing Portraiture of Stories !

Kay L. Davies said...

These women are amazing, Francisca. And I love the proverb at the beginning of this post.
K

Chubskulit Rose said...

I am a Filipino but I never got to see them, lucky you!

O is for....
Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

Andrea said...

Thanks for posting these Francisca. I didn't know we have those people too, I remember those Thais with rings on their necks and are also not done anymore. I am also amazed at these people in the Cordilleras, where old men only wear loin cloths despite the very cold temperatures. Maybe these women were also topless during those days!

Laloofah said...

What a fascinating post, the most Original I've seen so far on O week!
I'm glad the tradition of headhunting is Over, but it's a shame the artistry of the tattoos are at an end. They're quite exquisite (says I, who's too big of a weeny to get even one little one! lol) I must say, though, that I've noticed this year that many NFL players (American professional football) are sporting very similar tattoos on the entirety of both arms, so maybe, in its way, this tradition has been adopted among American athletes.

I love the character of these faces that you documented along with the beautiful tattoos, and especially love the one of the woman laughing so hard. I wonder what amused her so!

ladyfi said...

So sad to be losing some of this old culture.

These portraits are amazingly beautiful!

Chrissy Brand said...

A mindblowing post- thank you- and what a great addition to ABC Wednesday you are ;-)

Wanda said...

Oh my, this was just so very interesting and touching. A legacy that will soon be forgotten. How sad. You have indeed captured history.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

This is a fascinating series, Francisca. You have been privileged to be part of this expedition. It's a wonder you did not become an anthropologist in this life. You certainly have the temperament for it.

Andy said...

Another round of fantastic photos. I'm just sitting here in awe enjoying every one of them.

VioletSky said...

I often find it sad when cultural traditions die out, though sometimes - as with this particular one - I think I can understand why the younger ones might not want to subject themselves to such a painful decoration.

I am not really a fan of tattoos, but I much prefer these to the American styled ones.

Judie said...

Cisca, I am overwhelmed by the beauty in your photographs. What strong and self-assured women these are. I went back and read your previous posts and was truly fascinated. I hope you will continue to enlighten us about the people you have met on your travels.

I am very curious as to just what spam was sent from my site. Could you please tell me? I cannot imagine just who sent it and why.

Dimple said...

Your portraits show women who are still beautiful, especially the first. I have read that Sarah was still beautiful at the same age, and I believe that the Bible record is true, but I have never seen even one photo which illustrates the reality of the thought before.

Traveling Hawk said...

wow, these photos are amazing!