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.
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...