Witnessing the Week-long Bodong Festival Revelry in Kalinga

I have this image I play in my mind over and over when I think of Kalinga. Apo Whang Od applying a batok (hand-tapping) traditional tattoo on my arm while I regale at the presence of a Dangal ng Haraya awardee. That is how I envision my first visit to the province of Kalinga would be.

Ting Torres
The street dance competition started around 9am and was done by 11pm

As things would turn out, life and other travel plans and writing assignments happened. My desire to set out to the mountainous village of Buscalan was shelved. Up until February of this year, Kalinga remains as one of the 3 or 4 provinces in the Philippines I’ve yet to step foot on.

Kalinga Travel Guide

That changed during the week of the celebration of the Bodong Festival held in Tabuk City.

2023 Bodong Festival

The word "bodong," which signifies a "peace pact," is an indigenous judicial system that dates back to the dark past of the feared headhunting raids prevalent in the province. It was during this time when town elders exert effort to forge a bodong between warring parties in order to end conflict inside and between villages.

Milet Miranda
The Lubuagan Warriors 

Thankfully in modern Kalinga, the practice of headhunting has died out for many decades already. The violent culture of settling scores between opposing individuals, communities, and tribes has been eradicated in certain ways.

Marla Asenjo
Tabuk City from the air

In 2017, a festival was named for those who championed the custom of Bodong in their villages, following the province's rebranding of the Ulalim Festival, which had been celebrated since 1995.

Mica Caballero
Naneng Heritage Village

Cancelled during the pandemic, this year’s 4th edition of the Bodong Festival is also held simultaneously with the 28th Founding Anniversary of the Province after it separated from the former Kalinga-Apayao province in 1995.

Street Dance Competition

Street dancing competition is an essential part of each Philippine festival. As one of the highlights of the festivity, the street dancing competition held near the rotunda along Manuel S. Agyao Boulevard in Tabuk, gave the audience reasons to erupt in wild cheers as contingents from different schools performed dance choreographies and stunts depicting local culture and traditional practices.

Levy Amosin

A common dance movement involves the "banga" dance. Women perform a waltz to the loud drumming beats by balancing up to six stacks of pots over their head. This dance was inspired by women in isolated mountain places who would fetch water from springs, store it in a pot, and carry it back to their towns on their heads.

Ayi Del Rosario

In all the festivals I’ve attended in the country, I find this traditional dance as unique only to Kalinga. After more than a couple of hours the dust settled, and the young performers from Kalinga National High School bested nine other groups to win the Street Dance competition.

The call of a Thousand Gongs, the Dance of a Thousand Pots

In other festivals in the Philippines, the street dance competition would be the crowning highlight. Not in Kalinga though, as cooking up for some time now is the desire to set Guinness World Record for the most number of performers playing the gong instrument and performing the banga dance.


Emily Rose Rosales
The record setting performers getting ready 

The Awong Chi Gangsa, Agtu'n Chi Banga (The call of a Thousand Gongs, the Dance of a Thousand Pots) drew a whopping 3,440 male Gong dancers and 4,681 female Banga dancers. The musicians and dancers, who performed at the Kalinga Sports Complex, met strict performance criteria established by the Guinness World Records, including clean execution and synchrony.

Deniese Torres

Following the spectacular Gong ensemble, which extended past midnight, Guinness official adjudicator Kazuyoshi Kirimura made the record official to the jubilant cheers of the performers and spectators.

Marky Ramone Go

The Awong Chi Gangsa, which signify a call to prosperity and peace, was first performed in 2014 as part of the Ulalim Festival. Since then, hundreds to thousands of performers have participated, making 2018 the first year the province has attempted to set the record.

Naneng Heritage Village

While I know that most visitors come to Buscalan for the obvious reason of seeing Apo Whang-Od and getting a traditional tattoo, I was unaware of another interesting area to visit.

Audrey Trinidad
Local dishes from the slow food community of Pasil, Kalinga

That is until we spent our first night in a homestay at this charming village called Naneng. One of the oldest villages in Kalinga, Naneng is where one can still witness the traditional back strap weaving being practiced, the 1927 Saint Joseph Parish Church and several pre-WWII houses.

Kalinga Travel Guide
Traditional back-strap weaving is still being practiced in Kalinga

Pre-pandemic, this village is a favorite among foreign guests mostly Israelis who would stay in homestays here in between river rafting on the mighty Chico River and hiking to other places.

Martha Herrera
Naneng Heritage Village's field of dreams

The 18-degree evenings, welcoming locals, and the village's fascinating culture made me want to stick around for a longer period next time.

A Glimpse of Apo Whang Od

While my first visit to Kalinga didn’t result into a meeting with Apo Whang Od just as I envisioned it, I was blessed to have caught a glimpse of her. While I was busy helping myself to the buffet during a luncheon at the Provincial Capital, I happened to get a glance of the National Living Treasure nominee (Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan) as she strolled by a few meters away. It turns out that Apo Whang Od was not feeling well, so her companions were bringing her back to their hotel. Otherwise, I would definitely sporting her signature dotted tattoo on my forearm by now.

It wasn’t meant to be but count seeing Apo Whang Od up close for a longer time as among the many reasons I have of coming back to the province of Kalinga. For now, I better start planning my return trip.