I was given the rare privilege of researching the love story of Kalinga’s most beloved mambabatok, Apo Whang-Od, for GMA News TV’s documentary-drama, Wagas.
For my more than half a decade of being a media practitioner, this story is probably one of the most fulfilling assignments I ever did. For one, establishing contacts in the area was not easy given the erratic mobile signal in Whang-Od’s hometown. Also, reaching Buscalan Village, where Whang Od lives, takes 17 hours by land followed by a 10-minute motorcycle ride, and a 30-minute trek (which of course depends on your own pace).
On the research level, doing Whang-Od’s love story was challenging in different layers. Primarily, it’s a tale that has not yet been told before thus we had to rely solely on primary sources and oral traditions to come up with initial premises. There are no published journals or books about Whang Od’s love story. All we knew was Whang-Od was a cultural icon and in all her existence, there might be beautiful epochs that must be told.
Wagas is a docu-drama that focuses on love in all its forms, but the concept of love in Buscalan is not the same as the love that we know. It’s not downright romantic, but it’s passionate still. In theory, love in Buscalan relies on economic foundations that are translated to mutually agreeable terms to all parties involved.
But Whang-Od is a rebel in her own admirable way. She managed to break traditions to be with the man she loved the most. The challenge here for the production was presenting this construct in a way that would capture the interest of audiences while still respecting the cultural heritage of the area.
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Interestingly, the common word of mouth in Buscalan about Whang-Od was not the exact events in Whang-Od’s life. Research was a serious case of triangulation and of systematically assessing facts from rumors through the accounts of Whang-Od, her relatives, as well as the resource persons.
How do we do it right?
We had to listen to Whang-Od as she retold the important events in her life.
Whang-Od told us of three men that she fell in love with. Among the three, one that captured her heart the most was Ang-Batang, a Butbut warrior Whang-Od was head over heels with.
Unfortunately, Ang-Batang’s family disapproved of Whang-Od to be his wife because she was not a pure Butbut. In their culture, marrying a mixed indigenous origin was not allowed.
Like a typical telenovela, Whang-Od and Ang-Batang did not end up marrying each other. As fate would have it, Ang-Batang’s marriage was pre-arranged with another Butbut woman… Hogkajun.
In spite of this, Hogkajun knew she would never own Ang-Batang’s heart. She was aware that all the time she was with Ang-Batang, the man thought of Whang-Od only.
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Thus, she allowed still for Whang-Od and her husband to meet. It hurt the feelings of Hogkajun, but she knew it was the right thing to do.
Whang-Od and Ang-Batang defied traditions. They were ridiculed by their families, but in each other’s arms they found solitude.
Despite all the trials, Whang-Od and Ang-Batang’s love prevailed. They showed the world how love can conquer the unimaginable; the star-crossed; those who were not meant to be. In fact, destiny was not a choice for the two. They conquered fate, and showed that love was mightier than any hurdle.
But death they cannot defeat. Ang-Batang was killed in a bloodshed between the Butbut warriors and the Japanese army trying to invade their land.
Whang-Od was devastated and left alone, but in her heart remains the glorious memories Ang-Batang left with her forever.
Whang-Od never married. As she was telling us her story, her words spoke of true love that knows no boundaries and tim.
Like a tattoo, Ang-Batang is deeply embedded on Whang-Od’s being.
The Start of More Discoveries
In essence, doing Whang-Od’s story is tasking but it was all worth it because of its large contribution to Philippine popular culture that synergistically blends with our cultural history. This story is difficult, but it was definitely worth telling.
This is just the start of unraveling the contexts and meanings of love not just of Whang-Od but of the entire Butbut indigenous group. I hope our efforts in trailblazing this research will encourage other researchers to follow and deepen what we already know by know.
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For anyone who would like to visit Buscalan Village, I suggest you get as guide Whang-Od’s relative Charlie Pan-Oy. He is a good translator, plus he is a local so you won’t have difficulties knowing the ins and outs of the village. He also charges reasonably depending on the length of your stay. His family is also willing to cook for you.
Tell Us Your Love Story Too
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Crazy about popular culture, pre-colonial, and Spanish-era studies. Fan of Christina Aguilera and Katrina Halili.