BAGUIO ON A WHIM. It was a cool Saturday dawn. Relief at last from the forty plus plus hours of the work week. I emerged from the office with the urge to hop on a provincial bus just to satisfy my sudden craving for the most rustic, old-fashioned, and ethnic experience available these days.
At three in the morning, there was no bus leaving for Baguio at the Victory Liner terminal in Cubao. Instead, there was a van already packed with passengers that only needed one to leave for Baguio. That’s me.
COMMUTER’S LUCK. Upon reaching Dau in Pampanga, all thirteen passengers left the van for the Hot Air Balloon Festival at Clark Air Base. Worried, I asked the driver, tutuloy pa po ba kayo ng Baguio? Driver said Oo naman.
At the last hour of the trip, we were on Kennon Road. It’s been a long time since I traveled via the zigzag road because public buses usually don’t take this route to Baguio. So in a van with only me as the passenger, the driver was fond of making several stops on this scenic drive up for picture-taking.
TAM-AWAN VILLAGE. There was heavy traffic on the main road leading to the downtown area when we entered the city. Baguio in mid-February until the week of Panagbenga Festival becomes unusually crowded with tourists so I avoided going further to the mandatory tourists attractions and instead went straight to Tam-awan Village.
Tam-awan Village was established by National Artist Ben Cabrera in 1995 to promote the works of local contemporary artists and to revive the traditions and ethnic life in the Cordilleras.
HOUSES ON STILTS. The compound has a replica of an Ifugao village centuries away from how the Summer Capital looks today. A footpath that ascends and descends a steep trail of earth and rock leads visitors to the different vantage points or tam-awan on this overlooking garden-hill.
In a clearing are traditional pyramidal houses on stilts that can be rented out by visitors to experience living in a rustic, high-perched space. Beneath the shadow of the uplifted structures sits hand-carved gods of the granary that also doubles as fertility deities.
VILLAGE ATO. Highland community life centers in the spacious ato that serves as council house for community elders, dormitory of boys and travelers. The structure is usually constructed from old pine wood and topped by a bulky cogon roof. Ifugao building tradition dictates that the ato must not be roofed with metal tin sheets because the visiting spirits of their ancestors would certainly not appreciate a roof made noisy by rain.
In Tam-awan Village, the ato houses a rustic cafe that serves locally grown chilly stuffed with cheese then deep fried, french fries made from mountain-grown potatoes, and my personal favorite -an all-day breakfast meal served with freshly brewed mountain coffee. The feast goes down well while interacting with Tam-awan’s resident artists and cultural performers.
BAGUIO ART. In Tam-awan Village shops and galleries is Baguio art, those spontaneous, experimental, and intuitive kind that gave the art in the highlands the signature feel that is hard to equal.
Baguio is a busy colony of sculptors and painters whose creative works of interpreting and mixing mediums tell stories of their history and ethnicity as seen in the abstract paintings of Alfonso Dato and solar drawings of Jordan Mang-osan. Cordillera artworks can narrate exciting stories about their pantheon gods, Kabunian and Lumawig and the adventures of first sculptor of the bulol idol and culture hero, Wigan or a pictorial epic of the Ifugao village life.
RHYTHMS AND RITUALS. The total experience of village life in Tam-awan is when young Ifugao men performs mesmerizing rhythms by pounding three hand-held brass gangsas.
This percussive concert is a vital part of every Ifugao ritual from birth and marriage to death and of communal ceremonies like praying for rain and bountiful harvest or victory in tribal wars and during the sacrificial rites of the cañao.
EPILOGUE. With the playing of the hand gongs, the young Ifugao men bounded in long, red g-strings and the women in their best colored tapis danced in a circle with fluttering bird-like movement.
The ritualistic purpose of each dance is explained and the those gathered to watch were invited to beat the brass gong and dance among the Tam-awan villagers.