Kalinga
Records of a journey in 1990
16th July - Tinglayan to Butbut
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16th July - Butbut Proper


Seasons in Kalinga change fast. Three weeks ago we were eating fresh green beans beans in their pods. Now, after 8 days in Manila, everyone is up on the mountain harvesting their kaingins (bean fields), laying the beans out to dry; shelling; and setting the shelled beans out to bake for a second time in the sun. Three weeks ago the focus was on getting rice in. Now life is focused on beans – big red ones, small red ones, black ones, green ones and the famous, big, soft white Kalinga beans. I’m delighted to say that corn on the cob, boiled and roast, has also started making an appearance.
 
 
When I suggested a trip to Nasblutan to tape Gang-gang’s papaliwat, Moses almost seemed excited. He played it cool, but I think it may be a bit of an adventure for him too, as well as a nicely paid opportunity to visit his relatives among Butbut people. The fact that he has family there makes him the perfect guide, from both the hospitality and safety perspectives.
 
Palpaliwats are a form of verse in which 'Mengor', warriors, boast of their bravery and, traditionally, their head-hunting prowess. They are normally chanted at the end of peace-pact renewal parties and they sound very much like warnings about what might happen to you if you mess with the village again. Gang-gang’s I’m told is rather long, covering both tribal war and the war against the Government and dams. In fact Gang-gang’s Palpaliwat seems to be becoming almost the stuff of legend. As the story goes, once Gang-gang got fed during a big meeting to discuss how the Bodong (peace-pact system) could be modernised and used as a basis for a pan-Kalinga form of governance, rather than just a treaty between just two of the 40 or so Kalinga people. Ganggang, an ‘upstream’ Kawitan traditionalist, wasn’t keen on the idea or, I very much suspect, the political context behind its suggestion. He decided enough is enough, got up and started chanting his Palpaliwat, bragging about how many people he’d killed, in the middle of the meeting. I imagine that that was the end of the meeting.
 
Nasablutan is a new, nine year-old, satellite village of Butbut. I like the idea that you can just set up a new villages. It reminds me of Mr Magannon’s suggestion that some of growing population of Manila should come up to Kalinga – ‘there is plenty of space in the mountains’.  I also want to go there because it’s home-base for the CPLA’s marijuana plantation. (CPLA = Cordillera People’s Liberation Army. Click here for a Political history of Kalinga and the CPLA).
 
I woke up thick in the head this morning, too much. But what a happy evening. Ten kids, from two to twenty, crammed onto Chupper’s porch, all talking at once, laughing and teasing. Moses was getting the brunt of it – lots of joshing about courtship and his estranged marriage. He has a delightful, easy-to-tease manner about him, bashful but confident enough to enjoy it. I do love Kalinga life. For all its hardships I’m sure it also has more than its fair share of happiness.
 
 
At 7.30, after beans and rice, Moses and I started hiking down the Chico road. 7 km or so later my hang-over faded and we paused at the store in Masswa. Two CAFGUs (militia) saw us, sauntered over for a chat and, after a decent interval, suggested that maybe we should celebrate our meeting with a drink. Rule 1 – never say ‘no’ to a man with a gun. Half-pissed at 10.00am, Moses, I and the two CAFGUs began to climb an absurdly steep path straight up the side of the mountain – not around, but up to the CAFGU’s position overlooking the valley, where they gave us coffee. Nice guys really, if the ‘enemy’ to some.
   

Moses and the CAFGUs having a coffee break above Luplupa


I got a bit grumpy during the climb; the return of the headache. But you can’t stay grumpy here for long. The views are too good and nice things keep happening. Things like passing a bamboo pipe sticking out of the hill path with a larger bamboo ‘cup’ stuck over its end to plug a gush of spring water. Near Butbut the landscape had an almost gardened quality with some nice touches, like a ‘viaduct’ carrying water across a gully in a long wooden trough. Next to it was a large smooth stone. Moses heaved it into the viaduct. Bingo – shower, so we arrived in the village almost fresh and clean.

In Butbut the Barrangay Captain (village head-man) gave us a lunch of red rice and beans. Moses is very keen on Butbut rice. Last time we were in the area, about a month ago, he suggested we have lunch with his relatives here, because ‘the rice is so delicious’.  His eyes actually twinkled as he said it. It was a 2 hour detour.
 
In fact, I think Moses sees trekking as just something we do between meals and that staking out good things to eat is actually the core of his job. I also know that it’s not just me he’s thinking about. Once in Tinglayan I asked him what he’d been up to today. ‘Oh, just looking to see if anyone has butchered anything’. But he’s right, the flavours and strains really do differ between altitudes and villages and Butbut Red is a good one. Even I can tell that. Worth climbing another few thousand feet for? I’d kill for a bottle of soy sauce.
 
After lunch Moses and I snoozed though the hot hours, lying on the smooth giving bamboos strips that made the captain’s floor. I was dozing when I notice the hut shaking a little at first, then more strongly. Someone walking in the room I thought. But then the whole house was swaying and rattling, the corrugated iron roof rippled twanged as it buckled and popped into new positions. A group of children ran into the house. Two started crying. Moses and I got up, quickly, puzzled and swaying. Moses started shoo’ing the kids out into the sun. It takes a moment to realise you’re in an earthquake.
 
 
Outside small landslides were tumbling down various parts of the receding valley. Fresh tremors set off new rock-falls. And then it stopped. Two small figures on a mountain path in the distance were running back towards the village. A few boulders tumbled, bouncing over the path maybe 50 metres behind them. I looked around and was relieved to see that Butbut had built it on a small plateau, out of the way of falling rocks.
 
 
After the flurry of shocks we wandered around the village. The houses were all OK, though there were gaps deep in the ground around the solid wooden stilts they were built on where the earth had been pushed back. There was lots of conversation, of getting and giving news to people, parents arriving home from the fields. One granary had collapsed. There was a bit of damage to terrace walls, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed. As far as anyone knew, no-one was hurt, though some were still out on the mountain. Everyone is worried about Dananao, a short day’s hike away and wondering if it’s the volcano there that’s to blame. There was a big earthquake in Dananao a few years ago. The earth opened beneath the feet of two villagers. It swallowed them and then slammed shut again. Bang - they became spirits. Why wouldn’t you believe in spirits in a place like this?
 
 
 
We’re not going anywhere today. Too many aftershocks, some big enough to unsettle rocks on the way to Nasablutan. ‘Too dangerous’ Moses says.
 

17th – Lecong, PM
 
 
Good god. Last night we visited one of the ‘lieutenants’ who had some batteries. Along with half the village we huddled around his radio. Our little earthquake isn’t local at all. It’s a national disaster. Baguio, my home for a brief night 3 days ago sounds devastated. The Hyatt Terraces has collapsed with guesses of 150 killed. Three other hotels are also apparently down. It’s cut off, with no electricity and even way down in Manila the coast road, Roxas Boulevard, is all cracked up and impassable. The roads out of these mountains are also bound to be a mess. All of a sudden it feels like a long walk home.
 

I lay awake last night imagining Baguio. Chupper went there yesterday. What must the aftershocks feel like to them. A big one came at 4am. It made me jump and fumble from my sleeping bag with a mind for the door. Then it just stopped so I lay awake waiting for the next one.
 
Moses thought it would be OK to go Lecong, one of about 6 villages that make up the Butbut people.  We hoped to meet up with Ganggang there. Again we left early, before the heart.

 
Ganggang wasn’t there yet, so we hung about with Manuel and couple more Leiutenants sharing ideas about how to fix their chainsaw. Kalinga hospitality produced a second breakfast. Rice and hot weak bean soup; healthy and wholesome. And since then it’s been a lovely lazy hot Kalinga day. As I’m writing now, digesting, I’m surrounded by kids. They’re giggling, trying on my hat, looking at the photos of ‘Ben’s life in England’ and fiddling with my possessions. One is stroking my leg, showing his mate how if you stroke one way those hairs that the Americanoo has stand up on end. Then if you stroke the other way they all go flat again. It’s not good for the concentration, so I’m going to stop.

 
17th - 18th - Saklit & Lecong
19th - 20th - Nasablutan
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