By: Jena Isle

The mournful chant reverberated through the small four walls of the hut…” Aieeeee”.

Guinnaban – 9 at that time – was cowering in the eerie shadows. He was staring at the wrinkled woman wailing for the gaunt, pale corpse laid on the long table. The head of the corpse was at a grotesque angle, almost totally severed from his body.

“ Uma nangwa kansika anna?” ( Who have done this to you?) the woman wailed even louder.

“Aiieeeeee”….. everyone joined in and the hut became a cacophony of mournful cries.

The barrio captain motioned to the elders for a conference and they filed outside, their faces grim and murderous. Outside, a heated and frenzied debate took place.

Finally, the barrio captain raised his arm and shouted amidst the din, “ Intakkon no, umma uwayon yo, ittod tako kanida de kingwada.”( Then what are we waiting for? Let’s avenge his death.)

And so a full blown “tribal war” had began.

Guinnaban, grew amidst these bloody chaos caused by two warring tribes, who both fought for domination over the municipality. He accepted it as a way of life: the constant refuge in the deep forest even in the stillness of the night when the “enemy” had come to attack and the code of silence even when all he wanted was to protest at the top of his voice at the injustice of it all – these had become routine occurrences for him. And at age 10, he had stood as a sentinel on one of the night watches.

The “enemy” did not select their victims. Women and children were not spared by their avenging spears and bolos. Men had their heads always severed from their bodies, as a symbol of victory. The victor would bring home the grotesque, bloody head and would proudly display it like a trophy in their barrio. The warriors would dance gleefully around it till the wee hours of dawn. Head-hunting was normal and considered a warrior’s noble deed.

It is for this reason that women and children did not dare venture outside their barrio’s perimeter unless escorted by warriors.

He was 12, when a Belgian, missionary priest , Fr. Carl Belucci, visited their far flung barrio. Everyone was wary of him. What did this white haired man with a long aquiline nose want with them? He was not the enemy surely but might he be a spy? No one wanted to welcome Fr. Belucci and his companions to their nipa huts.

Guinnaban could not explain what prompted him to approach the priest, “ You are not here to help us, are you?” he queried, his big round eyes – probing and curious.

“I am here not only to help, “ the priest said in his soft, mellow voice.

Guinnaban believed him. At his age, he had a keen perception of people. He can perceive just by looking at people’s eyes, whether they were sincere or not; and he knew, the priest was his salvation.

From then on, Guinnaban served as the altar boy in each Holy Mass the priest celebrated. He began to listen to Fr. Belucci and learned that there is salvation for everyone, even for his enemies.

The elders however, were too far gone to forgive and forget whatever the sins of the past were, and continued with their thirst for vengeance. Some younger men, pleaded with the elders to forge a peace pact with the other tribe to end the senseless war.

They started proceedings but it seemed that their efforts were futile, there was still no vestige of reconciliation.

It was at this time that Fr. Belucci was called back to the parish church in town as it was becoming increasingly dangerous for him to stay on, in the barrio.

“Do you want to come with me?” Fr. Belucci asked Guinnaban, two days before his scheduled departure.

“You can continue serving as an altar boy and can go to school simultaneously.”

“But what about ina and ama?” Guinnaban wanted to go, but feared for the safety of his parents.

“They can come with you.” The old priest patted his head.

So on that gloomy, Monday morning, Guinnaban and his parents got what little was left of their belongings and joined Fr. Belucci in his 5 hr-trek to town.




  1. You are a gifted writer! I can tell! I know those stories as I am quite familiar with the way of life of some Kalinga tribes. You are able to convey a very clear picture of reality, somehow.

    I am a frustrated writer but I haven’t yet ventured into something like this. I am working on a draft of true-to-life stories of a Pinay here in the UK.

    I think we are of kindred spirits.

  2. Pinoy around the world, thanks for commenting. I appreciate it a lot. I can see that we are indeed kindred spirits. You can write, so keep writing. Your plan of writing about true to life experiences of Pinoys abroad is an excellent idea. Then look for an editor and publisher.

    It maybe your step to stardom. Wish you all the best.

    Btw, I will be posting the rest of the story next week. Happy blogging.

  3. I love your writing style. I will definitely be back to read more.

    thanks for dropping by my site with your comment.

  4. Hi Jena, it’s a very interesting piece. You do a great job of drawing the reader into the story. I’m looking forward to the next part.

  5. Jena,

    I saw this post some time ago but I have no time to read it (at least I admit it lol!, but I guess I am going to read it until you finish posting the story.

    Did you put this in a book yet? This could be a good reading for young people who needs to know other parts, traditions and life in the Philippines.

    I came to know Kalinga Apayao in my college days, the last years of Government’s Total War Policy against the communist rebels. Too bad that the most affected by that policy are the innocent people of Kalinga Apayao.

  6. dear jenaisle, very suspenseful written and easy to read. Thank you. There ar some question, that crossed my mind, while reading it.
    Why did the violence start. What is the reason?
    Why are children and women slaughtered?
    What is a barrio?
    Blessings ray

  7. Thanks Ray for the visit…and for those questions. I forgot that readers from other parts of the globe may not understand quite well the culture and social structure in the mountain provinces. I guess, I will have to include some paragraph explaining these.

    But to answer your question; a barrio is a small cluster of community consisting of about 100 to 300 families .( You can call it also a village)and there are many such “barrios ” in Kalinga. Each barrio is very particular and defensive of territorial boundaries. “Trespassers” are not welcome and are considered “enemies”. Visitors from other barrios are only welcomed when an agreement (peace pact) “bodong” in the native lnaguage is undertaken by both tribes (barrios).

    When a member of the family is killed, this is avenged as a barrio crime. It is a “your barrio against mine” principle, so any person – be it a woman or child from that particular barrio , is considered fair play.

    If you are interested in the whole process. Do visit my Kalinga blog and you’ll learn more, Thanks for the interest and for your insightful comment.I appreciate it a lot.

    Drop by anytime you can. Happy blogging.

  8. Jenaisle, That was great. Like your previous com-mentor on this post, you got me interested in your culture and history. I will go check out your other blog also, and I think I may start a little historical reading. Unfortunately I am not familiar with your history at all, but I suspect I will be correcting that situation very soon.

  9. Hi Shawn,

    It's never too late, sorry for the sin of omission. You might think, I'm acting like a prima donna…lol.. thanks. You may come and go as you please. Cheers.

  10. peace and democracy always come in the end, albeit with a price. i have heard a lot of stories of the headhunters of the highlands.

    to outsiders, this is outright barbarism. little did they know that it is their culture, their pride and their way of life.

    made me think about the japanese when the whites came. the japanese had a big thing with honor and integrity that they could easily commit sepukku, sometimes even enemies would help them do it by cutting their heads off. doing this (cutting the heads of the enemy) is honorable.

    again outsiders view this as an act of barbarism. them and their first world arrogance.

  11. How right you are. To be able to understand the Kalinga culture, you have to live with them.

    It's just like what I've read in your blog, about how one is able to understand something when one gets to experience it firsthand; that no matter how many books you've read about it, if you don't experience it, then you can nevery truly understand…lol….

    More power to you!

  12. This story is quiet interesting, Jena…I'm not familiar with the Kalinga tribes & had been to Baguio only once… can't wait for the next episode:))

  13. Hi Shawie,

    I have roots from Kalinga and our culture is rich and colorful. That was why I created a blog devoted just for this topic.

    Happy blog hopping and all the best.

  14. First of all, I want to say how I love your new look—fresher, sleeker, and neater.
    Wow,this is a beautiful story. You are a brilliant writer.

  15. Hi Bingkee,

    I am honored with your visit. Thanks for those generous words.
    You write well yourself, girl.

    Good luck with your new blog.

  16. Not much is written about the tribes here in the mountains. This is awesome! I'm aware that headhunting activities do happen, even up to these times.

    Is this a real story?

    • Hello Gem

      Thanks for the generous comment. The beheading is true, I witnessed it as a young girl. This story is grounded on truth with fiction. Most of the names are fictitious.


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