Indigenous art has been in the spotlight on different platforms, and Igorot celebrity artist Ammin Acha-ur is the newest champion of its cause.
A recent visitor to Puerto Princess City, Ammin is the lead actress in the indie short film “Headhunter’s Daughter”, which recently bagged the grand jury prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival for short films.
In a recent huddle with Palawan News, Ammin described the film as a pure expression of their Cordilleran culture. Its production from concept to execution, was all focused on conveying its message. The 15-minute film centered on Ammin’s character as Lynn, a Cordillera native who had decided to leave her abode and take to the city so she could audition as a country singer on live television for her father to watch back home.
What must have caught the Sundance judges’ attention, Ammin mused, was the film’s deft portrayal of Cordillera”s post-colonial culture as well as its overall production. The film was directed by Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan, also a Cordilleran.
The film stood out from some 9,000 entries to the Sundance film festival, earning Eblahan props for his return to film.
Before being cast for Headhunter’s Daughter, Ammin ran an indigenous tattoo shop in Baguio City, in the tradition of the great national treasure Whang-Od of the Butbut tribes.
“Recently lang din ako na-introduce sa film. Last year, nag-shoot kami sa Baguio and then earlier this year nong sinali siya sa Sundance. Napaka-unxpected na nangyari na siya ang napili for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize,” she said.
She thinks that the content of the movie has more impact on viewers outside the country, which helped it be recognized for the award. The film was shown for free in Baguio and will be shown in QCinema in December.
She also mentioned that she has other projects lined up after the short film. She admitted that it helped her build her reputation as an artist and “indigenous peoples”, or IP, in the film industry.
“Being isang indigenous people na nasa film industry, parang ang sarap pakinggan at the same time na na-a-appreciate nila na may taga-Kalinga na nasa larangan ng film,” she said.
“We should be proud of the culture that we have. We should embrace it, especially nowadays, because our culture is changing,” she added.
As an artist who has experimented with a variety of mediums, such as composing music and singing, she has always intended to spread awareness of her heritage and the traditions she comes from.
“It’s about culture na I want to promote, to put all energy I have. Kasi everytime I want to do something, I want to put up my identity bilang isang tribe member, as a culture bearer. Gusto ko na makita nila ako bilang taga-tribo. Sa simpleng paraan lang na makita nila ako hindi bilang isang aktor kundi isang indigenous people at the same time,” she said.
Her advocacy also includes the promotion of proper attire in some performances in order to show respect for their origin. Ammin is steadfast about correcting the misconception about Igorot attire, which is mistaken for a costume.
Challenge for content showcasing Indigenous arts
Ammin made the observation that not all filmmakers are driven by the same level of passion to create a film with content similar to Headhunter’s Daughter. The fact that she and her director share the same ancestry contributed significantly to the success of their relatively low-budget production.
“Doon ko nakita ‘yong passion ng direktor namin about his culture. I am so proud of him. He is also from Ifugao. Ginawa niya talaga ‘yong film, comeback film niya ito, para ipakita ang kultura na mero siya sa Cordillera,” she said.
She is still looking for support in order to find a stable platform for her advocacy in the arts while she expands the scope of her work.
For cultural preservation to be successful, there needs to be a more cohesive group of people working toward the same objective, she said.
“Kapag may mga project na darating na mas connected sa kultura na meron ako (I will get those) kasi ang daming misconception sa kung ano ba ang mga itsura ng mga Igorot– Gusto ko rin i-promote ang mother tongue ko sa music ko para ma-appreciate ng mga katribo ko,” she added.
Art of tattooing
As a native of the Butbut tribe in Kalinga, Ammin practices tattooing through batok, also known as “whato.” She started working as a mambabatok in 2016 and moved to Baguio in 2017. She believes that this art must be passed down through generations.
She believes that traditional patterns should be preserved and separated from modernized designs in order to promote their distinct art.
“May patterns kami na dapat ma-claim na sa amin talaga ‘yon. Sa ngayon, marami na ang nagsisidatingan na modernized pattern, naihahalo. Dapat mas ma-emphasize pa siya. Kilala naman siya pero dapat ma-emphasize siya,” she said.
The batok tattoo art is applied by hand-tapping the pine soot ink into the skin with a lemon thorn attached to one end of a stick. A long piece of dried grass is used to make the tattoo pattern’s stencil.
It represents beauty, fertility, and wealth for women, while it is sacred for men because only warriors can be inked as a form of reward after the war, according to Ammin.
Men of the community fight to protect their area and resources, she added. Even if it is no longer the practice, her tribe makes sure to educate those who want to have a tattoo about its history.
“Ngayon, binibigyan namin ng connection ang batok bearers, binibigyan namin sila ng choice kung gusto nila na kami ang mag-design or puwede mag-decide kaming dalawa. Pero ako, before, ako nagbibigay ng design, kailangan ko muna makilala ang tao para mabigyan ko siya ng personality para doon ko ibi-base ang pattern na ibibigay ko sa kanya,” she said.
Ammin also started her shop in Baguio after moving to the city. The most challenging pattern she inked was geometrical, which is also part of their pattern. The designs can also be customized, as long as the relation to the traditional pattern remains. It has exemptions on what they consider disrespectful to their culture.
Many mambabatok her age have expressed interest and passion in traditional tattooing, she said.