Order in Chaos (Warning: Graphic Content)

WARNING: This post contains graphic images of animals that have been butchered. If you are offended or disturbed by these, please do not continue reading this post. Accordingly, viewer discretion is advised.

Preparations for traditional weddings in the beautiful and enigmatic provinces of the Cordilleras usually involve a variety of animals being slaughtered by the men of the community. During this wedding preparation, carabaos (water buffaloes) were butchered along with pigs. The slaughter of animals happen early in the morning, and can continue until the wedding the next day.

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My mind was on two tracks that day. First, I was a bit miffed that I didn’t bring any ASA 400 film with me. Although I had my digital camera with me, I decided to document the event entirely on film, while making my way to the venue. The moment I arrived, the light in the venue was taunting me by barely emerging from the makeshift plastic roof and then slowly vanishing. It was a race against time and light. Left with the limits of my film stock, my mind went on problem solving mode or to put it more realistically, on overdrive. I had to make do of what I had and work on it the best way I could. There’s always another time to document an event entirely on film. Besides, one can never be upset with light. Light is a friend ;)

The other thing in my mind was something more pleasant. It was the sheer excitement of being with people from Sagada again. I feel privileged and honoured to be able to witness the preparation for a traditional wedding and document it.

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Despite the seemingly chaotic atmosphere, everything appeared to be organised. Each one has his/her own task. No one was idle for long periods of time. The men were in charge of the meat; the ladies, the vegetables. Some busied themselves in cutting the meat. Meanwhile other men were chopping the meat into smaller chunks for cooking. There is something for everyone to do, whether it is directly or indirectly related to the wedding preparations. If there is proof that the people of Sagada are a close-knit community, this would be it.

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On a plastic sheet on the floor was the meat from the carabaos butchered earlier that day. I was totally absorbed as men cut the meat. The whole thing was a sight to behold, therefore, a feast for the senses. It was a patchwork of colours… from bright and angry reds, to the dark hues of animal fur. I can hear the big knives crushing through meat, then onto the wooden chopping boards. Each thud was like a spell, binding me into that moment. By lunch time, a heavy downpour was underway. The slaughtering of pigs continued in the background as the rain persisted on its onslaught. It seemed like the heavens were crying with the pigs.

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I was allowed to roam around freely as I took photographs. Some won’t allow their photos to be taken as expected, but it didn’t matter. Most of them recognised me as I’ve spent a considerable time in Sagada before. Later on, I was invited to join the men for lunch. But that’s another story. The experience left an indelible feeling of acceptance, trust and friendship within me. I long to go back to Sagada soon.

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Perhaps a question that you might ask me now is, “How did you manage to capture this without feeling upset?” I can’t totally explain it. In my mind, there was only one thing I wanted to do, and did it.

When things get a little bit chaotic, one has no choice, but to turn his/her attention inward. Affirmations and mantras suddenly engulf each crevice of the mind and body, pushing us to unveil from the very depths of our minds the lessons experiences have taught us. As for me, jolted from the reveries of convalescence, and the torments of isolation and loneliness, I came to see this event as a forward step to healing and hopefully, taking more pictures.


CAMERA: NIKON F3 HP | FILM: ILFORD FP4 PLUS (PUSHED TO 400) | DEVELOPED BY SHE ESCOBAR | SCANNING: FUJIFILM BAGUIO

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ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT © 2017 BY SHE ESCOBAR, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. IMAGES MAY NOT BE COPIED, DOWNLOADED, PRINTED OR OTHERWISE DISSEMINATED WITHOUT EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION OF SHE ESCOBAR.
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12 Comments

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  1. Amazing I often get the same reaction from people when I tell them the things I’ve seen in my line of work. They want to know how can I see and do my job without getting upset or disgusted at the violence people inflict on each other and some on themselves, or seeing people die and not being able to do something on a regular basis my answer is ” I don’t know.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Dewon. Thank you for taking time to comment. I feel the same way. It’s kinda hard to explain, isn’t it? I recall reading something about the camera as being a ‘shield’ of some sort. I guess we’ll never be able to explain it… Thanks for your sharing your thoughts.

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  2. I have witnessed these scenes also as iI have been to Filipino weddings. It is sometimes hard to warch but this is tradition and part of life in the Philippines. I applaud you for your documentary work on this subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Paul. Yes, this is a part of life in the Philippines… Traditions like this will probably live on no matter what others say. The first time I witnessed it in Sagada, I was trembling pretty badly, but I continued to document the cleansing ritual, setting aside my own perceptions about what was happening in front of me.

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  3. As much as I don’t like to see slaughtering and such, I’m guilty as a meat eater, indeed I am no different. I do enjoy the photos posted. Bnw is mysterious yet inviting to see. Thank you for sharing a part of Sagada not everyone can see

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Ezekiel. Thank you for your comment. I understand what you mean. These traditions persist in Sagada even during these modern times, and even under the watchful eye of animal rights advocates. People from Sagada have told me of the significance of the slaughter of certain animals and what it means to their rituals. Thank you for appreciating my photos. That means a lot to me.

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  4. Wonderfully captured moments! Impressive!

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  5. Nice pictures although the content is anything but nice. I am not sure I would look at them if they were in colour.

    As to not feeling upset: I think you would do if you photographed such a scene again. Read the book “The Bang Bang Club” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bang-Bang_Club_(book)) and watch the film. The book covers the feelings of photographers covering the last years of apartheid.

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    • Hi, David. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I understand how some people would feel about the photos. Thank you for telling me how you feel about them. War/ Conflict photographers have no doubt experienced many harrowing experiences – many of which would affect them mentally and psychologically later in life. It is evident that war photographers such as James Nachtwey and Don McCullin have suffered in one way or another as witnesses of such terrible and brutal human activities. They have also put themselves in danger every time they cover these assignments. I would assume I would feel extremely upset if ever I were in the front lines or if I have to witness any of the suffering they have witnessed. The documentary of Don McCullin’s life and work brought me to tears. We humans are capable of so many harrowing things. I’ve heard of this documentary before, but didn’t know that it was also a book. I have not watched it, but I will. Thank you for the recommendation.

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  6. I think I would have been somewhat emotional about it. At the same time one must set aside their own personal feeling to understand something they may not agree with or understand.

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