In the little town of Lubuagan, Alonzo Saclag is a local attraction. As an artist full of dreams and big-scale projects, he keeps organizing new events or inviting new people. His 72 years haven’t yet been able to quench his curiosity of life. His main pursuits are those of lasting peace and preservation of Kalinga culture.
Self-taught, he took the path of music and performance of arts at a young age to promote the Kalinga culture. He formed the first troupe of Kalinga dancers, the Kalinga Bodong Dance Troupe, as a way to teach performance of Kalinga arts and pass his passion on to younger ones. His major contribution to the Philippines’s culture was recognized in 2000 when he became National Living Treasure Awardee by the National Commission on Culture and Arts.
His love of performance shines through his everyday life, and greatly so when he tells stories. He tells of ants, trees, birds and mythical creatures, and his hands, his moves and faces make the whole story come alive: you feel the wind from the wings of birds that flock to the flute player, you ponder with the ants that struggle to move a little piece of meat, you relish the tobacco smell that made the Chalichag* stop misleading his victim in the woods.
In his thirst for the preservation of Kalinga culture, 10 years ago he bought a land where he started to build a village of traditional houses and planted seedlings. With the help of his family and of labourers (who keep coming even though he isn’t always able to pay them), he has built 6 octagonal houses made entirely of wood, without nails or screws. Alonzo describes with shiny eyes the trees that will grow there, the symphony of bird songs that will wake the inhabitants in the morning, the small rice terraces that will be laying downhill. He still wants to build 15 houses before he will consider the village finished.
A main aspect of Kalinga culture is their peace processes. Peace pacts, called bodong, are the way that tribal conflicts are usually resolved. For all intents and purposes, Bodong becomes law in the village. Each tribe involved then chooses a “Bodong Holder”, usually someone who has lost a loved one in the conflict, who will be in charge of making sure that the bodong is respected in his tribe.
Uncle Alonzo is Bodong Holder for 3 tribes, but longs for an amendment of the Bodong. Bodong was designed in another epoch, before Christianity, before Americanisation. On some points, Bodong seems to have lost relevance. For example, Kalingas nowadays study in Manila or Baguio, or work abroad: they do not all live in their village of origin anymore. Or, in case of a rupture of bodong, the old custom of punishing any member of the other tribe instead of the offender himself now seems cruel to many. Uncle Alonzo firmly believes in the value of Bodong as tribal law, and dreams of an amended Bodong that would be the base of Kalinga practices, a living Bodong instead of an obsolete tradition.
In this amended Bodong, Bodong-bound subtribes would also commit to help each other should they meet abroad; the members living outside of Kalinga would not be expected to take part in tribal conflict; only the offender would have to answer for his offences. These measures would prevent retaliation and escalation of violence, and the New Bodong would take one more step towards peace.
Uncle Alonzo is already planning a big event in April 2015 to celebrate the New Bodong. Uncle Alonzo’s plan is to look for attorneys and teachers to help him draft the New Bodong, and then set up a theatre play telling the story of Bodong. The event will take place in the village (by then all the houses will hopefully be constructed), and invitations will be sent to all the Bodong Holders in Kalinga. He hopes that the other Bodong Holders will come, witness the New Bodong, and that this new bodong held with Alonzo’s 3 tribes will set a precedent and will be adopted by the other holders.
Looking past the letter of the law to its spirit, and working on a new alliance that moves away from violence … is that ringing a bell? It looks like Uncle Alonzo is walking in the footsteps of Christ, working for peace and justice while preserving his culture. We were very fortunate to meet him.
* In Kalinga culture, the Chalichag is a supernatural being who lives in the woods and makes his victims walk in circles, always going back to the place they are trying to leave. It is said that he dislikes the smell of cigarettes, and stops “playing” when he smells it.