December 29, 2012


One of our first stops on our two-day Styrian Alps road trip this past week (see previous posts) was the well-known old pilgrimage town of Mariazell.

I thought of James and his meme Weekend Reflections when I took this first photo; the town seen in a big red Christmas ball, with the basilica as an advent window on the building behind it. It's been a while since I joined this fun.

Austria, 2012

All the very best in 2013 to my blogging friends!
May only pleasant surprises come your way.
Thank you for the past year's fun 
and wonderful sharing.

December 28, 2012

Skies over Austria

Last week my honey and I landed in Austria. Coming from the tropics, we've been relishing the white winter wonderland here. (See previous post.)

But I've also been reminded again how the sky can take on such different personalities in different countries. 

These are a few captures from yesterday, starting with an amazing sunrise in my brother's back yard in the Vienna Woods.

These next two were take mid-afternoon on country roads outside Vienna looking towards the Styrian Alps.

 Austria 2012

I hope my blogging friends are 
enjoying fine skies with
warmth in their hearts and their homes 
this holiday season! 

Linking with Skywatch Friday.

December 26, 2012

Happy Holidays from Austria

To think that ten days ago I was snorkeling in tropical waters. It's a bit of a shock to the system to land in winter wonderland. But here I am, in Austria, enjoying the beauty of white landscape.

My honey and I took a two-day drive through the Styrian Alps this December 24 and 25. A magical white Christmas.

Austria, 2012
I wish you all the very best of the holiday season!

A big heartfelt thank you to my blogging friends 
for the joys of sharing over the past year!

December 4, 2012

Kalinga - Part VII - Community Unity

There is no shortage of community unity in Buscalan. 

Tending their fields, raising their children, preparing their food, celebrating their rites of passage... most of these village activities are family and community affairs.

Dried tobacco leaves
Taddok dance
Boiled pork shared with whole village

Listen to the beat of the gangsa gongs as the women gracefully make the simple steps of the taddok dance. This video was taken by our travel mate Bruce.

This is the seventh of my Kalinga series from my recent visit into the Butbut tribal village of Buscalan, high up in the terraced mountains in the north of the Philippines. You'll find more about these former headhunters and their amazing tattoos in my earlier posts.

I link with Our World and ABC Wednesday, where the letter of the week is U for Unity.

October 31, 2012

Kalinga - Part VI - Portrait of a Proud People

I'm not yet done with telling visual stories of our amazing visit to Barangay Buscalan, high up among the rice terraced mountains of Kalinga province.

The people of Buscalan may be materially dirt poor, but that they are a proud people with a rich culture is equally apparent. 

And, I must add here, their sincerely warm hospitality belies their history as ferocious head hunters.

Let my portraits do the talking.

Virgie was our able translator

Ti-A and her husband Charlie, barangay leader, were our generous hosts

Ti-A's mother kindly shared her home with us for the night

 Buscalan, Kalinga, 2012

These portraits of a proud people are my contribution to ABC Wednesday where the letter of the week is P.

I am also pleased to share with you (with his permission) this superb video put together by travel mate Jeremiah (shown in Part II with Whang Od). Jeremiah and his three friends hailed from Cebu, and all of us met in Tuguegarao for the start of our journey together. See Part I.

Whang Od from djsparechange on Vimeo.

Part VII still to follow.

October 29, 2012

Kalinga - Part V - Children

This is Part V of my Kalinga series. The posts have been consecutive, so it's easy for you to find Parts I to IV, which contain more information about the province - its landscape, its people, and its history.

In this post I will simply share some of the adorable children I saw in the poor mountain village of Buscalan.

Our group came with presents for the children, useful things like toothbrushes and multivitamins, as well as some candies, a rare treat. These were handed out in small bags, one-by-one, so the children were asked to line up in neat lines.

Minutes later, it started to rain, so all the kids ran for cover and the lines were no more.

Buscalan, Kalinga, 2012

 Wonder where we were? Here's the map.

Today I link with Mosaic Monday and Our World Tuesday.

There will be a Part VI soon.

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...

October 23, 2012

Kalinga - Part III - Burials

In this Part III of my Kalinga series I share with you a bit about the burial customs of these mountain people, the Butbut. Followers of my blog know I like to participate in the meme Taphophile Tragics when I can.

Yesterday I introduced beautiful Whang Od - the last tattoo artist - and showed the grave she had built for herself (last photo). I wasn't able to find out whether it was usual for tribal elders to prepare for their own deaths, but I suspect that it is as rare for the Butbut as for anyone else.

Yet she is not alone in her village in placing her grave close to home. 

 Kalinga, Buscalan, 2012

Walking around Buscalan a few weeks ago it was impossible to miss the graves placed right next to family houses. The dirt lanes between the raised wooden houses were narrow, yet I felt compelled to walk around the bare concrete structures flat on the ground.

I found it curious that although most in the village spoke only their native tongue, the wording on the headstones were in English. Also, although most of the Kalinga tribal groups are historically animist, the crosses on these graves indicate to me that Christianity is making inroads into their traditional belief systems.

For die-hard taphophiles, I include this rather lengthy quote about burial customs of the Kalinga. This comes from a fascinating paper published online by Aubrey Pagal.
The pakoy (death announcement) is done to announce that somebody has died in the community. It calls for the gathering of the clan to discuss things to be done during the wake. Close kin and neighbors are informed. It also signals people to will reset whatever celebration they had planned earlier to show sympathy and respect for the grieving family. It manifests the value of concern toward the bereaved family. The pakoy prods people to gather to build the bawi (shelter for visitors), helping build a community spirit of cooperation and assistance.

A number of carabaos (water buffalo) and pigs are slaughtered, and are offered to Kabunyan, the supreme deity, and to dead ancestors. Coffins are made of quality mature pine or mahogany, without any metal or nails holding it together. If a wealthy person dies, each of the children butchers one carabao for the people gathered. The uncooked meat will be distributed to close relatives. Among Cordillerans, the extent of meat distribution is dictated by certain considerations. Those who are given the meat are immediate relatives, the abalayans (in-laws) and those who help build the bawi. People continue to follow this tradition, regardless of whether they are good or bad, useful or useless. The individual who goes against tradition often finds himself the object of severe criticism. Distribution of ilang (uncooked meat) lets the recipients know of the hosts' deep appreciation of their relatives' gesture of help and their attendance in the gatherings.

During the wake nearby relatives and neighbors perform the mankayakeg, butchering pigs or piglets or chickens for people from nearby barangay (village) who come to condole with the bereaved family and honor the dead man during the wake as a social obligation. Kachame is the practice of accompanying the grieving family during the night of the funeral to boost the morale of the bereaved. The practice insures kinship ties. 

During death, as sign of concern and cooperation among kin and friends, assistance in the form of financial aid helps preserve these ties.

Achang is the mutual aid system where close kin, up to third cousins, and friends are morally obliged to help one another financially and share their goods. Donations depend on the capacity of individuals or families.

During the day of the funeral, utong will be provided for the people gathered. Most families observe three to five days of wake, depending upon the socioeconomic status or the traditional wake practices. This practice proves family ties and family social status wherein the number of pigs and carabaos butchered is indicative of wealth, more property for the family, and cooperation among the individuals concerned.

And also at the day of the funeral, bulong is donated by relatives to help feed the people who come. This fosters cooperative participation among relatives by consanguinity and affinity. The utong, the immediate post-burial slaughtering of animals, is performed to help the dead achieve well-deserved rest. The butchering of animals in utong results in the peace of mind and contentment of the donors, who are assured that each of the offspring has satisfactorily fulfilled the departed's final request.

In every neighboring house, when the corpse is buried, pechus is observed in order to prevent the entry of the dead ancestor's spirit. This ensures health among family members. Singising is also performed to help the bereaved family overcome grief and spare them from being disturbed by bad roaming spirits.

Seven to nine days after the burial, songot, or the practice of putting glutinous cakes on the tomb of the dead, is observed in to ensure the dead spirit does not return home and cause sickness to family members.

Specific burial grounds are chosen along farmsteads or within residential compounds, according to the will of the deceased. Often, it is a place that was meaningful during the departed's lifetime.

Stay tuned for Part IV!

October 22, 2012

Kalinga - Part II - Last Tattoo Artist

The mountain village of Buscalan in the province of Kalinga held moving and meaningful surprises for my honey and me. 

A good friend had invited us to join a group of photographers on their trip and we had enthusiastically agreed without really knowing much about their mission. So it was to be an adventure without expectations; the best kind, in my book. And we were not disappointed.

Yesterday, in Part I of this series, I showed the majestic rice terraces we passed on our journey through the mountains.

Only when we reached Buscalan, historically a headhunters' village, did we learn we were to meet the last Kalinga mambabatok or tribal tattoo artist.

Let me introduce you to the poised and talented Whang Od (pronounced Fang-ud). She is in her 90s, was never married (lost the love of her life in a fatal accident when still in her 20s), and still works daily both in the rice fields and at her special art of hand-tap tattooing.

Whang Od herself is adorned with traditional tribal tattoo designs, as well as beautiful heirloom beads. (You can read more about Kalinga beads here.) I suspect some of these beads she would have received in barter for her craft.

Lars Krutak, the tattoo anthropologist of Discovery Channel's Tattoo Hunter series fame, describes her craft thus:
Whang Od keeps her tattooing tools under the floor boards of her stilted hut. Her hand-tapping kit is comprised of a coconut bowl to mix a pigment of soot and water, an orange thorn needle (siit) attached to the end of a small bamboo stick, and another short stick used to tap the thorn into the skin. 

I've read that for many, once they get one tattoo, they can't stop themselves getting more. Vixienne came back to Buscalan for her second tattoo. She is grimacing from the pain here, but not long after she was all smiles.

Jeremiah is the proud new owner of a traditional centipede tattoo by the national artist with a steady hand. (See Part VI so see his video of this.)
 Buscalan, Kalinga, 2012

In this last photo you see Whang Od standing in front of her humble home and also the tomb she has built for herself - the entrance is behind her legs. 

Many are concerned that when she dies, her art form will die with her. We were told - and I later read - that she has been training her young yet enthusiastic grand-niece, but we did not see her.

This is a short - less than two minute - video of the perilous road to Buscalan and Whang Od at her tap-tap-tap work. It was not made by anyone in our group.

My post today is linked to the blogging communities at Mosaic Monday and Macro Monday.

Drop in for Part III of this Kalinga series. Maybe I can surprise you, too!