Pushing on today, I made it to about the half-way mark: Bontoc.
Bontoc was one of the towns that I had made it a goal of mine to visit because of one particular fascination of mine: the ancient headhunters.
Warring tribes all throughout the mountain areas have feuded for hundreds of years over land, power and mating rights with the women. And I wasn’t aware of this before I went, but a missionary had set up a museum, the Bontoc Museum, years ago when he’d arrived to rape the local people of their then-current belief system. Funny – even ironic – I thought, that Christianity would aim to remove all traces of the local belief system which included beheading, worshiping ancestors and honoring gods of unknown western appreciation, and then turn around and build a memorial commemorating its amazing past.
I wasn’t able to get much information about the family lifestyles, but I definitely hit the major points in the museum. There was a Frenchman who wandered into this area in the 1970s when the culture was still in full swing and not yet inhibited by any western conservative movements. He captured the life that existed here on film and published a book of the best of those prints. [I have been unable to find this author’s name and would love it if someone would leave that information in a comment at the end of this blog]
In his book there are so many telling photos that show situations where men had just come back from a headhunting party where they had the headless loser of the battle tied up and hanging like a pig from a bamboo strewn between two carriers. They would bring their spoils back to the village, remove the face of the fallen prey, keeping it as a trophy, and tattoo a patterned series of lines on their chest marking their success amongst their battles.
How amazingly far flung, I thought, from our current accepted way of life these people are. Nestled in this little country at some far reach of the world, why, too, would their culture not be just as foreign?
Headhunting, as I found out, was not the work of mad people bent on control or power or because of some strange right of passage. As things went, there were no rules that might keep people from killing each other and taking their land, their animals, their women and on and on. So, instead of warring on a tribe-wide scale, the village leaders would simply send out two snipers and a small contingent of soldiers to find the opposing leaders – the few people in charge of waging the violence in the first place – and, simply put, come back with their heads; guaranteeing that these orders would not see their way to fruition and certainly sending a message to any who might follow in their footsteps.
The pictures that I saw in this museum showed men with six and seven rows of these tattoos indicating their take of the men who’d otherwise have their memory emblazoned across their chests. Men sat in the proverbial Asian squat, holding up their latest trophies from the massacre – the eyeless face of the man who’d not fought hard enough, or the man who’d been taken by surprise in his sleep, or the man who’d been turned in by his own people at the risk of losing their own heads in his stead.
The stories, too, were captivating. I stood reading every etched piece of wood, every banner and sign in the museum – all of them depicting the shortened history of a certain village or strain of people living their lives in their unique ways, wearing their unique cloth-work and providing the camera with their own lives in the villages they lived in.
I won’t soon forget the many interesting things that I found there. And I apologize that I don’t have any photos from the location. But the video below should do a good job at staving off the fiendish demand for the answers to the curiosity for secrets of the Ifugao headhunters.
Back on the road, I headed northward. More on that trip and the gallery from the mountains of Sagada in the next journal. Until then, enjoy Part Four of Travel Geek: Documentary Philippines!