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Records of a journey in 1990
19th - 20th - Nasablutan
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20th July - Nasablutan
 
After dinner last night Gang-gang, Moses and I sat around the fire having a long conversation about local politics. Or, more precisely, Moses and Ganggang had the conversation with Moses translating rare snippets. It was frustrating, as the snippets were fascinating. “There was a fight over that hill in 1988. 8 CPLAs were attached by maybe 1,000 NPAs.” Nervous laugh: “oh, only one died”.
 
Apparently Gang-gang also took part in an ambush on a lot of soldiers who were driving up the Chico road in jeeps and an armoured car. This was before the 1986 peace-pact between Balweg’s wing (based around Butbut) of the NPA and Aquino. I asked if he’d been with the NPA. “Oh no, it was to revenge the soldiers for killing one from this place”. The fact that the ‘one from this place’ was with the NPA was seen as entirely irrelevant, suggesting that army was simultaneously fighting a guerrilla and tribal war and probably having trouble telling the two apart.
 
I was also told that I am the 2nd Americano to go to Nasablutan. Two others were brought here by a ‘guide’ from Butbut proper who then demanded 500 pesos a day for his services. When they refused to pay he got out his gun, so they coughed up and presumably had an anxious trip home. The two American drug enforcement people who came by chopper didn’t seem to count.
 
As the fire died Gang-gang asked if I was staying one night or two. I wasn’t sure, it depended on how things went. “One, maybe two” I said; a poor answer, because custom dictates that hosts sleep alongside guests who only stay one night. More than one and you can sleep with your wife. Gang-gang, true to his customs, went to get his sleeping mat and joined us around the fire.

I woke in a feint dawn light shivering. Gang-gang made a suggestion that Moses translated: “You want to drink basi?” – sugar cane based booze. It was brewed in four huge earthenware jars, kept air-tight by mud plugs wrapped in plastic bags tied up with inner-tube. Gang-gang was apologetic about it being only 3 months old. It was syrupy, with a yeasty molasses flavour; like bad port without any grapes. We sat on a tree trunk, warming as the basi hit home and the sun rose over the forest horizon. It must have been 7am.
 
 

Gang-gang and Ben Neild in Nasablutan
It was time to ask the question. Gang-gang knew I was writing a book and presumably wondered what I would say in it. I wanted to photograph the marijuana plantation and photograph the people working it, particularly the lady with the goitre. Marijuana - cash for people who can’t afford iodised salt – I would argue. Why shouldn’t they grow it?  But I couldn’t talk to Gang-gang direct. I had to depend on Moses. He took my suggestion in, considered it and said “Ok, I will ask Ganggang, but not now, by and by”. I never spotted the moment when he did ask, but at little later he took me aside.
 
“Gang-gang says the plantation is very far and it is guarded by the CPLA. It is better we do not go there, because maybe they mistake us for secret agent or something like that”. 
“No problem, that’s fine.” I was probably more relieved than disappointed. 
 
I moved the subject to the Palpaliwat.
 
It took Gang-gang some time to think about his Palpaliwat and prepare for the moment. Bragging about who you’ve killed when vengeful relatives live in nearby villages bears thought. Later he admitted to Moses that he had left quite a few things out. When he was ready, Gang-gang took a deep breath, gave an attention grabbing screech and worked his way a number of verses, all full guttural rolls and dramatic emphasis. It was in some Bubbut village tongue, reserved for poetry I think, which Moses, who only lives only 15 miles away, couldn’t understand.

When Gang-gang was finished he paused to recover himself and then started chatting with Moses again. One comment had Moses wide-eyed. He translated, hiding a look of shocked amusement, behind his hand.
“Gang-gang says that in 1978 he killed a man as revenge. He had been killing carabaos (water buffalo). Ganggang and his friends, they then cut him, remove his liver, cook it and eat it”. An incredulous laugh. “He says that he is ashamed, but he also says that the liver of a man is very delicious; much better than the liver of a pig”.
 

Click here to listen to the Palpaliwat of Ganggang.   Click here to read the transcript.

It’s still not that unusual to take a trophy from the body of someone you’ve killed up here. The Japanese tourist who was killed leaving Buscalan a few months ago had his ears and dick cut off, as did the priest Leo over in Tanudan some years back. Old habits… 
 
Gang-gang said the Japanese guy’s murder was to settle an outstanding blood debt from World War II. It just got avenged 45 years later. Part of the truth I suspect, but probably not the whole story. (I asked around, trying to find out whey he was killed. Click here for the reasons I was given).
After an early lunch we said our good-bye's and began the five hour hike back to Luplupa. Gang-gang gave us a sugar-cane for the journey. He thought hard when asked if he'd like anything from the west. "A pipe" he concluded.

The descent, through forest and a mountainside, followed the ruins of Father Gilbert’s overly ambitious and now ruined irrigation scheme. Moses was very jumpy, worrying that landslides might give under our feet. He had to go first.

At one point he suddenly dashed forwards and made us take shelter behind a big rock. I had no idea what was going on. “People” said Moses “someone is up there, did you not hear the knock?”. I hadn’t. After 15 minutes of straining for unusual sounds above rustling cogon grass we decided it was nothing.

Apart from a downpour, spent sheltering in a largely ruined hut, chomping, sucking and spitting out great clods of sugar cane, the journey was uneventful. The path was a lovely, slow descent above the beautiful Tulgeo –Dananao valley.
 
But I think we’re both pretty happy to be back in Luplupa and ‘home’.

Moses crossing a rock-fall carrying a sugar-cane Gang-gang gave us as a parting gift.

16th July - Tinglayan to Butbut
17th - 18th - Saklit & Lecong
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