Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rituals and Relations: The Fifth Tam-awan International Arts Festival

Group from Mountain Province performs the Bontoc ritual senga
At the Tam-awan Village in Baguio City, smoke mingled with mountain mist, rising up in the air and being punctured by the needles of pine trees that surrounded the area. Water was boiling in a large kawa over crackling wood fire. The ground was soaked in blood. A pig had been slaughtered and its innards were laid out on a table. A couple of men seemed to examine the liver. The others, most of them old men, were chanting. The pig was cut up, shared to the participants and cooked in the kawa. The men came from the Mountain Province, led by Daniel Dalislis and Bida Langao, to perform the senga, a ritual to ward off or appease spirits that cause illnesses. It is said to be also performed during weddings, reunions and other celebratory events as well as during death anniversaries, when acquiring a property and upon finishing a construction of a house.

Mountain Province group performing the Bontoc ritual senga
       Later in the day, Ibaloy youths performed the rituals of their ancestors at the art village’s performance area. One was called tayaw ni temmo. Their leader explained to those in attendance: “It is a ceremony performed to avoid or cure insanity. At the center is a carved head of a humanlike figure being cursed by the tayaw chanter believed to be the absorber of insanity. The head of a sacrificial animal—the dog—is held by the tayaw dancer. It is also believed to be the fighter of insanity because of its characteristics. The music is fast beating.” 
Ibaloy group before a performance

Ibaloy group performs a ritual dance

Benguet governor joins in

A few more indigenous rituals were performed from different parts of the Philippines. After highlighting faith, indigenous textile making, traditional as well as modern wine-making, and tattoo and other ornamentations, the Tam-awan International Arts Festival (TIAF) featured rituals in its fifth mounting from May 7 to 11, 2014, with the theme “Cordilleran Stories: Rituals and Beliefs.”
Aside from actual rituals, TIAF’s lineup of activities included performances, talks, exhibits and workshops, all held at the Tam-awan Village, an artists’ village, art space and tourist attraction in Pinsao Proper in Baguio City, the economic and educational hub of the Cordillera Region, which is also a major tourist destination with active artist communities. The festival is run by the Chanum Foundation, which manages the artists’ village, with support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and other agencies.
TIAF has always been held with a caƱao, the well-known Cordilleran ritual to ask for blessings, where a pig is butchered. This year, more rituals were performed. Aside from the tayaw ni temmo, the Ibaloy group presented the tayaw ni batbat, where, according to its leader, “the male dancer is holding a piece of wood used in the ceremony called posang while the female dancer is holding a karing, a brass bracelet. The two dancers are representing their ancestors through this dance.” They also performed the bindiyan, the most famous of Ibaloy dances. Different dances from different parts of the Cordillera were performed throughout the festival by Tam-awan’s in-house dance group.
The Visayas were represented by the Panay Bukidnon. Elsie Padernal, a teacher from Calinog, Iloilo, presented the panimo, performed before consuming newly harvested rice to avoid illness bestowed by dead family members and relatives, as well as delivered a talk on Panay Bukidnon rituals.
A sample of Mindanao ritual was performed by Datu Linggi Inhagdan Modesto Pocol, chieftain of Tulugan, Masicampo and Inanay in Bukidnon—the Higaonon panulakon, which asks for peace. Pocol also gave a talk on Higaonon beliefs concerning god, spirits, nature and man.
The rituals were selected for their nature—those fomenting positivity, and expressing thanksgiving and praise—as well as those allowed to be performed in public and to be recorded in film. While it is advisable that rituals must be performed and observed in situ and in proper context, there is also a necessity to bring some rituals to other places for people, especially those who cannot travel, to witness and understand, with the permission of the cultural communities to which the rituals belong. Padernal indicated that many cultural communities also have a desire to share this cultural aspect to other peoples.
According to NCCA legal counsel and heritage advocate Rose Beatrix Cruz-Angeles, “We found out the cultural communities themselves are so much willing to tell us who they are, what their traditions are, and to impart this knowledge to us. It isn’t actually consent; it’s actually a willingness in their part, in fact, a celebratory willingness to tell us who they are so that we can understand them.”
Talks mostly revolved around rituals as well as beliefs such as South African ambassador Agnes Nyamande-Pitso’s on her country’s rituals and beliefs. A returning guest, the ambassador underscored the similarities between South African and Philippine indigenous rituals, and she said she was surprised how there are more commonalities than differences. 

Press conference and "kapihan" on the first day of the festival

South African ambassador gives a talk on her country's rituals.

Lawyer Alfonso Aroco of Kabayan, Benguet, tackled Ibaloy oral tradition, particularly stories about Mount Pulag, a popular destination for climbers and tourists. For the old Ibaloy, the mountain, the third highest in the country, is sacred, home to ancestral spirits and gateway to the spirit world. On the other hand, former Benguet vice governor Wasing Sacla of Kibungan, Benguet, enlightened the audience on Kankana-ey belief system and home rituals, particularly the kinds and roles of spirits as well as the deities. Ventura Bitot of Mountain Province delivered “Traditional Prayers in Relation to Literature towards Performing Arts” and told the Bontoc legend of Lumawig through a video.
Other topics revolved around heritage, May being National Heritage Month—American heritage conservation projects in the Philippines by United States Embassy cultural affairs officer Kristin Kneedler; the saga of the mummy Apo Anno by chemical engineer and conservationist Orlando Abinion of the National Museum; and preservation of the Ifugao culture and heritage in the modern time by Ifugao congressman Teodoro Brawner Baguilat, Jr.
Tangible cultural heritage was further highlighted with the exhibit “Kisame: Visions of Heaven on Earth” of the Ayala Museum. It was first mounted in 2008 as part of the celebration of the National Heritage Month, and was brought to Tam-awan’s Village Gallery with curator Ken Esguerra and Fr. Harold Toralba. The exhibit was about the old ceiling paintings of the churches of Bohol, which have the finest church paintings in the country, most of them by Cebuano painters Raymundo Francia and Canuto Avila. Some reproductions were mounted on the ceiling to approximate the feeling of looking up at illustrated church ceilings. The exhibit also drew attention to the fact that many of these ceiling paintings were damaged during the earthquake of October 15, 2013, which severely affected many heritage churches in Bohol, and the efforts of salvaging what are left. Being toured around, it now also serves as a fundraising venture for the rehabilitation of the churches.
The "Kisame" exhibit
Rituals, art and heritage all have stories, and they were told here with the kindling of fire, the sound of gongs and the splashes of colors. All are vital in the formation of identity as a people.
The purposes of the festival were manifold as much as its activities, such as providing ways for people, particularly the youths, to appreciate the arts as well as indigenous cultures, and facilitating understanding and camaraderie among artists, international and local. It is also a venue to showcase Cordilleran artistry and cultures. Organizers estimated visitors to be about 2,500, including tourists; guest artists from Pampanga, Sarangani, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan, Batanes, Abra, Romblon, Laguna and Manila; and students and teachers from schools in the Cordilleras.
They were involved in an array of art and cultural activities such as workshops hosted by the Tam-awan Village artists on mask making, water color and coffee painting, mono print design, bamboo carving and solar drawing; a display of different Cordilleran flutes, which visitors were allowed to play; an exhibition and demonstration of the Kalinga nose flute; performances by groups from Cordilleran schools and guest artists; and an exhibit of heirloom pieces from Abra at the Bugnay Gallery.
A body painting session
Tam-awan Village added a new component this year, the outreach program, hoping to inspire budding artists and reach out to other parts of the country. The TIAF Art Caravan started in Corcuera, Romblon, in February, where the Tam-Awan Village Artists (TVA) had a series of workshops for the local artists and children. TVA president Jordan Mang-osan particularly taught a solar drawing, which he is known for. About a hundred elementary and high school students were also taught the importance of art and galleries. In Jimenez, Misamis Occidental, in April, the TVA artists shared a glimpse of how art can become a catalyst for change. TVA artist Edwin Macadaeg showed how to use sand as an art material, indicating that artistic expression need not be expensive. The caravan ended in Lazi, Siquijor, in the last week of May.
The TIAF in Baguio seemed to serve as culmination, where a shaft of sunlight pierced through the gossamer ribbons of smoke from a raging fire to cook a sacrificial pig and was caught by the magnifying glass of an artist, the burn marks carefully guided to make an image of Cordilleran in ritual dance on dry bamboo; where people appreciated contemporary artistic expressions and age-old traditions side by side, realizing how they both are vessels for cultural knowledge, sustenance for the soul, and light for the future.

The Tam-awan Village

An Ifugao hut in Tam-awan Village

Pine trees at one of higher points in Tam-awan Village

One of the sculptures and installations in Tam-awan Village

Cordillera musical instruments

Tam-awan Village Cafe

Tam-awan Village's in-house dance group

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