The men’s hands were almost as graceful as the woman who turned around on the dance floor, gyrating with arms mid-way to the sky and hands drawing circles in the wind. And the men were not even dancing! For a long moment there, standing in a room full of people buzzing with excitement and benevolent admiration, I was captivated by the sight of men’s hands on their drums, pounding with near-effortless ease; their passion for what they do reverberating with every sound.
This happened within the time when the Huning Lumad (an exhibit and series of performances and soil painting workshops by the Talaandig Indigenous Community) was launched at The Jose R. Gullas Halad (JRG) Museum last Nov. 26. Huning Lumad means “native sound”, an apt title for an exhibit that carries everything native--song, dance, soil painting, sculpture, literary narratives, and musical instruments--to the Talaandig.
The JRG Halad Museum presents Huning Lumad in observance of the National Indigenous Peoples’ Month.
In the Philippines, a culturally diverse country, we have an estimated 14 to 17 million indigenous peoples belonging to more than 100 ethno-linguistic groups that are mainly found in Northern Luzon, Mindanao, and in some Visayas areas. The Talaandig is one of the seven ethnic groups in the Bukidnon province (in Mindanao, south of the Philippines). They are specifically living in around Mt. Kitanglad in the northern and eastern side of Mt. Kalatungan. The other six groups are the Manobo, Higaonon, Umayamnon, Matigsalug, Bukidnon, and Tigwahanon.
In Cebu, I have not heard of any original ethnic tribes; maybe there are, deep in our bald forests, waiting to be discovered or just keeping quiet. I know of the seafaring Bajaus residing in Cebu City, but they are not originally from Cebu; they are migrants from Mindanao forced to seek greener pastures as they strive to keep their culture alive. So you could just imagine my thrill at seeing another indigenous group of people whose well-preserved traditions are as colorful as their costumes and as vibrant as the sounds they make.
The Talaandig is one of the few indigenous people’s communities that has successfully preserved their traditional culture and beliefs with the setting in of urbanization. Our country’s ancestors thrive on nature, so it is no surprise that the Talaandigs produce nature-based performances and art. Their chants that would last for days mimic the sounds of bumblebees and waves. Datu Rodelio “Waway” Linsahay Saway, with his characteristic dry humor, said that if one is asked to make an impromptu performance onstage and he is not prepared to sing and dance, he can always chant; he just have to know when to stop!
Waway Saway is known for his huge contribution to the vibrancy of the Talaandig music in its contemporary form. He provided the younger members of the Talaandig tribe, including his own children, the chance and the right motivation to connect with their own traditions, something that is becoming hard to achieve these days as more young people move to urban areas. By the way, he's venturing to capturing his tribes traditions on film.
During the exhibit launch and a Talaandig visit to my company office last Monday, he introduced me to various musical instruments, such as the kubing that parrots the sounds of a kalaw (hornbill) and used as a musical instrument for courtship and communicating with loved ones. In one of his interesting stories, he shared how the kubing is sometimes used to convey the message of a suitor wanting to meet with a girl somewhere in the village, like along the riverbanks. “And they would meet,” he added. “Then come back with a baby already.” That sure earned him a loud giggle from me.
He also showed me the tambulalatuk, a drum that mimics the sounds of a balalatuk or woodpecker, and the pulala, a very long flute that imitates the sounds of a cicala insect. He also explained the binanog or hawk dance, the binaki or frog dance, and the courtship dance of the of the Talaandigs performed by Salima Saway-Agraan, the only woman performer from the group during the exhibit launch. “Ah, she’s already married but her Facebook status is single,” Waway Saway quipped. Another round of chuckles. (I for sure did not see that coming!)
Apart from the music and dance, I was drawn to the Talaandig’s soil paintings. I remember taking up summer art classes during my first year in high school. One of my teachers was Leopoldo Aguilar who do exemplary soil paintings (I hope he still does, although I haven’t seen him in many years). During the exhibit, as an amateur painter by hobby, I was overwhelmed by so many soil paintings that clearly depict their traditions in earth tones--men and women playing musical instruments, farming, captured images of their daily life, and folktales. What’s striking is that not only do the Talaandig artists beat the drums and dance gracefully, they also did the paintings themselves! This is now the part where I’m going to be dramatic; seriously, I was practically reeling from the fact that the Talaandig artists are very well-rounded and talented and obviously proud of their culture.
|Soil painting on the left is by Nympha Bendit while on the right is by Salima Saway Agra-an.|
If only I did not have prior commitments the days following the exhibit launch, I would have joined the soil art workshop they themselves facilitated and learn firsthand how they did it, the Talaandig way. Painting using organic materials, such as earth pigments from the soil right under our feet, would have minimized an artist’s costs and further tested his patience. Learning the process would have been interesting. Will a soil on canvas last? The fact that several of the soil paintings mounted have already reach three to 10 years might answer that question, although I’m sure these paintings are not purely organic; a couple of chemical-based coatings have been applied to preserve them.
One of the artists I really admired apart from Waway Saway himself is the smiling and laidback Marcelino “Balugto” Necosia, Jr. Balugto means rainbow, which shows his talents are a true kaleidoscope of various arts--visual, performance, and music. He is a successful and multi-awarded performer and visual artist. And he beats the tambul or drum so well!
|Balugto explains his soil painting during the launch.|
Balugto beating the tambul or drum
I look forward to the day when I get to meet the Talaandigs once again and through their rhythms and images, be exposed to the stories of a tribe that is alive and thriving and artistically glorious.
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Big thanks to Audrey Tomada, director of The Jose R. Gullas Halad Museum, for inviting me to the exhibit launch. I went to the event as a representative of the Cebu Bloggers Society Inc. The Huning Lumad Exhibit runs from Oct. 26-Nov. 24, 2012.
Featured Talaandig artists are: Rodelio “Waway” Linsahay Saway; Rodelio “RJ Sumingsang” Saway Jr.; Marcelino “Balugto” Necosia Jr.; Raul Bendit; Salima Saway Agra-an; Gerald Saway; Onanoy Saway Estrada; Nino Dave “Chong” Tecson; Soliman Poonon; Christian Cloyd “Epoy” Eslao; and Nympha Bendit.
The JRG Halad Museum, located on V. Gullas St. corner D. Jakosalem St. in Barangay Sto. Nino, Cebu City, is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum admission fee is only Php 20. For more information, please contact (6332) 268-2579.
- Nancy -