An aboriginal tribe in the Philippines is making headlines for designing unique bikes carved out of wood and they aren’t just a trinket of show. The tribe also rides these bikes out of necessity. Not all members of the Igolot-Garonne tribe can afford to buy a conventional bicycle or a motorcycle, so they came up with one of their own – handcrafted of wood. Photographer Richard Haw first saw these when he was on a business trip to the Philippines when the unconventional ‘bike gang’ rolled in together in the town of Batad.
“I was walking to my truck in the town when we were treated to the spectacle and it just so happens that I had my camera on hand and snapped the cowboy-inspired scooter zooming downhill. Owning a motorcycle is considered a status symbol for people of a humble background. Since most of them do not really earn enough to afford the real thing they would just make imitations of a scooter by whatever means they have,” Haw, who works for a gaming company, told Positive True News.
Since the design and execution both rest in the hands of the tribe, the scooters can be very imaginative with most of them carrying a distinctive theme to them – head of a horse, dragon, lion, etc. The tribe doesn’t just use the handcrafted scooters for getting around but also hold their own road races.
The scooters can hit speeds of up to 40 km/h as the tribe races them downhill. There are no helmets or protective gear, but the tribe’s distinguishing attire of highlander g-string called bahag and a dyed red robe. “I have not heard of any fatalities or accidents while people have been using the bikes, but looking at their legs you can see deep scars and I can imagine that it might have come from this,” said Haw.
There are no brakes as such but there is a mechanism to slow the scooter down. The tribesmen step on a wooden pedal which puts pressure on a piece of a thick recycled tyre. The friction slows the scooter down and then their feet bring it to a halt, explained Haw’s wife who is part Igorot. “When they race through the town, it is a chance to show off their scooters which is a source of pride for the carver,” she said.
There’s actually a riding community flourishing around these hand-built scooters. The craftsmen share their build with the rest of the village and at times, dress up in traditional costumes to ride together. The Igolot believe that their Gods reside in all natural objects and by carving such designs on their scooters, they show respect to them. However, the tribe is currently struggling to remain on their indigenous land and are fighting to be recognised as a self-governed people.
Photos: Richard Haw
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