Issue of May 5, 2019

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Farm tool turned attraction: The Banaue wooden scooters
by Jamie Malingan

Who says only Formula One cars and motorbikes revved with powerful engines can race?

Up in the mountains of Banaue, Ifugao, the thick crowd of people in Barangay Viewpoint is not an unusual sight. But once every year, foreigners and locals flock not to take a snap of the scenic Banaue Rice Terraces but to witness intricately designed wooden scooters bolt down winding roads.

As the afternoon heat sets in, spectators with ready phones and cameras also start to swell.

Racers begin to haul up their carved wooden scooters to the starting line. They begin to gear up not with the usual helmets and knee pads but with their bright red wano (g-string) and traditional clothes complementing their moma (beetle nut)-reddened smiles.

After a few safety checks and speed tests, the police mobile arrives to lead and clear the road for the race.

Around 20 racers start up their wooden scooters with pure muscle strength as the police car siren serves as the race sound signal.

The crowd cheers as the wooden scooters start to dash down catching up with each other.

Gravity revved with firm legs speeds up each scooter as the racers maneuver through the uneven loops of Barangay Viewpoint to the finish line at the public market.

Just as it is a vital part of the annual celebration of the Imbayah Festival, wooden scooters are not relatively new for the people of Banaue.

The wooden scooters displayed in the races performed are patterned from the traditional taltallak.

“These taltallak have been used by our parents ever since before it was converted into scooters,” Oliver Tundagui, president of the Banaue Wooden Scooter Racers, said.

Taltallak is a two-wheeled cart used to transport firewood and root crops from the gardens.

From a simple farm tool, the taltallak has become one of the famous attractions in the municipality.

Different animal figures and traditional symbols are now incorporated in the wooden scooters.

Aside from being a tourist attraction, the designed scooters have also become an additional source of income for the family.

“The wooden scooter is helpful for our livelihood since we get to sell the scooters and receive orders,” said Robert Duyyugen, who is a three-time champion of the Wooden Scooter Race.

In 2001, following the increasing interest for the wooden scooter racing, the Banaue Wooden Scooter Racers Association was formed.

The association, with 35 active members, is now in charge of the wooden scooter racing exhibition for the yearly Imbayah Festival.

“The local government unit of Banaue gives us incentives every time we perform,” Tundagui said.

Each racer is given P500 from which 10 percent is given to the association fund.

The establishment of the association also led to more developments.

In 2013, the association started to build a wooden scooter showroom to house their crafts. The facility will make it easier for the members to access the scooters whenever there are requests from visitors.

 “The showroom can also be a good place to display and market our products,” Tundagui explained.

Just as it is passed on to them from their parents, the Banaue Wooden Scooter Racers ensure that the craft will see a new breed of speedsters.

“I made smaller wooden scooters for the children to practice so that they can take over the craft in the future,” Duyyugen said.

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