Wild Time in Banaue

Sunny Thomas is a good friend who has traveled the world and lived for years in the Philippines.
This is her recollection of a trip she took to Banaue during the ‘70s. I think you’ll find it as fascinating as I do.

“A guy who was a physical therapist at the Clark AB hospital used to take groups up to Banaue. I went once back before 1970 (my first trip of three to the rice terraces). From a base in Baguio, we visited a remote village in the Cordillera. There was a peace corps guy there and a kid who was obviously his—nobody thought anything of it. We were there for some big event that was explained as a celebration of all the people who had been married, as in living together or had kids, in the past whatever time frame, recall it was maybe five years.

“People still wore g-strings and native garb, and women were topless with woven shirts. Younger people were then covering up more such as when they did native dancing for the “tourists” at the “hotels” in town (a lady who rented out rooms and made you a meal).

Visitors signing books were Sierrra Club hikers and an Audubon group and European long-term adventure travelers. Few, if any, Filipinos had been there back then, even the people who had been to Europe and the states and other spots in Asia such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

“There were stakes with carabao heads on them as we entered, on a hike we came across men in total traditional garb eating raw meat with blood running down their arms and faces. They seemed very startled by us, understandably, and we got the impression they were sneaking the food or practice of the raw meat. It was carabao, since a huge dead carcass was lying there, and it was meat for the feast/festival.

“Ladies pounded rice and chanted, stuff cooking all over, we entered homes and bought some of their stuff. I remember feeling weird but wish I’d had more guts to buy more stuff. One fabulous handmade on cotton string necklace I got had a US Air Force uniform button as one of the parts or beads. It was falling apart and I took it to a jewelry shop that had antique stuff in Manila, and the lady there ruined it with her modern adaptation since it was “crude and dirty.” She made me so mad. I was insistent that it just get restrung on similar stuff and not changed. It’s still sitting on my shelf in the living room.

“So, that little book thing was something that we saw up in Baguio at the library or museum as I recall, and I recognized people and photos from our trip. We stayed in a hotel that had like family bedrooms, one was in Banaue, Bontoc, and can’t recall where else. Oh, a youth hostel the first night that was on the edge of the rice terraces that we saw for the first time when we got up. That was the plan.

“There was a night at the old home, now an inn, of Richard Byers, the first American sent to see what was up there after the Americans defeated Spain in the war that ended up where Philippines became an American possession. He went with his wife, who was said to be carried in a litter or chair since she was “a lady” but she died of consumption (TB, rampant in the damp and chilly mountains then and when I was there), and Byers married a tribal chief’s daughter and had kids. A descendant is Julie Byers who was up at that house/inn, so her child would be (soon) born in Banaue (could have been Bontoc, they are running together). That child would not be over 40 years old today!

“Can’t wait to go up there again! Hopefully very soon! Have to skirt rainy season I guess, but it’s high on my list. Kalinga has become a tourist destination for more ordinary people vs. the really intrepid traveler from what I see on the web and travel TV. Want to investigate the fascinating history more, too. Have a Sunny day!”

Sunny Thomas



One Response to Wild Time in Banaue

  • Anne "Sunny" Thomas says:

    Funny, I am anticipating a trip to the states for 6 weeks coming up in a few days, when I return a friend will be coming with me and we’ll go to rice terraces. My first return there in about 35 years. I googled around and came up with this blog (author Vic Warren) and I saw my commentary of a long ago trip and found a few corrections — on myself! One is “women were topless” (some not all) and wore backstrap loom woven SKIRTS not shirts! Also, Bontoc and Banaue are very different places and I apologize for saying they “are running together” that meant in my memory. By the way, on this trip (Nov 2011) we are hoping to visit a village (Bataad) that can only be reached by hiking in. I’m sure things have changed, but from the looks of it it is still not on the main stream tourist route. I will report in.

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