National Geographic : 1966 Sep
At Vigan I hired a jeep complete with an interpreter-driver, and headed south through rich countryside that resembled a well-kept park beside the blue sea. We turned sharply east near the town of Tagudin, and as the road began to climb, the country changed drastically. Towering bamboo in feathery clumps choked deep gullies. Vines, shrubs, trees, and flowers grew in great tangles. The road became steeper. Waterfalls cascaded onto the road. Ferns and pines began to climb the hills with us. Finally the jeep coughed over the last rise, and we stopped before a memorial commemorating the Battle of Bessang Pass, one of the last in the Philippines, fought from May 17 to June 14, 1945. It read: "The battle, spearheaded by the 121st In fantry of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines, North Luzon, was conceded by the American military authori ties as one of the most terrible and incredibly difficult battles in the entire war...." Bessang Pass. I was ashamed to think I had never heard of it. It seemed unbelievable to me that men could have climbed to this pass bearing the machines of war, under heavy fire from the Japanese. Driving through the narrow pass, we rounded a curve, and I saw a hillside white with Easter lilies. They grew horizontally from the cliff, like trumpets in silent fanfare for the gallant men who died on those slopes. Unwary Once Lost Their Heads in Bontoc We drove on to Bontoc, the "capital" of Igorot country. Part of the town lives in the 20th century; the other part is 2,000 years old. Igorot men, wearing nothing but red-and-white G strings, hunker down in conversation with friends dressed in khaki or denim. Many men carry short iron-tipped spears. It is arresting to see an Igorot, naked except for a G-string and long knife, wearing a plastic snap-brim hat in violent green. A friend in Manila had warned me: "The mountain to the right of Bontoc is very delicate. Twelve farmers were killed there last week and their heads removed." Although I had been practicing keeping my head when all about me were losing theirs, I was a trifle uneasy. No traveler wants to return home a head shorter than when he left. Happily, I met Gabriel Dunuan, then chairman of the Com mission on National Integration in Bontoc, and an Igorot him self. I asked him about the head-hunting. "There is a lot of myth about that," he said. "It was the custom among the Igorots, but it is not going on now." Mr. Dunuan's national commission is charged with estab lishing and raising cultural, social, economic, moral, and politi cal levels for the republic's cultural minorities-among them tribes like the Ilongot that do still practice head-hunting. (A news item from Manila only last April warned Filipino pic nickers: "It's Head-hunting Time Again.") "It's quite a job," Mr. Dunuan said mildly, "something like starting a new nation. "I saw some Ilongots the other day," he said. "They are still naked. 'Look,' I told them, 'I wore a G-string until I was ten. I was fortunate to persist in education. That is the only difference between you and me.' " Mr. Dunuan summed up the problem by saying: "The 344 Constant barrage of pesticides keeps insects at bay in a Min danao citrus grove. Workers in a modern plant, at right, clean, sort, tint, and wax yellow Va lencia oranges, using machinery designed for Florida growers. Since World War II, the gov ernment has sent thousands of homesteaders to Mindanao to relieve the land shortage in overcrowded northern islands. Like the Indians of the Ameri can West, local Moro inhabit ants resisted the intrusion; oc casional skirmishes still take place. Nevertheless, settlers con tinue to move in, clear the land, and establish homes and farms.