Sunday, November 23, 2014

Been There, Done That, Got the Ink

About five years ago, I wanted to visit a great artist in Kalinga. I wanted to take home a piece of her artwork with me. That time, only a few talked about her. At least that’s what I thought. Every year, I would plan it but for some reason it always got back-burnered.  Today, the ubiquity of her face and her art on the Internet has made me feel thankful…very thankful that I stopped pushing for that journey to see her.

I once committed the crime of turning a cultural heritage into a photography prostitute. It became a shining medal for my vanity. Fortunately, not many people followed suit.
The traveller's crime that I committed some years ago.

But when Facebook became the motor that mobilized people’s vicarious lives, vanity found its swift bandwagon that would pick up more and more people for a fun ride.

And along with vanity’s joy ride, the artist has been reduced to a tourist attraction—a living museum artifact. The only difference is that in museums, we are not allowed to take pictures. And the fact that the artist is not getting any younger and that she is believed to be the last practitioner of her craft has sent more and more eager visitors scrambling for the cultural heirloom—a limited-time offer for the tourist's ultimate mantra, ‘Been there, done that, got the ink!’ And in exchange for a little sum and some vainglorious remarks of admiration and compassion, the visitor takes home a story complete with pictures of the artist. And all these pictures and stories of the many travelers that have come and gone will populate the Internet screaming the same theme —the coerced appreciation of the dying art and the make-believe campaign to support and save it. But if you really dig deep into it, you might realize that probably it’s all about the bragging rights that the tattoo gives them!

Blogger's note: The blogger later found out that the artist's craft is being kept alive by a couple in Buting, Pasig. It is said that the couple received the blessing of the great artist herself to continue the art.


  1. hahaha it will always be for the bragging rights. hey-yo-i-was-tattooed-by-the-kalinga-head-hunter-but-i-am-not-a-headhunter-so-screw-it! i will go there for the very same reasons but not to the point of hitting fb since i have a "professional career" to maintain. not most people in the corporate slavery world are open to tattooed employees. personally, i just want her art on my skin.

    1. And so is everything else in only gets baser when one denies the real motive...and noble when one admits it.

    2. you nailed it. everything in traveling and fb is nothing but picture-shows to tell everyone how awesome sauce you are. and wait! it's not just fb. i'm pissed off at some bloggers as well who only post photos and some words that barely gets more than a hundred. you know the types.... click-bait whores. there are only a few people i follow who really write the essence of their travels.

  2. i agree with u on the fb popularity. come to think of it, it also applies to other things like new restaurants, fashion, etc. I remember that time when her existence was only spread through word-of-mouth. even if my friend (10+ years ago) made the journey and back and showed me the 'proof', i never felt the need to to do the same. i guess im really not into inks. although, i would love to travel and see the village and its people.

    1. actually hit me while I was writing the article...Mt Pulag is going through basically the same thing. I guess the reason why I feel a bit aghast is that this is a human being reduced to a tourist attraction. I felt that she has become the most convenient pick. But come to think of it, Miriam Santiago and other personages have become a frequent pick of the media and press. In a way they have become cam whores too. But we can't deny the power they effuse and the aura that swallows the existence of the interviewer when they are featured in a documentary or an interview. In the case of blogging Whang-od, on the other hand, it is the other way around. Although it may seem like the spotlight is on Apo Whang-od, one doesn't need to be a cynic to sense the bragging rights that the blogger or the FB user wants to show.
      And yeah, while I was internalizing this issue, I realized that I may not be able to live up to my word of getting inked. There seems to be something in me that says I shouldn't do it.
      And just like you, I still wanna visit her and/but for other reasons. In fact, I am already polishing my travel calendar before I turn a new leaf. and that includes her and her league.

  3. Sir with all due respect, I find this article hard to digest as it is oozing with selfishness.
    You've never been there so I don't see why you need to feel "aghast" for what is happening in their community.
    In fact the presence of "tourist" help their community a lot than just merely being reduced to a "tourist attraction."
    I've been there, so let me just give you a glimpse of what is happening in there.
    Everyone are very welcoming. Most of the family can be your host family and you may stay at their home.
    Even the house of Whang Od is open for visitors. Normally, visitors go there with gifts to Whang Od and for their host family.
    Since these people live literally on a mountain, going down is a pain specially when buying important things like medicine. And not suprisingly,
    the primary thing that they ask from the visitors are, you guess it right, it's MEDICINE. They don't care about the clothes, money or material things,
    they ask for MEDICINE. The time we went there was June, so it's a rainy season and some of the people we met have colds including children.
    So tell me, does the presence of these "tourist" makes you feel "aghast"? I find this a very disturbing and a strong word for you to use just because of your selfishness.
    Just because everyone else has a tattoo that they can flaunt, and you don't.
    Just because everyone else are talking about it on FB and you can't relate.

    Lastly, it's funny how you mention about "to not being too cynical" to sense these people's bragging rights when they post pictures in FB,
    well in fact your blog boasts of your achievements and pride of being a solo backpacker.

    Doesn't it even occurred to you that these people just wanted to share those fun moments like what you ARE actually doing in your blog?

    Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?

    1. Before anything else, thanks for taking some time to read at least one article, although I am inclined to believe that you have also taken a peek at some of my other articles. However, you seem to be missing the point. An article or any written material containing a message is always directed at someone--the target.
      The writer's target is at a theoretical level--an accusation basically. If it hits you then you're the target. If it doesn't then you have no business feeling offended. If you feel offended, I guess it only goes to show one thing--and you should know what it is.
      Now. Did it hit you? If it did, I'm guessing you are either one of those who went there for those selfish reasons (my target), or you may be a tattoo artist or a tattoo canvass.(not my target)
      If you are one of those who went there but for the purest of intentions, then you shouldn't be feeling annoyed, should you?

      Next question. Do all who go there have the purest of intentions? In other words: Wala bang nagpupunta dun na ang intensyon ay magyabang? As in zero?..wala talaga...lahat ng nagpupunta dun busilak ang adhika? Meron naman ata.
      Kung meron, para sa kanila ang sulating ito. Simpleng lohika lang yan.
      And the issue on my solo backpacking is a different story that will take one more article's length for an answer which I have no plans on doing as of the moment.. And your statement "your blog boasts of (sic) your achievements and pride..." is obviously intended to be directed at me. I may be your target but you just missed your target. So you can be assured that I am in no way offended.

  4. i rarely leave a comment here. but were climbing Mt. Patukan this coming december and i saw in our IT that there is allotted time to visit whang-od and those who wants to be ink by her are free to do it. so for some point of view i leave my opinion in this topic. im not interested to be in by her "AS OF NOW". But if given a chance to climb Mt. Everest or alike where your life will be on the line, i wish to pay some visit to whang-od to request her to ink me with a lucky charm. so that means i have a higher chance of winning the lotto that being ink by whang-od. :D

    as of now i just want to take a picture of her as to say that i saw her with my own eyes..

    1. go for it! I once wanted to get inked by Whang-od for a similar reason myself. I often see snakes on trails. I was thinking Whang-od's snake scale tattoo could be my talisman to ward off snakes. But now, I feel like I need to think twice before I do something to my body which is irreversible.

  5. Ahh, of course, that same old song. Quite frankly in all fairness to you, I didn't realize that you would resort to that old tune being
    sung by kids eversince I was a gradeschooler. The "Bakit tinamaan ka ba?" Song.

    Now that's where the problem lies.
    The whole article was based purely on assumption and prejudice. You know better.
    Let me shove back the question to you, who gives the standards and bases of a "pure intention", what does it even mean and what are those "pure intentions" you are talking about?
    Are those "pure intentions" just based on your own standards?
    Did you saw someone who blatantly show off his "tattoo" and saying, "oh meron akong tattoo kay whang od buti nga ikaw wala". If yes by all means, I would take back everthing i said,
    but if not, then again all based on assumption and prejudice.

    And there's a problem with that as well, the person might just be foolishly joking as well or was just done in bad taste. But unless you are not sure, again the whole article was based

    Additionally, I am missing a post that was done shortly after my last post. :)

    1. Yeah at times, when I write, or reply to a comment, it is prejudice-laden. In fact, after reading your first comment, I told myself that I wouldn't reply to your succeeding comments. And that resolution was based merely on a prejudice against the quality of your language.
      Form-wise, it contained some basic grammar lapses—two counts of 'Everyone--are'; and one violation of ‘Do/Does/Did + V-base’ (which you did again in ‘Did you saw?’ wala po akong nilagari). I am not sorry but I rarely give people who violate these basic grammar rules the eligibility for an excuse and the opportunity to be part of my blog, let alone the honor of a reply. So, you’re welcome!
      Substance-wise, your comment was utterly misdirected. We were non-coplanar. We were a pair of skew lines. So it deserved nothing more than the ‘Tinamaan ka ba?’ reply which belonged to the plane where the level of your syllogism belongs. If you want your comment to be considered for its substance, you can have it repaired first by someone who knows what sound syllogism is. As it is, you are engaging in a discourse so you’ll need basic knowledge on syllogism. You first comment was a linguistic disaster! You are attacking premises that don’t exist. But since it is the season, I’ll give you an early Christmas present! I’ll consider (just a little bit) your first comment for its substance:
      Let’s focus on the term ‘aghast’. It is an adjective that conveys an emotion. And the emotion it conveys is negative and it is directed at an object. In the case of my comment, the object of that negative feeling is ‘the reduction of a human being to a tourist attraction’. The object was neither ‘the presence of tourists in the community’ nor ‘the medicine you gave to the community’….nor ‘the poop you left’ nor ‘the trash you left or carried away with you’. At this point we could stop wasting my time. Talk to a philosophy student!
      Now for your second comment, I am not sure but I hope you are aware that you are commenting on a blog! This is not Wikipedia, or the CIA files! And I hope you know that blogs are full of the blogger’s shit (a.k.a. opinion). And on whose standards do you expect the opinion of the writer is based? Do you think Conrado de Quiros would borrow my standards for his opinions and terms in PDI?
      Is the article based on assumptions? Hell yeah! Why is this a problem again? Are the assumptions wrong?
      Many people go there for Whang-od and her tattoo…not the chickens there, not the rice fields…but Whang-od and and her art. You don’t debunk this assumption by your little medical mission. How? Talk to a philosophy student!

      Is the article based on prejudice? Which part? We may just be using the term differently.
      Is the article selfish. Which part? Cynical? Maybe. Self-righteous? Maybe…but selfish?...maybe not the article. Me? Oh no, I am not selfish. I am arrogant!
      I am a big fan of arrogance because arrogance is a stronger and more effective motive power than words of encouragement. It was the arrogance of one trekker that challenged me to climb more mountains! And maybe it is my arrogance that will somehow improve your grammar or at least make you try to work on it even after a few failures.
      And how can an arrogant person be selfish if he is aware that he is being arrogant?! By being arrogant here, I run the risk of losing some readers…of being hated and disdained by you and a bunch of close-minded individuals who cannot take arrogance constructively. And by paying attention to the substance of your comments, I run the risk of me being disowned by my former professors in Metaphysics and Philosophy of Language. Don’t you think these sacrifices make me SELFLESS? I think by now you would understand if I thought your little medical mission was an act of selfishness. Yes, by my standards.
      So, for that basic lesson on Dialectics, you’re welcome once again!
      And now that we can’t even agree on the way we use terms such as ‘selfish’, ‘aghast’ and ‘prejudice’, I think it would be best for us to just leave our standards separated by a deep chasm.

    2. sorry i just got a tatt from her and she herself confirmed that tattoos are vanity signs. in fact, they're not giving out some designs to tourists as some designs separate the tourists from the hunters. if you are keen enough, there are also designs that separate the men from the women. if she's sensible enough to tell you (which we were quite lucky that time as we were told she rarely does it), she would tell you if the design would scream "you're gay".

      in all history, what do you think does a tatt signify if not for vanity and pride? she even reminds everyone that tatts are only skin-deep. as translated by simeon, "hindi ko kelangan ng pera. ang tato dala mo hanggang hukay. gusto ko lang ng mahabang buhay."

  6. More importantly, these shots that i've been giving you does not intend to offend you. My whole intention is to INFORM you, that regardless of your adamant stance and self righteousness, you still may be very well WRONG..

  7. Awesome! I'll add this in my bucket list for next year. I'm so excited thanks to your blog.


YOU deserve a holiday!
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