text | Carla Ocampo
photography | Carla Ocampo and Lester Valle
A story goes that once, among the highlands of the Philippines’ Gran Cordilleras, a people of great might and grim ferocity gradually became known to their neighbors as the KALINGA.
The name was not in any way cordial. KALINGA, to the different tongues of this region, had meant “headhunter,” or “enemy.”
Through the years, the Kalinga have come to accept this badge with uncompromising pride; the name is a reminder of their days of legend, when justice for every vanquished kin was delivered by the blow of an axe, or the flight of the spear of brothers out to redeem their family’s honor.
Today, this image of the Kalinga as headhunters has been reduced to being a historical tidbit. In the age of inter-tribal bodong, Kalinga’s well-known peace pact ceremony, the people of this province have become stewards of peace, and truly one of the most hospitable indigenous groups in the entire Cordillera region.
Nonetheless, they have a very unique world view, and visitors should make an effort to understand and adapt to their culture.
This is an outsider’s guide to the Kalinga mindset and lifeways, in line with The Kayumanggi Trails’ push for culture-sensitive travel.
GESTURES, GIFTS, AND THEIR TAKE ON TATTOOING
A Kalinga host who would serve you sweet, sticky rice and/or their local coffee would mean that you are welcome to enter their house anytime as a valued guest. You would do well to consume even just a little of what they offer you: it is a sign of grateful acceptance.
Outsiders are allowed to buy souvenirs, like bead necklaces and woven cloth, but it is quite an honor to earn these things: ergo, you wait for the locals to give them to you. It means that you have made a big impact within their community.
I was thrilled to be given a bead necklace by Kalinga elder Rebecca Saclag of the municipality of Lubuagan. She tied it around my neck herself, after we finished videographing the Kalinga Village in Awidon which her husband— Alonzo Saclag, renowned indigenous artist— built and developed. They were delighted to know that their mini-village would be included in the KT-Living Asia travel guide for Kalinga.
Same goes for the Kalinga woven cloth, especially the silan-bituwon, the weave with star-like patterns (hence, bituwon) notably given to “people of great dignity”. Visitors could purchase this anytime, for any reason, but again, it is quite an honor to receive this as a gift instead.
As for tattooing, some elders have reservations.
The Kalinga tattoo, etched on skin using a citrus thorn pounded by a stick, has become akin to the “holy grail” to travelers paying homage to this province. Again, locals find nothing wrong with outsiders getting ink done by their elders… but, they actually scratch their heads in amusement. Alonzo Saclag said, “Hindi bale kung sundalo na dumaan na sa laban. Kung sa iba, parang hindi na yata—” he shook his head and gently laughed.
Many Kalinga elders still hold the belief that only the bravest male warriors who have killed their enemies deserve a tattoo. They are more lenient with female tattoos though, as these are drawn for social and aesthetic purposes most of the time.
COMMUNITY AND COMMUNALITY
If there is one trait they would expect everyone— even the foreign visitor— to possess, then that would be unmindful generosity. The Kalinga are extremely generous by nature. Team KT experienced this kind of warmth in the rice terraces of Tulgao, a village in Tinglayan, Kalinga.
Team KT— hiking to get to Palang-ah Falls— stopped in the middle of the village to photograph a group of old Kalinga women, rhythmically planting their share of unoy rice upon the mulch-covered soil. Under the searing heat of the midday sun, they were all smiles, and soon surprised us with an invitation.
These women, the humblest of farmers, called us to join them under the shade of nearby bushes to eat lunch. There were boiled brown beans, boiled pechay, and behold, huge mounds of sweet, sticky rice— a sign that we are now valued guests.
These people would share whatever they have to a complete stranger. From heaps of rice to their simplest dishes… They would expect you to partake of all these. Likewise, they would expect you to display the same kind of generosity once the tables are turned.
The locals of Tinglayan taught us that we do not need Karl Marx or Mao Tse Tung to understand communal property.
Team KT was bewildered during the first days in Tinglayan. Case number 1: someone used up the shampoo sachet we left lying idly in the shower room. Case number 2: someone took the pot of coffee we left lying idly around the dining table. Gulp. Petty thievery?
But then, our fears were proven unfounded by this incident: we were resting at our inn’s sala set, chewing some gum candies, when a dignified-looking Kalinga elder— wrinkled and shriveled by the harvest sun— slowly inched his way toward us. Without any warning, without asking for permission, he gracefully took some three pieces of gum candy, which we left lying idly on the wooden table. Sweetly, he then smiled at us, and slowly walked away without saying a word.
We finally realized that in this part of Kalinga, any consumable item left lying around on tables— shampoo, coffee, candies, even beer— are considered free-for-all. In many ways, this is indigenous communism at work. A very small price to pay for the generosity of these people. You might as well be ready to return the favor.
© 2011 The Kayumanggi Trails | All Rights Reserved
- KT in Kalinga: Tabuk Basics (thekayumanggitrails.org)
- KT in Kalinga: Tinglayan’s Treasures (thekayumanggitrails.org)