MANILA, Philippines?May is Filipino heritage festival month, and there is just about a week left before the annual fete winds down. The month-long celebration opened with a ?Misa Baclayana? at the Manila Cathedral, the liturgical music based on long-lost music sheets dating back to 1826 recently found at the Baclayon Church in Bohol.
The closing ceremonies take place from May 28-30 in Puerto Princesa, Palawan with the theme ?Preserving the Gift of Faith through Culture and Environment.? In between has been a slew of activities, performances, exhibits, processions and even street fairs around the country and even in Philippine embassies abroad.
Last Friday, my friend Joan Orendain, who?s been busy promoting the Filipino Heritage Festival these past years, gave me a taste of this year?s offerings with a visit to ?Maarte,? an arts and crafts bazaar organized by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines featuring the works of artists, artisans, crafts people and communities around the country at the National Museum; followed by a performance of ?Chanted Journeys: Rediscovering the Ifugao Hudhud and the Kalinga Ullalim? at the Cultural Center.
Together, the two events brought home the richness and variety of Filipino culture, as well as a renewed appreciation for the artistry of Filipinos, be they living national treasures, indigenous communities, artist collectives and crafts people, and even street children.
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AMONG THE first booths that grabbed my attention was that of the ?Invisible Foundation,? which works with women in urban poor communities who fashion bags, purses and ?kikay kits? by crocheting plastic bags, yes, the humble ubiquitous plastic bags that carry anything from fruits and vegetables to T-shirts to one?s lunch, but which, when discarded, make for ugly non-biodegradable trash.
I talked with a foreign supporter who explained that one big crocheted bag uses up about 100 plastic bags, ?which means,? he explained helpfully, ?that we take out of our garbage dumps, rivers, streams and even Manila Bay 100 plastic bags with every bag we produce.? The women, he said, collect the plastic bags from donors, clean them, and then roll them into thin strips that can be used as crochet thread. They then fashion various items, even innovating with creative crochet patterns. That afternoon, Joan and Cedy Lopez of the Lopez Museum, who was our guide to the different booths, were both carrying brightly-colored shoulder bags, drawn by the colors and fine workmanship. I ended up buying a bag and several purses as well, impressed with their quality and utility.
We then chanced upon booths featuring members of the ?Putik Group,? a collective of noted and beginning potters, and I walked away with an organic looking cup-and-saucer set made by John Pettyjohn, whose works I had always lusted after.
The other vendors at the museum included jewelry designers, native weavers from Mindanao, Palawan and Laguna, crafts makers from Bohol and the Cordillera, and even volunteers with the Virlanie Foundation which helps street children. In their booth we found T-shirts with cheery hand-painted designs made by the street children themselves. I came away not just with bags of unexpected purchases but with renewed appreciation of the range of creativity and inventiveness found in these islands.
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AFTER DINNER at Joan?s home nearby (it happened to be her birthday), we proceeded to the CCP for ?Chanted Journeys,? described as ?a blend of live traditional performances, modern reinterpretations as well as documentary that will introduce contemporary audiences to the glories of traditional Cordillera chantings.?
With silent videos of traditional Cordillera village life as backdrop, Brischelle and Schaller Balinte, young Kalinga men from the village of Iubo, invited the audience to enter the world of the Kalinga people through a performance of the ?Ullalim si Biag ti Ikalinga? or ?Ullalim of the Kalinga People.? The ullalim, from what I gather from the performance, is a chant performed during important events in Kalinga society, such as a wedding, a battle or a harvest. The performers were led by Alonzo Saclag, a Manlilikha ng Bayan (literally, Creator of the Nation, akin to a Living National Treasure) and a community of chanters that included many of his sons and relatives.
The traditional performance was followed by a modern interpretation, ?A Kalinga Cycle? featuring music by Jesse Lucas (performed by the UST Philharmonic Orchestra) and dancers from the UE Silanganan Dance Troupe.
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FOLLOWING this was a performance of an excerpt from the ?Hudhud of Aliguyon? performed by the Community of Chanters of Tungngod, Lagawe, Ifugao, representing generations chanting the rituals of Ifugao life, including the slaughter of sacrificial livestock and rice planting.
Both the Ullalim and Hudhud portions also feature energetic dances by women in their colorful woven skirts and men in g-strings and banging out irresistible rhythms on brass gongs. There was not a note of artifice or pretense in these presentations, save perhaps for the ?pigs? fashioned out of black plastic bags that the old men were hard put to pretend were the real thing.
Dancers from the Philippine Ballet Theater and mezzo-soprano Clarissa Ocampo interpreted the Hudhud in a new modern piece that showcased the youthful exuberance of the dancers and the catchy beats of Lucas? composition.
The evening ended with ?Chanted Journeys? featuring the entire ensemble, the indigenous performers mixing it up with the modern dancers and orchestra. But they weren?t finished yet, for as we exited the auditorium we found the performers in the lobby, filling it with the sound of gongs and the whirl of their woven wear. I felt so happy for them.