The village of Buscalan is 17 hours from Manila. Although our journey was considerably shorter — 10 hours in all from Baguio via Bontoc, Mountain Province — this did not make the last leg of the ascent, which we trod by foot, any less difficult. On our first trip, this climb took two hours. Subsequent trips cut the travel time by at least half, but we still found ourselves out of breath by the end of it. That is what visiting the village means.
But imagine sacks of rice — two 25-kilogram pieces, to be exact — being hoisted up the same unforgiving slope on a person’s back. Or an LPG tank. Or hollow blocks and sacks of cement.
That is what living in the village means for the members of the Butbut tribe.
Buscalan’s isolation — it is two mountains from the nearest concrete road — means supplies have to be either produced right there or procured manually from the lower-lying areas of the town of Tinglayan, to which Buscalan belongs, and manually carried, piece by piece, up to the village. And just like so many people in communities we have visited in the Philippines, the Butbuts’ adaptability was such that even women could carry an LPG tank on their heads, up the mountain, and into their respective homes.
For them, this walk seems negligible.
Without any cellular reception, Buscalan has little in the way of instant communication with the outside. Post is claimed once a week from the Post Office downhill by a villager, who takes the mail up and distributes them to recipients. Cable TV seems available, but in the numerous times we have stayed in the village, we have yet to see a single TV turned on. Even with the kids, TV didn’t seem too appealing, although we noticed that they do like their candies.
Life is unhurried but not idle; in fact, we would always marvel at how long a single day here can last, how much everybody else seemed to accomplish while having more than enough time for siesta.
Buscalan also has some of the oldest – and most agile — people we have ever met. Some of them are so old nobody—even their family members—seemed to know the exact age anymore. And this is not surprising. The Butbut people grow their own food; there is no pollution to grapple with everyday; their daily activities allow them ample exercise. What else, really, do you need to enjoy a good long life?
Whang-od, the tribe’s 95-year-old tattoo artist, wields a scythe as she weeds out a portion of her farm land to plant beans. It is common for old people like Whang-od to still attend to their farms, located a good distance from their huts.
Whang-od bundles corn from this season’s harvest. An agricultural community, Buscalan is surrounded by farm lands terraced from mountain slopes, where villagers plant rice, root crops, and vegetables.
Butbut kids in elementary level slice vegetables for a school competition to end the Nutrition Month. Diet in the village usually comprises vegetables and rice, and kids are taught from a young age how to cook.
Whang-od feeds her pigs outside her home in Buscalan. Pigs play a central role in village life. Families grow and then sell them to other villagers, who may need it for special ceremonies or gatherings.
Photos by Owen and Nikka