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5th - 7th April


A guy was squatting on the pavement in Bontoc by the Jeepney that was about to take us to Banaue. He was very disheveled, matted hair, goatee beard, a wacky hippy dude on the ganga. But then he got into the Jeepney and I discovered he was the driver. It started raining quite heavily and the road quickly turned into a quagmire, almost a river in fact as he negotiated pot holes, puddles, rubble, broken branches etc. Like a madman he drove round perilous bends, just inches away from sheer drops and a certain death. Lots of landslides and with diggers and dumper trucks adding to the mayhem. They're slowly metalling the road, but it's going to take ages. All par for the course in this part of the world. Anyway we got through OK and I give him a pat on the back for his skill and dexterity, even though it did scare the shit out of me.

There was a classic scene of the Von Von Bus stuck on the edge of the precipice with waterfalls thundering underneath. Would have made a great picture, but the Jeepney was going too fast for a decent shot, so the opportunity was lost.


UNESCO World Heritage Site. Up there, quite literally with the likes of Machu Pichu. Built some 2000 years ago by the Ifugao, the famous headhunters with a sophisticated irrigation system. Also experts in wood carving. 2 day trek to Batad to see the stone walled terraces with the network of rice paddies, drainage channels, waterfalls and narrow embankments, interspersed with patches of jungle. Really had to concentrate on my balance, as some of the embankments were crumbling and the drop was several metres - didn't want another broken ankle. Must be pretty hellish in the wet season, with the leeches as well.

Go to Tappia Waterfall down some very slippery steps covered with moss and lichen for a refreshing dip. Tree ferns everywhere. Very humid - I don't think I've sweated so much since the Pinnacles in Borneo. Stay in Hillside Guesthouse overnight, propped up on concrete pillars overlooking terraces in Batad. The whole area is amazing - post cards simply do not do it justice and covers such a huge area. Highly recommended. And if you have days or even weeks to spare it is a trekkers paradise.

Next day go to the Banaue Mud-Walled Terraces and have my picture taken with the Ifuago tribeswomen bedecked in the national costume. How touristy.


Ifugao Corpse in Death Chair. If died from natural causes, treated with respect. Cared for and carried to sepulchre on mountainside. If murdered, armed with knife and spear and neglected - to make soul angry for vengeance. No upper garments worn by women. Tattoos associated with head hunting - fern leaf, dog, eagle, centipede, scorpion. Men have necks, chest and arms tattooed, women arms only. Cock-fight dance.

Negrito tiny when compared to Roy Barton, photographer 5' 10" tall. Head basket for someone's head. Kalinga shields and spears tattoo motifs. Pattung ( wooden clapper) used in war dance to avenge a murdered person. Sorcery boxes - small statues used in vengeance and retribution - source of disease. Like Voodoo. Minahut Hipag - handle of gong made from jaw of vanquished enemy.

Rice ritual boxes with stylised pig heads - used by priests - blood of chickens and pigs. Bontoc Locust Containers - captured in nets - then boiled and dried. Kinabbigat - House God. King Post to support roof of wealthy Ifugao houses. Ifuago wooden lounging bench - hagabi and coffin - tiking.


Animism and Ancestor Worship. Female Mombaki dousing the pigs in rice wine prior to slaughter. A man with a beastly willie - chimera. Fertility symbols with erect penises. Head Hunting continued until 1913, when the Americans persuaded the local villagers from practising decapitation. But unofficially it still went on until the 1950's. Display post for freshly cut heads. Wigan and Bugan - the Ifuago version of Adam and Eve, Brother and Sister incest. The bent ones - women bent double through planting rice. Ifuago boy with frightened hair, as he's about to circumsized.

The Head Hunters - info sheet posted on wall in People's Lodge, Banaue

To the Western observer, accustomed to the specialisation, isolation and fragmentation of all social experience, the unity and fluidity of tribal life will come as a revelation. Where Westerners project personal distance and abstraction through such basic relations as monetary exchange, social status and hierarchies of power, these simple tribes people engage each other immediately, through gifts and rewards, constant concern and affection, and collective rather than individual conceptions of well-being, happiness and abundance.

Maybe a lesson for us all, but not so sure about the head hunting bit - but there again.


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Home Service done the smart way