PEOPLE started to flock to a small village in Kalinga when the spotlight was set on a gentle old lady who continues to perfect the ancient art of traditional tattoo.
Buscalan, in Tinglayan, Kalinga became a household name because of “Whang–od” Oggay who practices the art of traditional Kalinga tattoo.
Believed to be the oldest surviving traditional tattooist, Whang –od has aged to nearly a hundred, childless and single, and heirs to her art comprise of nieces, great grandnieces which number close to a dozen, all practicing the Kalinga art of traditional tattoo.
Whang–od paints her art unto the canvass of 15-20 persons daily, flanked by her apprentices, and can accommodate close to a hundred sessions with a price ranging from 300 to thousands of pesos depending on size and complexity.
Whang–od starts her day early and accommodates as many as she can but chooses to rest by 4pm. If visitors prefer to have their tattoos done by her apprentices, she will allow you to have her signature, her trademark of three dots flanking whatever design you chose to have immortalized.
Whang –Od’s tattoo ink is composed of a mixture of charcoal and water that will be hand tapped into the skin through the thorn end of a lemon or pomelo tree, an ancient art, passed onto generation to generation in the Kalinga culture.
The road leading to the mambabatok
From Baguio City, it will take 8 to 9 hours to reach the town of Tinglayan in Kalinga, a fourth class municipality with an area of 283 square kilometers has a population of 12,868 (PSA Census on Population and Housing, 2015), with a population density of 45.5/sq. km.
Main source of livelihood is still in the primary sector (agriculture), particularly palay and pulse/legume (beans and peanut) production.
However, according to tradition, rice production is mainly for the household’s consumption, while its surplus is brought to nearby commercial centers to be sold, but only when there is sufficient supply for the family and community.
Buscalan is one of 20 barangays of Tinglayan town, with a population of 732 (2015 Census on Population and Housing), and 134 households.
Records also show average household size is 6-7, with some reaching a maximum of 14 members. Like most Filipino communities, extended households are prevalent because the culture of the Butbut group dictates that when a female child marries, her husband joins her in the house of the wife’s parents.
Buscalan is located 16 kilometers from Poblacion, Tinglayan. To get to the mountain village, a four-kilometer concreted farm-to-market road branches out from the provincial highway leading to the Buscalan-Butbut community.
At the end of the concreted pavement, a two-kilometer hike along the mountain sides will be trekked passing foliage and a waterfall before reaching the home of the fabled Kalinga mambabatok.
Over the decade, the village has been provided a powerline however, communication remains a challenge as there is practically a weak to zero signal for all mobile networks.
Since the unexpected fame of Whang –od, sources of livelihood for Buscalan folk has seen a shift from farming to tourism services.
Since 2014, residents have chosen to become guides for tourists visiting Whang-od and are paid P1,000 for every group of five.
At present, there are 60 accredited tour guides in Barangay Buscalan alone, not including porters who are paid the same rate daily.
Twenty-eight residences have opened for homestay programs with a rate of P300 per person per night, during peak days, all homestay residences are occupied.
Local tour guide Mike Bayog said he was able to send his children to school from tour guiding and maintaining a small souvenir shop.
The shop of Bayog is one of a mere three businesses which has registered to the municipality and serves as a pit stop for visitors before entering the village selling cold drinks, brewed coffee and an array of items from bracelets to looms for visitors to take home.
Souvenir items have also become a village livelihood sold within the neighborhood, a source of additional income for the entrepreneuring.
Inside the village, retail stores have mushroomed within the neighborhood, selling ordinary items which you cannot get unless one will trek kilometers back to Poblacion proper.
Understandably, because of the remoteness of the village commodities are sold at high prices, a 1.75L bottle of local soda costs P140 and a small can of sardines costs P25 because hauling of commodities atop the mountain has its expense.
Municipal Tourism Officer Johnny Tiggangay said a surge in tourism arrivals was seen in the previous years with Whang –od being flocked and believed to be the oldest traditional tattoo artist in the country with domestic and international tourists converging in the small village of Buscalan.
Tiggangay said tourist arrivals for 2015 reached 18,786, while for the period January to March of 2016, tourist arrivals was recorded at 4,071 for Busacalan and Tinglayan alone.
There are a total of 84 accredited tour guides for the entire Tinglayan, majority for Buscalan pegged at 60, seven for Luplupa, four for Poblacion and a lone guide for Sumadel. A standard rate of 1,000 a day is set for each guide.
Tiggangay said the average number of tourists a day is at 75 with the municipality collecting a tourism fee of P75.
The fees when disaggregated will be broken down to P50 going to Barangay Buscalan while the rest goes to the municipality. This fee incorporates environmental fees and incidental fees. Added to these tourism infrastructure like hotels and inns, food service businesses contribute income for the municipality, making tourism one of the contributory factors to town’s generated income. (John Paul Villanuvea with Maria Elena Catajan)