Journey To Buscalan : Inked By One The Youngest Mambabatok

With almost 15 hours of crazy ride and hiking, it was indeed a tiring day for all of us. There was nothing much to do on our first day and on top of that, the weather was not cooperating that much with us (Check: Our First Day in Buscalan). We’re glad though that we are warmly welcomed by the Laguiao family. It was a two-story house complete with all the basic amenities we need. They got a spacious bathroom, a tv set and the kitchen was complete with gas stove and other cooking materials.

Our group was actually divided into two. The others were accommodated by another family. Before calling it a night, the other group invited us to come over for some chit-chats and drinking session. I don’t drink so I went there just for few talks and fun. Few minutes later I decided to go downstairs and when I found out that the couple (who owned the house) were watching TV, i sat with them and asked them some questions about their lifestyle and the village. Surprisingly, they also offer me to smoke weed haha (but I refused lols). I went back to Laguiao’s house and call it a night.

Woke up around 6 am and was greeted with a refreshing morning breeze. Had a nice freshly brewed coffee too.
I had to remind myself too that it was a big day for all of us. We will meet the kids of Buscalan for an outreach program, most of us will get inked and the craziest of them all, we will get the chance to meet Whang-Od.

Few moments later, Mr Atong Laguiao introduced us to the mambabatok and I was quite surprised that we will be inked by 11 and 12 year old kids. Pambabatok is an ancient tradition. It is a traditional tattooeing, a practice that is older than the Spanish Regime. The batok or the tattoo was actually applied by the tattoo artists of the Butbut tribe to their so-called warriors and headhunters.
IMG_3945t(One of the elders in Buscalan. You can see her body marked with tattoos)

The said practice, however, no longer exist but the pambabatok is still being performed by Whang-od and anyone on her lineage not for the warriors but for the Buscalan tourists. IMG_3940tWhang-Od trained Grace, her grandniece and those who were in her lineage. As per tradition, the skills can only be inherited by anyone in her lineage as they believe that if anyone outside her bloodline starts tattooin, the tattoo will get infected.

Traditionally, the basic technique in applying tattoo involves injecting ink into the dermis, the second layer of skin, to create a permanent design or image. To do so, the tattoo artist should be equipped with all the materials and equipment needed to perform the procedure properly and safely. For instance, he must have the required tattoo stencil equipment. This serves as a guide for the artist to follow during the tattooing process. The tattoo machine, which consists of a needle attached to an oscillating unit,  should also be prepared properly to achieve the desired design.

Unlike the traditional tattoo, however, this ancient method of pambabatok simply uses charcoal as an ink which is tapped into the skin via thorn end (usually from Pomelo tree).
You can spot a lot of pomelo trees in the area
The thorns! With no anesthesia or any medication, this method is relatively painful compare to the conventional technique.
They use an improvise tool to hold the thorn and another stick to tap it repeatedly.
Most of the time, your tattoo will be made by the young artists of Kalinga. They will present you a set of design (which has meanings) or you can also suggest one (but I suggest you to stick to the ancient patterns). Like I said, each design has their own meanings. I was actually hesitant at first to get a tattoo because of my diabetes but I had it anyway!  As much as I want to have those huge tattoo, my fear prevailed so I just settled with two Baybayin characters to be marked on my back. I was approached by a kid named “San Chai” (it’s safe to assume that her mom was a big fan of Meteor Garden haha), she was one of the youngest mambabatok in the village and I can clearly see her resemblance with Whang-Od and Grace.
20170528_075905tI still can’t believe that I will finally get a tattoo. It was one of my bucket list and I never imagined being marked in Buscalan through an ancient tattooing method. San Chai is not so familiar with the Baybayin characters and she doesn’t have the design board too (it was being used by someone else). So luckily, I attended some Baybayin Seminars in Quiapo years ago and I gave her the sketch. I decided to have my initials M and K (since there is no Baybayin for C).

My friends were courageous enough to pick bigger and shadier designs. Those designs with shades are more painful and yes… bloody!
And there goes my session with San Chai. So proud of being inked by one of the youngest mambabatok in Buscalan.
20170528_073939tThe price for tattoo will vary in terms of their sizes. The bigger your tattoo, the more expensive it will worth. I got mine for Php150 per character but the price can actually go higher than Php1500
Tadah! There goes my terrifyingly huge tattoos … sorry if they scare you hahaha. After getting our tattoo, we were asked to proceed to Whang Od for her signature dots. Yes! We will finally meet the living legend and that’s another check for my bucket list!

However,  we were quite surprised with the overwhelming amount of tourist queuing for their turns. So  instead of waiting, we decided to proceed first with our Back to school outreach program while Mr Atong Laguiao assured us that we will get inked by Whang Od the same day. We were informed however that if Whang-Od decided to stop tattooing, we have to respect that and that might leave us no other option but to stay for another day.
Some notable things I noticed in Buscalan are these graves. It seems like they have no cemetery on the village or probably a family tradition.
Those are not blood stains, they are spits from the nganga that men used to chew.
IMG_3897tAn eatery in the village! There’s a videoke upstairs too

I really can’t help but to marvel the beauty of this place and admire the simplicity of their lifestyle. I wouldn’t mind staying here actually!

Things You Should Know About Buscalan

► Buscalan is one of the 20 Barangays of Tinglayan
► The home of Whang Od and the Butbut tribe
► The village is not accessible by any vehicles (a trekking is required)
► As of 2015 Census, Buscalan has 703 Population with 134 household
► Tour Guide rate ranges from Php1000 per group of five
► Homestay rate ranges from Php300 per person per night
► Tour Guide is highly encouraged as they are the one who can accommodate your schedule with Whang Od.
► Tour guides can also guide you to nearby waterfalls and hot springs
► There is a power supply in the village but weak to zero communication signal
► There’s a school and also a basketball court
► There’s also a chapel nearby
► Take note that there is also a Tourism fee of Php 75

The Back To School outreach program was organized by a non-profit group Yabang Outdoors. Our main reason behind our journey to Buscalan is not just to meet Whang-Od but also to help the kids of the village. I will provide more info about this awesome experience in my next #JourneyToBuscalan entry

For the mean time, feel free to watch this video summary

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19 thoughts on “Journey To Buscalan : Inked By One The Youngest Mambabatok

  • March 22, 2018 at 9:35 am

    Hello, great read. Glad to have come across your blog! I need to follow more travel-related blogs where I can get some tips and whatnot. So tada! Followed you. Thanks! 🙂

  • March 23, 2018 at 5:30 am

    interesting…each indigenous groups have their own unique believes and culture..good that the young generations are following their own culture too.

  • March 24, 2018 at 3:44 am

    Wow I’d be too scared but the view is worth the visit.

  • April 5, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    I love home stay and whenever I get to visit a place, I prefer to stay in a local house. Anyway, you always have an amazing way of conveying your travel experience. I love that aside from the well known whang-od who do this, there are young children who chose to embrace this unique culture of Buscalan. They are truly amazing and talented. I really wish to get here soon after reading your blog post.

  • April 6, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    Well, congrats on those tattoos! Surely looks tiny and cute. When I first saw the title, I got intrigued. The view is very calming and it must be a great experience since there’s weak connectivity. It’s the perfect time to disconnect and recharge with nature and people. I really need to join you on trips like this! Hope to join you in case you’ll go back to Buscalan! Her grandniece is really cute and talented!

  • April 6, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    Time came as well when i wanted a tattoo. Most likely, we reached that point that we all wanted to have something our parents would surely disapprove of but our friends would definitely love. Anyway, obviously, San Chai must have been from the Meteor Garden fad before. She’s so young and it just amazes me that her parents are living the generation today, having access to television and even naming their children after their fave tv character and yet they practice something even older than the Spanish regime.

  • October 3, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    Very interesting read. Glad to come across your blog. The pictures are Simone yet speaks a lot. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

  • October 3, 2021 at 8:32 pm

    Such a beautiful place to these images.Thanks for sharing with us.

  • October 3, 2021 at 9:55 pm

    What a neat experience! Definitely not something many people get to do. That’s funny that it is done by young kids. And it did look like blood on the pavement, good to know it was not.

  • October 3, 2021 at 11:19 pm

    Oh, I don’t know if I could get a tattoo, but that’s amazing you were able to get one with so much meaning behind not only the tattoo itself, but the process as well.

  • October 4, 2021 at 3:16 am

    What a fascinating read. I feel that I learned a lot about history and these people. It is kind of a neat way to get a tattoo.

  • October 4, 2021 at 5:39 am

    I would love to get a tattoo here! What an amazing place!

  • October 4, 2021 at 3:14 pm

    Wow, that is cool that those young kids are able to do the inking. I am not into tattoos myself, but I know lots of people are.

  • October 4, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    Cool post. I don’t think I would have gotten the tattoo — my doctor would have killed me! But yours looks great. I like reading your posts because your trips are always interesting!

  • October 4, 2021 at 11:59 pm

    The place there looks amazing. The way how they provide tattoos in places like this is interesting.

  • October 5, 2021 at 3:50 am

    I love to get tattoo on that same place.Thanks for sharing with us.

  • October 5, 2021 at 3:56 am

    I love places with indegenous communities. And Busculan is a great place. I was lucky to visit it personally.

  • October 5, 2021 at 4:19 am

    The process looks so painful, but I love seeing tribal tattoos from different countries.


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