Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Taking Inspirations from Philippine Indigenous Peoples

Yakan men of Basilan playing the kulintang
Identifying what the Filipino or the Filipino culture is can be a tricky thing. Only the inadequately informed or brash will lay down what are perceived as the characteristics of the Filipino. While not entirely false, they are limiting and biased. Most likely, articles on these tend to describe the urban centers in Christianized lowland areas. The fact is Filipino is but a construct, and what is true is that there are about 77 ethnolinguistic groups indigenous to the Philippines, spread around the archipelago, most of which have subgroups. They have their own traditions and cultures, which in many ways are unique and also in many ways exhibiting shared aspects with Southeast Asian groups as well as adaptations of Western elements.
            Many ethnic groups in the country are erroneously described as “tribes.” Eminent Filipino anthropologist Dr. Jesus Peralta asserts that there are no tribes in the Philippines. Organizationally, Philippine societies do not conform to the strict meaning of the term tribe, which is “a corporate descent group below the state in integration.” Moreover, the popular usage of tribe for a number of ethnic groups indicates “prejudice.” While tribe is used for such groups such as Ifugao and Tiboli, it is not used for other groups such as Cebuano and Ilocano, all of which are indigenous ethnic groups. Here, the usage of tribe just implies being “primitive.” But most of the ethnic groups, referred as “tribes,” have adapted to modern ways and many of their members are educated and work in offices. And many have retained their traditional cultures, which can be considered richer than the cultures of those who call them “tribal.” Often neglected and many in danger of vanishing, the traditional cultures of these indigenous groups are where we must draw inspirations from to form a distinct Filipino identity.
            Because of the sheer number of indigenous ethnic groups in the Philippines, one can say that the country is culturally diverse and rich. Many don’t realize it but traditional arts and crafts, knowledge and practices have put the Philippines in the spotlight a number of times, making many Filipinos proud. One prime example is the designation of the Cordillera rice terraces in northern Luzon as a United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) World Heritage site. Most of the beautiful and extensive ones are in the province of Ifugao, named after the dominant indigenous people there, who built it hundreds of years ago. The iconic Philippine monument is a feat of agricultural engineering. The Ifugao carved out the mountains of the Cordillera to farm rice, devising an irrigation system with water cascading from the mountaintop forests to the paddies, and it resulted into stunning vistas. Associated with the payyao or the Ifugao rice terraces are several cultural practices such as the chanting of the hudhud. Included in the UNESCO list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the hudhud, which is chanted during the sowing and harvesting of rice as well as during funeral wakes and bone-washing rituals, has over 200 stories with about 40 episodes each in a language too complex to be transcribed, often taking three or four days to recite in totality.
            Philippine oral literature can considered rich as another piece was included in the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity—the epic of the Darangen of the Maranao people, who lives around Lake Lanao in northern Mindanao. The pre-Islamic Darangen is one of longest, if not the longest, of the Philippines epics. The recorded versions, which are composed of about 17 independent cycles, in iambic tetrameter or catalectic trochaic tetrameter, contained in eight volumes, comprising 47 books or verses. Preliminary studies suggest that the epic has about 72,000 lines, which are chanted for several days. The Darangen not contains stories and adventures but also traditional Maranao belief and value systems as well as mythologies.
Other ethnic groups also have a number of epics and chants, most which are performed from memory and orally passed on from one person to another, including the Ullalim of the Kalinga; Tuwaang of the Bagobo;  and Hinilawod and Labaw Donggon of the Panay Bukidnon in Western Visayas. These epics contain the native mythologies as well as age-old wisdom, among others.
Not all forms of indigenous and folk literature is oral though. The Hanunoo Mangyan of Oriental Mindoro is known for its literary tradition of ambahan, short poems of seven-syllable lines, written in the Mangyan syllabic script etched on bamboo tubes. The late Hanunoo Mangyan ambahan poet Ginaw Bilog of Mansalay was the most known and finest practitioner.
            A popular source of fascination is the weaving traditions of the Philippines. Textiles have been hand-woven in the country for many centuries and in many parts. Several Cordillera groups and the Ilocano are known weavers as well as the Hiligaynon of the Visayas and the Bilaan, Tausug, Bogobo and Yakan of Mindanao. Perhaps the most intriguing among the textile weaving traditions is the tinalak tradition of the Tiboli of South Cotabato and Sarangani. Weaving the tinalak is a tedious process that takes several days from extracting the fibers from the abaca, dyeing using plant dyes to actual weaving using the back-strap loom. The designs on the textile are said to be gifted by ancestors or a god to the weaver in a dream. Thus, the Tibolis are often called “dream weavers.”  Most known among the Tiboli weavers is Lang Dulay of Lake Sebu. Too old to weave now, she is teaching younger generations to weave the tinalak. The Tiboli’s neighboring ethnic group to the northwest, the Tausug, is known for the bright colors of its hand-woven textile, which is conspicuous as a headwear, the pis syabit. The late Darhata Sawabi of Jolo, Sulu, was the most celebrated Tausug weaver, while the Tagabawa Bogobo had Salinta Monon, also deceased, who created the native abaca tube skirt with intricate designs.
            Most of these textiles are made into na├»ve attires, which are varied and often embellished with beadworks and embroidery. Most of the Philippine ethnic groups have their own ways of adorning clothes, using materials such as colored threads, wood, bones, plastic beads and even coins. The traditional designs are folk renderings of things in nature—celestial bodies, mountains, sea, plants, and animals.          
A Bagobo blouse with elaborate beadwork
A Sorsogon Bicolano woman making earthen pots in Paradijon, Gubat, Sorsogon
A Tiboli blouse
An Ifugao farmer in Batad, Banaue, Ifugao
An Itneg couple in tradtional attire in Namarabar, Penarrubia, Abra
Kalinga men in traditional attire in Awichon, Lubuagan, Kalinga
Kalinga weaver Cecilia Aweng weaving in a traditional Kalinga hut in Awichon, Lubuagan, Kalinga

Manlilikha ng Bayan Alonzo Saclag, Kalinga performer, plays the gong in Awichon, Lubuagan, Kalinga

Regina Caballero, Panay Bukidnon teacher and chanter of Calinog, Iloilo, in traditional attire

Tausug youth of Zamboanga dance the pangalay

Young Kalinga women doing traditional embroidery in Awichon, Lubuagan, Kalinga
 Mat weaving is also a manifestation of indigenous creativity. Arguably the most known groups making mats that are intricate and colorful are the Waray of Basey, Samar, and the Sama Bajau of Tawi-Tawi. The Basey mats use the grasslike fimbry or bariw, traditionally woven under rock shelters, while the Sama mats use the pandan and are known for its exuberant colors. Sama weaver Haja Amina Appi of Ungos Matata, Tandubas, Tawi-Tawi, had been known to produce mats that combine the designs of her ancestors with her own artistry.
            While most of them rudimentary, almost all indigenous groups have their own dances, often associated with rituals or used to entertain in certain occasions such as weddings. Many of the movements imitate the movements of animals such as the binanog dance of Panay Bukidnon, which takes inspiration from the flight of the hawk. Perhaps, the pangalay dance of the Tausug, known for the dancers wearing long artificial fingernails, is one of the most graceful, even when danced by male dancers, and exhibit the most visible connection with Southeast Asia. Popularly, the pangalay is danced with the song “Dayang Dayang,” claimed to be of Tausug or Sama origin. 
            And with dance comes music. While many Filipinos consider the original Pinoy music or the so-called OPM as originally Filipino it is but an adoption of the Western pop music. If we are to point out really original music of the Philippines, it will be coming from the indigenous peoples, which have their own forms of music as well as their native instruments. While there are many types of musical instruments among the indigenous communities, the most common instruments are the lutes and zithers, commonly called kudyapi and kudlong, and the gongs.
The stringed instrument lute, which is plucked when played, varies in shape and name from ethnic group to another, and is present in the cultures of the Alangan Mangyan, Iraya Mangyan, Ata of Davao del Sur, Bagobo, Batak, Bilaan, Mindanao Bukidnon, Higaonon, Kalagan, Maguindanao, Mamanwa, Mandaya, Mangguangan, Agusan Manobo, Obo Manobo, Mansaka, Maranao, Matigsalog, Pala’wan, Panay Bukidnon, Subanon, Tagakaolo, Tagbanwa, Talaandig, Tiboli and Teduray. The other hand, the zither is also present in as many ethnic groups, often alongside the lute. Perhaps, the most known player of the kudyapi is the late musician Samaon Sulaiman, who belonged to the Maguindanao, one of the largest Islamic indigenous groups. According to composer and professor Felipe de Leon,  Jr., Sulaiman had “achieved the highest level of excellence in the art of kutyapi playing. His extensive repertoire of dinaladay, linapu, minuna, binalig and other forms and styles interpreted with refinement and sensitivity fully demonstrate and creative and expressive possibilities of his instrument.”
            The gong is also a popular Philippine musical instrument, often seen in its basic form in the northern indigenous groups, and as kulintang or gong chime among southern indigenous groups.
These are but some of the traditional arts and crafts of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines, which form an invaluable part of our cultural heritage. And like any kind of cultural heritage in this country, it is in constant peril of perishing. It is from our cultural heritage that we draw from to create a distinct identity and to aid in national development. It is from this creative wellspring that should give us pride, something more lasting and profound than achievements in beauty pageants and boxing.  

Version of article published in Philippine Panorama, January 4, 2015, Volume 44, Number 1
All photographs by Roel Hoang Manipon

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