Tag Archives: Luzon

Photo Collection: The Field Experience

Survey the beach!!

Future archaeologists? 🙂

Exploring the mangrove area

The Baby Jesus

R and R at the beach

Our last sunrise in the field

Note: Photos in this collection can also be found in my flickr account, alon89.

I decided not to post photos of the archaeology itself as publications and press materials about the site have not been released yet.

The Field Experience

By Kert

The Archaeologist’s guns (Image via assemblage.group.shef.ac.uk)

There’s always something charming about archaeological sites. Perhaps it’s the history of the place, or the deep cultural meanings and values enveloping that certain space. Or perhaps it’s the idea of being able to uncover the long-forgotten stories and the lives of past peoples frozen in that piece of land. There are so many reasons why Archaeology is an interesting subject and why it is so addictive to join archaeological excavations.

This year I was given the chance (which I am very thankful for) to be once again a member of an archaeological team investigating a site in Southern Luzon. I’ve been a part of the team for five consecutive seasons and there’s always something interesting to find each year. The site is very rich with archaeological material and the field still continues on.

The archaeology of the place is very exciting. It is just a few yards away from the beach (a very strategic place not only for the past peoples but also for us excavators). It is a burial site around a thousand or so years old. We found more than 60 burial jars – primary and secondary – and a handful of extended burials. These burials are topped by various forms of covering – cairns, slabs and grooved markers. Some jars also have tridacnae markers on top of them. Shell midden and pots are also present in the area, which may suggest that there are areas for offerings in the site. The jar burial culture of the site coincides with the burial procedures across the country and many parts of Southeast Asia and also early Japan (where they used two jars placed together mouth-to-mouth as burial). Several grave goods are also associated with the burials such as beads (one jar has more than 300 beads), shells and blades. One of the students from  our Australian counterpart wrote about the mortuary practices exemplified in the site but I have yet to read her research.

Aside from the archaeology, the fieldwork (not just this fieldwork, but every other fieldwork) is also interesting for its group dynamics. Everyday in the field is routine speckled by bits of fun and so many opportunities to learn not just about the site but also about the people around. In the field, you also learn about life and humanity. It sounds like a cliche but it’s true. The history and the material culture of the site are the main focus in an archaeological dig, but there are also many dimensions to it. The fieldwork is not a hollow space. It is a social space with different dynamics going on between people — between the locals and the members alike.

The fieldwork is not “reality” for the excavators and even for the locals. For the excavators, the field isn’t daily life. It is so much different and for many, it requires so much adjustments. It’s an alien environment surrounded by unfamiliar things.

Of course, the fieldwork is an opportunity to meet new people and even meet new friends from the locals and even from the team itself. Where I joined, there were familiar faces but there were also a lot of new people. Thankfully, my social skills are getting better and I became friends with many of them.

However, since it’s an alien environment, we only get to interact amongst ourselves. Imagine three weeks interacting with the same people and without escape. Much like being in Big Brother. Of course, tensions would arise and it’s usually about the pettiest things one could imagine. Different personalities get mashed in one space. Everything, every sensation, every emotion is heightened in the field as people become vulnerable from being detached from their real lives for some time.

Amidst the goings-on in the field, some of these new faces end up as good friends. I’ve gained a lot of amazing friends from the field — friends who have been there for me and helped me during my low moments, friends who have accepted me for who I am. These friendships last for a lifetime. I never saw some of the good friends I gained after the field (which makes me sad), but we still continue to be friends until now. And for those who come back, it is always a breath of fresh air to see them again.

As for the locals, the field season is the time when foreign people (even Filipinos from the team are foreign in the area) enter their lives. For some, life goes on and they are apathetic to the excavation. But for most locals, these new people are everywhere — walking in the beach, swimming in the sea, riding their boats, meeting them face-to-face on the roads, buying stuff from their stores. For three weeks, these foreign people enter their lives. And these locals also get involved in what these weird foreign people are doing. They visit, become curious, ask around and even help out in the archaeological activities. It’s always great to meet a curious local who’s interested to learn about what’s going on in the site and how it is connected with his/her past.

After three weeks, these foreign people leave. There is an abrupt disjunction to all the commotion that was stirred. For many of them, there is sadness in not seeing the people they’ve become accustomed in seeing everyday for three weeks. Every year, I see a couple of locals cry when we leave. We are sad too for we’ve become friends with many of them. Much more than being locals or more than being informants, they’ve become our buddies and they let us enter their lives.

A person must know how to tread in the field. One is never on his/her own so it’s not fair to only think about one’s self. Again, the field is not just about the archaeology but also about the community around. After a day’s worth of digging, one must face the people who make up an essential part of the field.

Lastly, I’d like to point out than an archaeological dig is more than just digging in the sandbox. It is also more exciting than an Indiana Jones film (in terms of archaeology, the people and experience). It is a mishmash of scientific and social encounters. There’s always something new to learn every season.

Note: Photos will follow tomorrow.

Photo Collection: Mountains and Tattoos

First stop, Bontoc

Mind the betel nut you chew

The Sleeping Beauty Inn

The Mountains of Kalinga

Buscalan from afar

A day in the village of Buscalan

A Kalinga House

Whang-Od preparing her tools

The art of tattooing

The Eye


Note: These photos can also be found in my flickr account, alon89

Of Mountains and Tattoos

By Kert

It was deep in the evening when we left the hustle and bustle of Manila to go on the 12-hour drive to Bontoc, Mountain Province. The bus went through several towns, provinces and countrysides; getting colder every hour we’re on the road. There were many tourists and people who were going home for the holidays. Tourists right at our back were on their way to the bonfire in Sagada.

9 AM – we arrived at Bontoc. It was cold. Mountains were in every corner of our sight. A town in the middle of the mountains. We missed  the 9AM jeep to Tinglayan, Kalinga-Apayao so we had to wait for the 1PM jeep. It was already late in the afternoon when we arrived in Tinglayan. The guide told us we should stay the night in the town. We couldn’t trek the mountains in the dark and it was raining. It was the first moment we broke our itinerary. We stayed the night at the Sleeping Beauty Inn and cooked the noodles and canned goods we were supposed to eat up in the mountains. Two travelers were also at the inn when we got there who would come with us later to the village of Buscalan.

I was particularly excited when I woke up the following day. I have heard of the legendary Whang Od from other Anthropology students who have been in Buscalan before me. She is the last expert Mambabatok (tattoo artist) in Buscalan and she’s teaching a 16-year old apprentice, Grace, who is also getting to be a good Mambabatok. Whang Od has been teaching Grace since the girl was 10 years old. Six years in training and she didn’t flinch at the sight of blood and wounded skin.

Whang Od herself is over 90 years old, but her eyes and hands are still as keen as ever. She is amazingly quite strong for her age. The fruits of good diet and clean environment. I saw her feed her pigs and go up and down a ladder with the ease of a 20-year old. She also has the kindest face which reminded me so much of my late grandfather. She has a bright smile and twinkling eyes. Even though we couldn’t understand each other (she spoke her own native tongue and a few English phrases), I found myself reaching out to her.

A living legend (Image via Bruce Liron)

I was tattooed (or hammered) at 1PM; the third person that day to be tattooed. I asked her to decide the design for me and she chose the “eye” motif for spiritual guidance and awareness. It was a two-hour ordeal and I tried to steady myself as I was shaking from the pain and the impact of the thorn being hammered on my arm. I didn’t look as I never really liked the sight of blood, but I was very excited. I have a couple of tattoos on my body, but this was the first time I was getting one with a deep cultural and historical value. It was literally culture imprinted on my skin.

It was late when Whang Od finished tattooing us. I was still amazed how she was able to handle 4 people in one day. However, we couldn’t hike down the mountain as planned. We planned to meet other friends in Sagada that day to see the bonfire. But it was already getting dark and the trail was slippery. One wrong step and we’d be sending ourselves down a cliff and into eternity. We had to cancel. We spent the night at Whang Od’s house with the other travelers we hiked with in the morning. Anyway, it’s always nice to hear stories from strangers.

Early the next morning, we started descending from the village of Buscalan to Bugnay to wait for the jeep to Bontoc. It was high noon when we arrived in Bontoc and we were contemplating if we should go straight to Manila or claim our reserved bus tickets in Baguio. We settled for the latter.

We circled the beautiful mountains of Benguet. The sights were breathtaking. Terraces are sculpted at the sides of the mountains and they were filled with lush vegetables. Many a-times we caught ourselves looking down upon clouds and mists. It felt like being in The Hobbit really. Everything was so green and teeming with life. Eventually we got ourselves talking about Lorax and environmentalism. I wondered how much of the Philippines still look as green as the sights we were seeing from the bus.

It was a very dizzying ride as the roads were never straight, always in a zigzag. Baguio is distinct from the rest of Benguet. It was easily distinguishable that we were approaching the city as the trees and terraces were replaced with houses and structures that one can no longer recognize the mountains. I wonder if the spaces were thoroughly planned. Baguio is prone to earthquakes after all.

We started the trip at night and we also ended it at night. Three days in the mountains. We barely had a shower but it was indeed one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. As a friend said, the good thing about traveling up north is you’ll never know what to expect. There’s always something different and memorable in each visit.

Admittedly, I had troubles with the hike. Being a sedentary teacher, I was really out of shape. But I will indeed come back again and see the beautiful highlands and visit Whang Od too of course.

Note: Photos of the trip will be posted later. And a post about the trip from one of the travelers we were with: Kalinga: Buscalan’s Whang Od, the Pretty Tattoo Artist

Blood had been spilled in the lands of Tarlac: Commemorating the 8th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre

By Kert

“The land is my life” (Image via Harvey Keh’s blog)

The land is life for Filipinos and it’s more than just a metaphor. It is the source of their food, the clothes on their backs and the roofs on their heads. It sustains the family in more ways than one. And it can even be a source of hope. It is not at all surprising that every family in the country wishes to have a patch of land where they can plant rice, corn, sugarcane and other crops.

The farmers of the 6,443-hectare Hacienda Luisita, owned by the Cojuangco family through the money of the government, have been waiting so long for the patches of land promised to them. Many of them had or have been working in Hacienda Luisita almost all their lives. It was in 1988 that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP happened. Through CARP, they were given the promise of shares in the land holdings of Hacienda Luisita. Indeed they have every right to these shares. They’re the ones who worked and tilled the land every day with only meager wages. The government is doing the right thing when it declared that the lands be given to the farmers.

But what has happened to that promise now? By this time the lands should’ve been distributed to the farmers already. But yet the promise — CARP — remains unkept.

Yesterday marks the 8th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita where over a hundred farmers demanded and fought for their rights from the Cojuangcos. Cops and soldiers were sent to gain control of the perimeter. After throwing teargas at the picketlines of the farmers, the cops and soldiers started  shooting and firing bullets at them. Thirty people were wounded by gunshots and around two hundred people were injured one way or another. Still, twelve men and two children were killed. Supposedly guards and saviors of the people in this country  carried out this terrible and very brutal massacre. All these for the benefit of the few elites.

It has been 8 years and still, no justice has been served. According to an article in Bulatlat, “the problems that drove the Hacienda farmworkers into launching a strike in 2004 still remain” (Salamat 2012). These problems are “cheap wages, landlessness and trade union repression” (Salamat 2012).

When will they hear the cries for justice? (Image via Vince’s Photobaket)

There’s still a lack of stand and comment from the President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III regarding this issue. His relationship to the Cojuangcos, being a Cojuangco himself, puts him in a very controversial spot. Yet the man still lacks action, and the rest of the Philippines is too enamored by Tito Sotto (who I also dislike, by the way) or by the imagology (see previous post here for definition) of the media.

Our claim of being a democratic country is becoming a joke. Or has it always been a joke? I have no idea. But for sure, if the government still has any ounce of humanity left in its system (and I refuse to think otherwise), it should serve justice. What use does it have if not for the protection of its people?


December 2004. Massacre of Sugar Plantation Workers in the Philippines. Retrieved from http://www.internationalist.org/philippinesluisitamassacre0412.html

Hacienda Luisita. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2012 from the Hacienda Luisita wiki. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacienda_Luisita#Jos.C3.A9_Cojuangco_period

Salamat, M. (2012, November 17). Trade union repression even worsened, 8 years after Luisita massacre – progressive labor. Bulatlat. Retrieved from http://bulatlat.com/main/2012/11/17/trade-union-repression-even-worsened-8-years-after-luisita-massacre-%E2%80%93-progressive-labor/