I’m ashamed to say that when they said we’ll be meeting one of the smallest minority group in Isabela, I was thinking they were some remote tribes still wearing their traditional garbs similar to the Dumagats. The Yogad tribe in Echague, Isabela is quite different. They were wearing old Spanish style costumes in bright blue and red colors. They have small mirrors attached strategically at the front and back. They have swords and seem to be ready for battle. They did not come from deep into the mountains nor live by the sea. They sailed all the way from Mindanao many decades ago but today are facing extinction as an indigenous group.
I’ve seldom talked about how Sagada has changed throughout the years. Yes, the roads have been paved for better access, more tourist are coming in, internet connectivity is just about everywhere and more structures being built to accommodate them. Despite the developments, Sagada’s is still rooted to their traditional cultural practices. One of this significant rituals is the Begnas, a rice thanksgiving ritual that usually happens three times a year. We were lucky to be there to witness their pre-planting ritual. It was a three-day event and the 2nd day was the time when the “Indians March”.
It seems I have revisited many places this year which I really don’t mind since it’s been years since I last visited them. I’m always interested to see what has developed and retracing back my routes sure brings back fond memories in different places. When I had the chance to go back to Kota Kinabalu, I knew I didn’t want to miss that opportunity as it was my first destination out of the country.
Have I discovered the secret to long life? It seems the people living in this highland village of Buscalan in Kalinga have. It amazes me to see how elders living in the age bracket of 80-90 and above are still nimble, skillful and can still manage to contribute to work. I’m not just talking about the legendary mambatok (traditional tattoo artist) Whang Od (Fang Od), whom we wanted to meet when we went to Buscalan. While I was dumbfounded to find her working under the sun drying out some beans, then carefully carrying those in a small sack at the age of 93-yo, her peers in the village could still run around circles to any sedentary couch-potato in the metro.
Bulging wide-open eyes with ferocious faces glare. Spear in hand, one of the men lets out a fierce scream. Then the group, garbed in bright red cloths that seemed to have been clumped together, with macaque skulls dangling on their chest and capped with headdress adorned with large feathers, started moving akin to roosters ready to pounce for a kill in a cockfight. “This is the Kabasaran Dance, originally a Minahasa Tribe Warrior’s dance but now we use it to greet guests like you” says a local Indonesian guide. That’s a different kind of enthusiastic greeting I may say as the Minahasa Warriors continue to dance at the street, the setting for the Tomohon International Flower Festival in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.
“From southern Palawan, it only takes about two hours by speedboat to the Northern tip of Sabah” I remember one of our host tell us delightedly. The Philippines is so close to Sabah that there is so much similarity in terms of culture and tradition. A large part of the inhabitants were trickled down from the southern archipelago of Mindanao when land bridges still exist explaining the prevalent resemblance from the traditions, clothing and even the language. In fact, the word “Sabah” for Malaysians, also refers to the same type of banana we call in the Philippines. In our visit to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, a village in Kota Kinabalu showcasing 5 of the 32 ethnic groups populating Sabah, we got a good portrait of each tribes, showing the distinctness of their character.
In the age where the world is getting smaller because of technology, the sense of authenticity in travel is also slowly diminishing. Part of the attraction of Eastern Isabela is its remoteness. Cut-off by the great Sierra Madre Mountain Range to the rest of Luzon, the region is a place where cellular signal is almost non-existent, electrical power runs at most 7-hours a day or none and where indigenous people are still closely linked to nature like the Dumagat of Isabela. Here in this remote land, I somehow found a sense of authenticity meeting these indigenous people.