Water of the Mountains: Music, Divination, and Myth of the Obo and Manobo Dulangan in Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao
Volume 3 of the NRCP video documentary series “Music Cultural Flows”
Researched by Jose S Buenconsejo
Like water that generates life and that heals, history of cultures does not flow in a neat and linear manner but adapts to gravitational pull and to the contours of its surroundings that, in return, physically shape it as it moves in the landscape. The Obo myth of creation is an allegory of archaic humans being swallowed by water –a singularity–after a needle, a technology of culture, punctured the body of earth. The mind who invented this fiction conveys a universal truth yet this myth is particular to the place that I visited in the mountains of Sultan Kudarat, which is dotted by numerous springs and traversed by streams. Bathing on this body of water that cleanses dirt and the kulintang kayu that accompanies celebratory dance as a form of human solidarity in the time of death is the theme of the Obo song duyoy as regards to their cultural hero Gamfey. The notion of magical birds on trees, some marking protection while other portending omens, image of the ring, the use of bow and arrow and the magical tube skirt malong are proofs of cultural flows from nearby cultures that had exchanges with the ancestors of these highlanders deep in Southeast Asian prehistory. But the study of this past, archeology, would be empty without being informed of local knowledges behind the science of measuring artefacts.
The study of music instruments from this place was the key to unravelling the mythic idea of centeredness, an “axis mundi” of a thing in the world, so to speak. The body, expecially the hand, which makes useful objects, is fundamentally important in hominin cultural adaptation for millions of years until the emergence of the human species some 200,000 BP. The aesthetic concept of referencing the bamboo holes and strings, and the volume of wooden blades is akin to the singularity of the water hole from which the other strings are tuned accordingly from the center. The myth is so durable that it withstood time, resonating with other domains in the indigenous cultures of the place. The flow of this myth to other parts of the Philippine archipelago remains to be studied in the future and this opens the possibility that the people from this place might have descended from a group in an unknown homeland in Sulawesi via present day Maitum, Sarangani. There is a likehood, for example, that the preserved hand stencils in caves in Sulawesi (dating 40,000 years ago) might be related to the art of divinatory ritual still in practice among modern T’boli, Obo, and Manobo Dulangan.
A research documentary by Dr. Jose S Buenconsejo to be premiered on December 12, 2022, 2:30 (Philippine Time) at The Videotheque of Cine Adarna in UP Diliman campus.
This documentary reflects on the life of a distinguished woman Ang Kapitana (The Captain) in the mountainous village of Bayabas, Upi Maguindanao. Through a socio-centric approach in rendering her biography, one can trace the connections of women’s activities to music, their role in ritual, and their sociability as members of a Teduray upland community.
Women’s work is highly valued in this world whose residents are centered on small-scale, but intensive agriculture. More than men, they make their own baskets made of materials from the environment and these, being “friendly objects,” remain an important means for transporting farm products to the markets and for containing ordinary things in their day to day existence as well as in the materialization of ritual performances. Women play vital roles in the preparation of these extraordinary events, especially in the harvest of first grains, music making, and in celebratory dances during weddings. It is not surprising therefore that music mimetically represents womanly activities, a number of pieces of which depict their enduring attachment as parents to their children, their gait, emotions, in short, actions in a social world.
Crisancti Lucena Macazo, PhD is an amateur filmmaker and photographer, violinist, educator, vlogger, and an independent scholar. He obtained his Doctor of Philosophy in Music degree from the University of the Philippines, Diliman in 2020 with the dissertation titled, “Music and Image: The Soundtrack of Manuel Conde’s Extant Films, 1941–1958.” His dissertation’s central thesis is on the narrative capability of music in films. Among his works in filmmaking include, Buhayin! Ang Musika sa Talambuhay ng Tao (Let Live! Music in the Biography of a Person) where he did the art directing, editing and music scoring (written and directed by JS Buenconsejo, 2022). His latest project is the fine editing of both color and sound of the documentary film Si Tokan: Ang Manggagawa ng Kulintang ng Maguindanao Ilaya (Tokan, the Kulintang Maker of Upriver Maguindanao), directed by JS Buenconsejo, 2022. Dr Macazo also directed, edited, and scored a short film by Christine Marie Magpile, My Mother’s a Frontliner (2021).
Rajji Marren I. Lunas is an Associate degree holder in Computer Technology from the Technological Institute of the Philippines, Cubao. He has done camera work for the short film Buhayin! Ang Musika sa Talambuhay ng Tao (2021) and Si Tokan: Ang Manggagawa ng Kulintang sa Maguindanao Ilaya (2022).
Everyone is invited to the initial screening of the above-captioned on Thursday, 11 August 2022, 2PM, Abelardo Hall Auditorium, University of the Philippines College of Music
This is a story of a remarkable traditional Maguindanaon musician nicknamed Tokan who plays for village celebrations and who also makes kulintangan instruments which are currently in demand locally and internationally. Rather than seen from an individualist lens, the documentary interprets Tokan’s life as wholly socialized, centered on group interactions, especially with his kindred. His work continues the music of Tangguapo which kulintang music was first documented by the National Artist in music Dr. Jose Maceda in 1954. The military encounters with Moslem separatists, settler paramilitary group Ilaga in late 1960s were the context of the continual displacements of the villagers to safe places theareafter, especially with military operations against insurgency in 1972. This displaced the culture bearers of the place, once the center of gong and lute music of the region. In 2015, a family returned to the sitio to bring back their lives to the land they were born into. But ironically for Tokan, it was his travels away from home, away from wars, that made his gongs move to faraway places.
The documentary is Volume 1 of 4 in the Music Cultural Flows Series.
The film is mostly in Filipino and English with some Maguindanao. Duration: around 80 minutes. Color.
A community film project on traditional music in the lives of ordinary people.
The Ethnographies of Philippine Popular Music Culture group, based in Ateneo de Manila University (Department of Development Studies) and which is a consortium of scholars from the said department and the University of the Philippines Colleges of Music and Mass Communication is pleased to announce the completion of its third video production, this time a short narrative film with documentary footages of folk festival in Obando.
The synopsis of the film and rationale of the project goes:
“The reality of Filipinos going overseas for work creates a condition of alienation (nangulila) for both the traveller and those left behind. Yet, the need to eke out a means of living and the promise of material prosperity for the future override the painful separation that often leads to extra-engagements with others as emotional needs and feelings of loss are compensated by those leaving and entering state borders.
This is the backdrop of the story that this film is about: a woman from the working class who, first decides on aborting her pregnancy, but later– with free will–rescinds to safeguard her body and baby. It was the memory of music and warm companionship that motivated her choice for that path of happiness.
From another angle, this story is also about the story of traditional music band of bamboo instruments (musikong bumbong) in a Tagalog community. Like the devotion to saints, bamboo music, bamboo arches made into art (palamuti), native delicacies are forms of indicating collective euphoria in human relationships and togetherness.
The story focuses on the idea of human agency as a form of redemption from material wants, difficult the choice might be. This redemptive will is generated by an indomitable spirit of human solidarity and values.
Any resemblance of the story to real persons in actuality is purely coincidental.
All the actors in the film are amateurs, belonging to two families in a small community who do not have prior training in the art of acting.
The impulse to pursue this cinema project was hinged on the idea of capacity building among a marginalized group and on the goal of creating an alternative vision of cinema that does not cater to the commercial glossy.
The project is funded by the CHED-NCCA SALIKHA program in the Ateneo de Manila University.”
The schedule of the preview of this film is still being planned but would most likely be in January 2022.
I wholeheartedly thank the small commnity in Obando for the realizing this project. The poster was designed by Hubert Fucio of UP Music.
The University Press of Mississipi announces the availability of a book on Philippine cultural history. The book is written by Dr. Mary Talusan of the Asian-Pacific studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills. It is entitled Instruments of Empire: Filipino Musicians, Black Soldiers, and Military Band Music during US Colonization of the Philippines
(ISBN 978-1-4968-3567-3; Paper $30.00; Publication date: September 2021).
The book centers on the theme of HOW A PHILIPPINE MILITARY BAND AND THEIR BLACK CONDUCTOR DAZZLED AMERICA WHILE SOOTHING ITS RACIAL ANXIETIES
Dr. Christine Balance, author of Tropical Renditions: Making Musical Scenes in Filipino America, has to say of this book
“Instruments of Empire is the first book-length study of the historic Philippine Constabulary Band, a military band (and, in their later years, an orchestra) led by African American US military officer and bandleader Lt. Walter H. Loving. Through close readings of archival documents, oral histories and interviews, secondary sources, and reimaginings of prior performances, Talusan brings music—its performers and performances—to the forefront. Her work beautifully lays out for us how these Filipino musicians and their work teach us to listen against the ‘imperial ear’ and, in the process, apprehend the deep significance of the Philippine Constabulary Band’s early twentieth-century musical and everyday performances until today.”
The National Research Council of the Philippines’ “Panalangin ng Bayan: An Interfaith Prayer” is an expression of the co-existing faiths in the archipelago. It is in five Philippine languages–Ifugao, Tausug, Sama, Negrense Ata, and Tagalog–and articulates the common desire for unity, cross-cultural understanding, strength to sustain effort for day to day subsistence, knowledge, hope, and love.
The prayer begins with incense smoke that morphs to clouds caressing the mountains at sunrise. This introductory visual gesture is backed up by sustained synthesized harmonies that usher in the newly composed chant in Ifugao by Rica Daya Aquino set to text supplied by Judy Baggo. Behind the singer’s chant intoned by Arjay Viray are Ifugao houses bathed by early morning mists. Then the scene shifts to work in wet rice agricultural fields, the backbone of Philippine economy for hundreds of years. The musical hook on the textual line “Be with us always” comes to the foreground now, with meter and rhythm signifying the dreary toil of human labor in the fields.
The image is immediately followed by views of the sea and the activity of fishing. Dr. Filemon Romero (former Chancellor of Mindanao State University in Tawi-Tawi) recites the Islamic greeting and the Tausug and Sama prayer by Mucha Shim-Quiling. These texts are accompanied by the ever popular melodic strain of the Sama folk tune leleng and arranged in the style of the regional syncretic kroncong (Malaysians pronounce it as keroncong). The image of the mosque (drone footage courtesy of Ricardo Antenor) and Quranic acclamation marks difference in faith. The prayer of male Elders inside the Sama langgal (indigenous prayer house) of Tabawan Island is a rare sight but the brotherhood of Elders is actually a very prevalent Filipino cultural practice. The solidarity of the Council of Elders mirrors the culture of deference to the ancestors whose memory endures in the present.
Then the sequence goes to the rainforest, the home of the Ata in Negros Island. This sequence begins with a camera pan of the green space that is a familiar Philippine woodland sight (though threatened by resource extraction that is also seen later). It ends with the numinous image of the current pantribal leader of the Ata communities in Negros Island, Rostom Bornea, who recorded a prayer of praise to the Almighty that Nils Emerson Flores here sings. The vision pays homage to the role that these most marginalized Filipinos have played in supplying traditional medicinal herbs to others who do not have access to the forest products and of their precious labor in the sugarcane fields of Negros Island. Living in places of low population density in out-of-the-way places, the Ata still practice the earliest form of horticulture in the archipelago. Images of planting pervade the section and, consequently, the music transforms into a more dynamic one with driving rhythm and a texture of hocket technique–a universal feature of precontact traditional Philippine music (I believe this practice has been with us, even before the contact with mediated Hindu-Buddhist cultures from Central Vietnam and Sumatra). Joshua Cadeliña, along with the other already mentioned singers, provide a spirited rendition of the sonic background interlock.
The image of covid-19 masks floating on sea water is then interpolated to indicate the existential predicament of the human species, humble creatures on earth. (Note that in the original plan we wanted face shields to float on sea as a symbol of pandemic but we failed.) This is first presaged by the figure of the Nusantao (Malayo-Polynesian ancient sea people of the archipelago) riding the boat of existence towards the indeterminate horizon or future.
The music then shifts to Gregorian chant style representing Christian faiths. This was composed by Fr. Nilo Mangussad and sang by Thomas Virtucio. Representing humankind, we kneel for discernment and enlightenment (symbolized by fire) because we recognize the limits of our human mind. Though we live in fragile worlds of nature and society, we wager on the hope for a fervent national unity and strength. This strength is symbolized by the beauty of flowers surrealistically clinging to a rock in the flowing water of time.
The song ends with a female chorus, synthesizing previous thoughts. This final segment was envisioned to be a sing-along section like an upbeat praise song so as to inspire faith and hope. It is composed by John Christian Jose from previous melodic snippets and is rendered by his friends and other volunteers whose vocal sincerity exhudes like a perfume. The singers of this segment are sopranos Bernadette Mamauag, Mavel Bautista, Michaela Mari Sanares, April Glory de Guzman, Miah Canton; and altos Maria Blanca Krystl Buesa and Trisha Kaye Piao.
Fragments of prior musical lines, like a rainbow in the sky, form a clean mosaic of voices blending as a represention of the significant and immense diversity of Philippine speech communities wherever they may be on earth today.
Overall, this interfaith prayer speaks to the pursuit of the common good.
It hails–Be with us all the time (in Ifugao, “He ay maki wada wada kidakami”) the presence of Divine Providence for national unity. It clamors for the desire for peace, understanding, love of and care for others, knowledge, unity, and protection of our environment. It enacts the call to action, of which the Divine Providence is the only and perfect embodiment and a bridge to the envisioned togetherness in the present and future.
The project was produced by Dr. Maria Alexandra Chua of the University of Santo Tomas and the NRCP President Dr. Greg del Pilar, NRCP Executive Director Dr. Marieta Sumagaysay, and NRCP Division of the Humanities Chair Dr. Hope Yu.
This paper (for virtual presentation in the 2021 International Mother Language Conference hosted by UP Diliman) is about Cebuano language, my mother tongue, and its organic artistic development within the affordances of live theater and recording technology. I speak particularly about Piux A Kabahar’s unparalleled contribution to a local creative industry, having founded Cebu’s first music recording and film companies in 1939. Piux Kabahar–playright, comedian actor, poet, musician, later turned bureaucrat and radio personality–was the son of Justo, the church organist of San Nicolas District who joined the Katipunan’s Leon Kilat’s revolution against Spain during the last years of the 19th century. Deeply committed to the plight of the poor, Piux Kabahar, just as his father was active in vernacular musical play, saw the potential of literary publishing, theater performance, and song as a vehicle for imaginative social critiques and, in the process, developed the capacities of mother tongue to indicate and express local sense and sensibility. He wrote works in vernacular poetry and music theater that were quintessentially artistic even if their messages were overtly political and underwritten by an economic context.
This paper analyzes his 1929 sarsuyla “Rosas Pangdan,” which is about the transformation of the traditional song-debate danced balitao in the then urbanizing Cebu and his 1930s song “Wasay-wasay,” which is perhaps the most beautiful Cebuano song ever written. The former inspired Minggoy Lopez to write his bucolic folk-like song “Rosas Pangdan,” the latter Ben Zubiri’s feelingful radio song “Matud Nila.” Attention to poetic languages set to music such as Kabahar’s music pushes one to appreciate the use of mother tongue into the realm of the literary where art and morality meet. Such effort also makes language alive through the users’ creative faculty by continuously reliving its memory for the future. This memory, however, would fail in the ensuing decades as crass commercialism denuded the imagination of the local creative industry practitioners.
The video presentation will be uploaded after the conference.
A study group on Philippine popular music culture was recently supported by the Japan Foundation Manila by way of the dissemination of the group’s current research on contemporary Philippine music in the Art Archive 03. This issue came with a section devoted to contemporary design. The music section, edited by Dr. Jose S. Buenconsejo, was guided by the advocacy for social inclusion and thus it contained scholarly essays on topics that are less emphasised in the academy. This was launched on September 30 2020, a video documentation of which is in the youtube link below. The complete journal issue can be downloaded as a PDF link for free as a “public good.”. The content of the music section is as follows.
MUSICEDITOR’S NOTE • INSIGHT: Why Music Matters to the Communities by José S. Buenconsejo, PhD • RECONTEXTUALIZING OPM IN THE 21st CENTURY by Krina Cayabyab • BEYOND MUSIC AND SOUND ART by Agnes Manalo • VARIETIES OF CONTEMPORARY FILIPINO SONG MASHUPS (1970s TO PRESENT) by José S. Buenconsejo, PhD • PINOYS AND BATTLE RAP: Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo by Lara Katrina T. Mendoza, PhD • SITUATING MUSIC IN THE CONTEXT OF RECENT TRENDS IN ORIGINAL PHILIPPINE MUSICAL THEATER PRODUCTIONS by Aileen dela Cruz • POWERFUL MOVE: The Influence of Budots in Philippine Society by Desiree Peralejo • MUSIC FESTIVALS IN THE PHILIPPINES: Tropicality, Identity, Cosmopolitanism by Tusa Montes