Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dayaw: celebrating the rich cultures of Philippine indigenous peoples

Note: This photo-essay was featured in the 07-13 November 2014 issue of FilAm Star, the weekly "newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America" published in San Francisco, CA. The author/blogger is the Philippines-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the paper.

The Philippine indigenous population is estimated to be between 10 and 20 percent of the official total population of about 92 million in the national census of 2010, which reportedly included an ethnicity variable for the first time.

We have yet to see an official figure but roughly, the higher estimate would be around 19 million indigenous Filipinos from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi. It’s for them that Presidential Proclamation 1906 of 05 October 2009 declared October every year as National Indigenous Peoples’ Month. 

In December 2009, the first Indigenous Peoples’ Festival was held in Roxas City. Tagged Dayaw in October the next year, it became the official festive celebration of Philippine indigenous cultures led by the Subcommission on Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts (SCCTA) of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in partnership with other government agencies, private companies and non-government organizations.  Dayaw connotes respect in Ilokano, a sense of pride in Hiligaynon, and praise in Waray.

Dayaw 2014 carries the theme “Katutubong Filipino para sa Kalikasan at Kapayapaan (Indigenous Filipino for the Environment and Peace)” to three festival venues: Baguio City in October, Bacolod City and Zamboanga City, both in November. 

Indigenous Peoples (IPs) from Luzon, Mindoro and Palawan came together at the convention center in  Baguio City for two days, 22 and 23 October, and showcased the richness of their respective cultures and heritage:  Ibaloy/Kankanaey, Bikolano, Bolinao/Pangasinense, Bugkalot, Iloko, Ivatan/Itbayat, Kalanguya/Ifugao, Kalinga, Kapampangan/Tagalog/Sambal, Kasiguranin, Mangyan cluster, Palawani/Molbog/Jama Mapun, Tagbanua/Pala’wan/Batak, Tinggian/Itneg, Agta/Ita/ Kabihug, Apayao/Isnag, Ayta of Tarlac, Pampanga, Bataan and Zambales, Balangao/Bontok/Applai, Gaddang/Isinay, and Ibanag/Yogad/Itawit/Malaweg.

Their Dayaw was a kaleidoscope of colorful traditional costumes, headgears and accessories, alongside those that bear heavy influences of colonial and modern fashion styles.  Ears listened to a symphony of indigenous musical rhythms from gongs and other ethnic instruments of the Cordillera and other ethnic groups, and the lilting dance tunes of the Ilocano, Tagalog, Pangasinan, Quezon and Bicolano lowlanders. 

The cooking demos provided a tasting binge of exquisite ethnic cuisines like the Ifugao tangbul of cattle hide and meat cooked for an hour over hot coals in a bamboo tube, the Ivatan version of arroz Valenciana, the fried rice cake called Jaa of the Jama Mapun,  and dishes of buting and kurapan sea shells from Casiguran, Quezon,  among others.  

The big hits in the demonstration of traditional games were the Zambales Aytas’ basketball, where players shoot the ball into a basket at the back of a running opponent, and the wrestling match of the Bugkalots, which is intended to test the strength and endurance of their menfolk. Foursomes or more of Bontoks intertwine their legs and hop around in a game called pakpakaak. The Jama Mapuns have the batin, which is similar to the patintero. Some games are common like the ‘tatsing’ or hitting of targets (shells to the Ivatans, large lipay seeds to the Tinggians) out of an encircled area.

Demonstrations of traditional crafts such as mat and cloth weaving elicited great attention; likewise, the products displayed or sold. Schools of Living Traditions (SLT) help preserve these crafts and other cultural forms for the next generations.

A flagship program of the SCCTA, the SLT is intent on “perpetuating knowledge on traditional performances, crafts, oral traditions and indigenous language .... [in] a venue where a “culture specialist/master” of a particular traditional art form imparts to a group of interested youth the skills and techniques of such form .”  There are now more than 600 SLT benefitting  around 18,000 young people who learn traditional crafts – mat/basket/cloth weaving; making musical instruments, traditional medicine, pottery making, dancing, music and chanting, traditional cuisine, affirming “mayamang kultura ng katutubo”.

In the Baguio Dayaw, twelve elderly  SLT Cultural Masters were honored:  Rosa B. Fianza and Meriam Garas (for making of tradional attire called daoit with patda embroidery); Sebia Bucok , Emilia Bangibang and Carina Amsiwen (for cloth weaving and accessories making); Cornelio Cafayan (for history and culture and playing of Gaddang traditional instruments like the tongatong and barembeng);Rebecca Mataba, Teodoro Tillema, Michael Kiwas and Modesta Batiller (for music and dances); Nurmida Abubakar Jamili (mat weaving); Sublito Tiblak (tabig and tingkop making).

In pursuit of the festival theme, the IPs had an indoor campfire-like round of information exchange on the initiatives of their communities to protect the environment, and on their indigenous methods of keeping peace among themselves.

Planting trees and protecting forests, sustaining soil fertility, and water resources management were common threads in their interactive discussions. These indicate their strong attachment to their ancestral lands and all the resources contained within their territories.  In this regard, tenurial security is a major concern of the IPs, and the processing of their Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) remains a priority task of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

As to conflict resolutions, many of these communities still resort to the traditional peace pacts and the mediation of the councils of elders although small town politics sometimes adversely affect the ages-old peacekeeping processes.

Their rights are recognized by the Constitution, amplified by Republic Act 8371 or the IPRA, “The Indigenous Peoples’ Act of 1997”, which recognizes, protects and promotes these rights, and the National Commission  on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) was created for these purposes.

Zambales Aytas playing their version of basketball.
According to the IPRA, Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples refer to  “a  group of people or homogenous societies ... who have continuously lived as organized community on communally bounded and defined territory, and who have, under claims of ownership since time immemorial, occupied, possessed and utilized such territories, sharing common bonds of language, customs, traditions and other distinctive cultural traits, or who have, through resistance to political, social and cultural inroads of colonization, non-indigenous religions and cultures, became historically differentiated from the majority of Filipinos.”  Also included are “ peoples who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, at the time of conquest or colonization, or at the time of inroads of non-indigenous religions and cultures, or the establishment of present state boundaries, who retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions, but who may have been displaced from their traditional domains or who may have resettled outside their ancestral domains.”

These legal definitions somehow provided context to the address of Dr Al Anwar Anzar, NCCA Commissioner for the SCCTA, during the opening program. He told his audience of indigenous groups that “you are the true maharlika because you did not succumb to colonization.”

The people of the archipelago during the pre-Hispanic times were independent communities or villages of tribes or clans.  Many were “reduced” or settled into towns under the church bells by the Spanish colonizers. But there were also communities who remained independent with their own political governance, socio-cultural and justice systems.   

Anzar reminded that colonization resulted in the categorization of the Filipino people into cultural minorities or majorities.  He emphasized that we should not allow history to repeat itself by setting Filipinos apart.
Wrestling is a test of strength among the Bugkalots.

“Let’s not forget that indigenous peoples are not tourist attractions,” he also counselled, “they are part of our history, the color of the nation.”

His hopeful vision is of Dayaw all in one place, and all the indigenous peoples from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao achieving a higher level of understanding and peace, which can happen if they have full trust with each other.

“We must value our heritage,” he said, “and Dayaw is an effective strategy to strengthen our culture.”

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