After spending some time in urban Cebu and Manila (where I was stranded for two days because of a mini typhoon), I then traveled to a more rural area of the Philippines, the Cordillera Region of North Luzon. The Cordillera, a range of spiky mountains, and the Chico River valley are best known for their spectacular rice terraces. Less well-known (but more attractive to me) is that this region is amazingly diverse ethnically and culturally, being the home of numerous tribal groups with different languages and rituals. On this trip, I mostly spent time with the Kalinga people, one of the main tribal groups from the Cordillera. Historically, Kalinga tribe members were head hunters and fierce warriors, but these days the Kalinga people are mainly rice farmers but also skilled craftsmen, experienced in basketry and loom-weaving. The villages are typically built on hillsides, and houses are linked one to the other by a narrow path, often on top of a wall. While wandering around the villages, I felt like I was walking on a balance beam, albeit a large one, though local children ran around fearlessly. The respect for the land is deep and traditional law still rules. Animals are also a prized possession. They are used as a food source but also frequently sacrificed for rituals. Pigs (many), chickens, and roosters (the emblem of the Philippines for me) roam freely in the villages. This post is mostly about my visit to Lubuagan, a substantial town in the Kalinga province, whereas the next post will focus on Buscalan, a small Kalinga village.
We flew from Manila to Tuguegarao City and drove an additional 3 hours to Lubuagan. I had been told there would be a celebration in Lubuagan during our stay and that we were invited, but I was unsure what it was about. We drove through Tabuk (the capital of Kalinga province) and offered a ride to two young ladies to Lubuanga. One of them mentioned they were going to Lubuanga because her grandmother was sick. Little did I know that this was the cause of the celebration we would attend.
Our local friend Ruel later told me that one of the rituals of the tribe is to celebrate the life of people of old age. When somebody makes it to a certain age and has had a fulfilled life with many children and contributions to the community, the extended family of this older person will invite family, friends, and other tribe members to partake in a special event. For the occasion (if the family can spare the expense), a water buffalo (or carabao) will be butchered, a communal meal will be served, and bamboo skewers of raw meat will be distributed to all attending to take home (vegetarians beware, this post may not be for you). This is a very festive event where people come from all over the area to reminisce with the “sick” person and say goodbye if they live far away. So here I was, celebrating the life of a beautiful old lady and being kindly offered my skewer of carabao (which I gave to my wonderful host family). It occurred to me that this was a civilized way to say good-bye instead of having a memorial service where the celebrated person is no longer with us.
The rest of my stay in Lubuagan was spent roaming the village, visiting some people skillfully doing their crafts. I also learned something about roosters during this visit. I had always believed that roosters crow to greet the dawn. It turns out that they crow whenever they feel like it. The three near my window decided that 2:30 am was the perfect time to enthusiastically cock-a-doodle-do.
See you in Buscalan.