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Celebrating Kalinga heritage in Tam-awan

THE merry month of May is a month of festivals. So it is with the arts and heritage, with May declared as the National Heritage Month. Thus, it has come to pass that the Tam-awan Village hosted a weeklong festival called Jewels of the Cordillera in observance of the spirit of Heritage Month.

Tam-awan Village, located in Pinsao, Benguet, is a setting that allows visitors to experience a slice of village life in the Cordillera with seven hand-hewn pinewood Ifugao and two Kalinga huts built on slopes and reached through a winding trail of mountain stones.

Jewels of the Cordillera highlighted ethnic beadwork and tattoo. Gold was a major topic in the lectures and discussions, giving it both its historical and contemporary essence and value.

Tam-awan artists took the cultural and spiritual siginificance of tribal finery and body ornaments, and represented them in individual artwork and installations. The lingling-o is a symbol of fertility representing the female womb. Clinton Aniversario and Ged Alangui created installation pieces to represent this fertility symbol. It is said that the shape of the lingling-o is an ancient design originally made from green nephrite jade and later made of glass in Sa Huynh in Southern Vietnam. Often made of gold, silver or copper denoting the status of the one wearing it, it was widely traded centuries before the Christian era in the South China Sea. Archaeologists have found this ornament in Thailand, the Philippines and Java.

Lingling-o remains one of the precious and common ornaments of identity in the Cordillera today. Aniversario used breakpads and driftwoods to render his interpretation of the lingling-o, while Alangui used a bamboo pole as a totem pole and used variations of the lingling-o as leaves. Alangui also said local lore has it that the lingling-o can be used as an amulet, empowered and purified by a ritual invoking spirits to dwell in them.

Heirloom beads also tell of early trade with neighboring Asian countries and were worn as hair ornaments or necklaces. Today there are many replicas and called with a more hip term as Cordilleran bling.

Alfonso Data displayed replicas of heritage beads to remind observers of old culture carried in the beauty of the precious stones. Resty Lopez made beads of fiberglass in the vibrant colors of red, blue, silver, yellow and green, commonly used in native costumes and accesories as reminders on why the heirloom beads must be preserved as symbols of the rich mountain culture.

Jordan Mang-osan intertwined glass and ivory beads with snake bones, and explained the curious beliefs of the power of the latter. This head ornament is worn by the women who traditionally tend the fields when they go to work. Elders believed that the snake bones protect the wearer from lightning should a thunderstorm suddenly occur while  the women work in the vast open fields. Mang-osan used rubber tires, which he painted and accented with colored beads.

The whole simulated village was dotted with carvings and paintings of lizards, rice gods, portraits of Igorots in native costumes, and other such images of an almost frantic reclaim of heritage blended with more contemporary and individual interpretations of artists. A workshop on beadwork was also held, with Aniversario and elders of Schools of Living Traditions as teachers.

A special guest in the festival was South African Ambassador Agnes Nyamande-Pitso, who discussed African jewelry and emphasized that real development includes the arts. Pitso said the dominant similarity between the old jewelry of the region and that of her country is that beliefs are attached in their use.


Tattoo revived and interpreted

A DEMONSTRATION of traditional tattooing was a big attraction for the curious. Kalina, a Kalinga woman in her 50s, tattooed on the arm of a young brave volunteer a few inches of traditional design using a needle on a wooden handle, constantly dipping it in resinous pine charcoal. Kalina is one of the last three remaining traditional tattoo artists in Kalinga, the youngest being her granddaughter.  The task took almost all morning for the man’s skin would not easily absorb the charcoal ink.

The reason is beyond her, she said. It is different with individuals.

In the case of Natividad Sugguiyao, a longer design of a centipede on her arm took only half an hour.

Sugguiyao is a known advocate of preserving Kalinga culture. Her fully tattoed arms carry the symbols of their heritage.

“The centipede is a symbol of community cooperation. It has 100 legs that symbolize the people. If they don’t move together, the community cannot go forward,” she said. She also has the design of rattan skins, which she said speak of strength as its tough texture protects the soft rattan flesh.

Sugguiyao said she was inspired to get her arms tattooed after she served as a guide to a team of National Geographic Magazine staff who came to research on the tattoos in her place.  She pondered on why foreigners were more interested in their ancient art of tattoos while it has become a vanishing art among them. In the old days, tattoos were a symbol of bravery as one who successfully took the head of the enemy earned a tattoo, while the women had them for beauty.

Sugguiyao said that nowadays, very few elders have tattoos for fear of recrimination and criminal charges. But women are more unconstrained but struggle because of the pervasive Western interpretation of beauty that has changed the Kalinga perception of beauty.

In a lecture, University of the Philippines Baguio Prof. Ikin Salvador said that while traditional tattoos for adornment and as a status symbol have been declining in Butbut, Kalinga, there is an unprecendented tattoo revival spurred by urban Filipinos and non-Kalinga people. Foreigners and even locals travel to Kalinga to get tattooed by traditional artists.

Both urban and diasporic Filipinos thus turn to “authentic tattoos to fashion contemporary statements of personal cultural identity,” she said.

Salvador argued that Kalinga tattoo revival, by enabling cultural borrowing and recontextualization, reinvents Kalinga identity specifically and Filipino identity more generally, or what it means to be a Filipino in a modern world. She said when traditional tattoos move from underneath the skin to over the skin such as in T-shirts and fashion designs, this highlights that Butbut tattooing, once markers of collective identity, are now more into the identity of the individual.


Gold, the story of a nation

LECTURES on gold dwelt on how it was part of the daily life of our nation and the way they now reveal the history of our forefathers.

Benguet especially has a long tale on gold to tell. Ambassador Delia Albert, known for her advocacy on responsible mining and her passion for reviving the stories on ancient gold, said the growth of the mining industry in the region is most sensationally told as the story of how Baguio was transformed from a vast wilderness with patches of human settlement into a bustling metropolis. Her passion for the history of mining in the region will soon be told in a museum of paraphernalia souvenirs and an open gallery with markers in a walk-through at Camp John Hay and other historical signage around the city.

Anthropologist Kenneth Esguerra of the Ayala Museum lectured on “Understanding Philippine Pre-Hispanic Gold: A Look Into the Ayala Museum Collection.”

The collection is categorized as gold that adorned deities and mortals, and nature as sources.

The Ayala Museum consists of 1,059 pieces dating from the 10th to the 13th centuries. Esquerra said the gold collection shows that before we became the Philippines, our people already knew how to harvest gold and smith them into adornments or items of functional use.

“They tell the story of our nation,” he said to underscore the importance of preserving ancient gold and the tales they tell of spiritual beliefs, way of life and old culture.

He cited that the Boxer Codex, a documentation of Philippine history, shows watercolor drawings of people from the Philippine islands adorned with gold, and how gold was used as items of rituals.

The Ayala Museum’s permanent exhibit Gold of Ancestors also displays the half-sackful of gold that Berto Morales unearthed in 1981 when bulldozing the spot.


Melding the traditional and the contemporary

THE merry festival held cañaos, with the sound of gongs reverberating down the streets below and dancing kept the upbeat mood of the celebration.

Tam-awan on ordinary days remains to be a quaint world of art exhibits and workshops where new cultural discoveries await visitors in every nook. Guests are allowed to stay in the native huts but can enjoy the convenience of a restaurant and the thrill of buying art souvenirs in a shop.

Tam-awan means “vantage point” and is so named because a mountain and coastal sunset is a magnificent view from here. It is run by the Chanum Foundation. Chanum is an Ibaloy term which means water, because a spring runs beside the village that used to be a watering hole for cattle. In the spirit of its name, the foundation aims to nurture life, art and culture.

Jewels of Cordillera is the fourth Tam-awan Arts Festival supported by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCAA). Because of the meaningful staging of previous festivals and its track record in upholding heritage and supporting local artists, Chanum Foundation has earned the confidence of the NCCA for continued support.

“I commend the Chanum Foundation through its president, Jordan Mang-osan, and the festival director, Chit Asignacion, for their collective efforts in sustaining the yearly observance of the festival,” said Emelita Almosara, NCCA executive director.






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