Philippine Music at the Frontiers

A friend of mine, Stephen Grauberger, had graciously hosted my webpages titled “Philippine Music at the Frontiers” at Along with his research on harps in the Philippines (intermittently thriving in the island of Cebu where I come from), my webpages contain (1) my interpretations of indigenous Agusan Manobo music as multimedia, (2) information about and excerpt of the script of my documentary film “The River of Exchange,” (3) a movie slideshow of the landscape where I documented the long narrative song uwaging among the Umayamnon-Pulangihon in Mindanao island (2005), and (4) a PDF file of my poster “The spirit of the gift: on the phenomenology of objects in Agusan Manobo possession rite” that was exhibited in the 2009 general assembly of the National Research Council of the Philippines. Though my research on ritual objects does not deal with music per se, I still included it because it pertains to my longstanding interest on pragmatic meaning and sociality, particularly as I have always been compelled to disseminate information on what I believe is a local, indigenous Philippine knowledge of the gift, a subject for contemplation that, it seems to me, has not been extensively considered in the existing Euro-American intellectual discourse on gift in exchange relations. My research on ritual objects has to do more with the notion of presencing or the reflexive recognition of interpersonal relationships and of human effort (pragmatics) that is expended on the natural world.

I label my webpages “Philippine music at the frontiers” because the word “frontier” is resonant with ideas concerning cross-cultural/intercultural contacts and encounters. The image of cultures meeting at the boundaries or edges of landscapes immediately brings to mind the concept of social power relations that are necessary in material processes of cultural domination, conversion, translation, incorporation, assimilation, resistance, hybridity, even cosmopolitanism. My research has been focused primarily on social relationships between inland, aboriginal peoples in Mindanao island and Visayan-speaking settlers from the seacoasts of neighboring Visayan Islands, most of who themselves have been displaced from the plantations in Central Philippines at the turn of the 20th century and lured by the state-initiated imagination of Mindanao as the land of promise. I understand the English word “frontier” to be a borrowed Latin word “fin,” which means end, so that my interest has revolved around the theoretical question of how “ends” of different cultures create “performed” or materialized intercultural entanglements at the frontiers.

In addition, there are two more ways by which I justify the use of the term “frontier” in relation to my research works. First, the term “frontier” can also be an allegory of my personal experience as a scholar from the developing South who encountered intellectual discourses in the developed North about music, albeit from the dominating point of view of Western epistemology via-a-vis its non-Western others. In the course of my doctoral field research, I encountered an indigenous music-culture in a frontier in Mindanao which belongs to an entirely different world of social meaning and sociality. The presentation “The World of Agusan Manobo” is therefore my interpretaion of this complex world of meaning that I had passionately written about in my book “Songs and Gifts at the Frontier” (Routledge, 2002). In this multimedia presentation, I argue for the crucial roles of mythical thought, embodied perceptions of nature, of physical things and drastic gestures that convey the act and ethos of human compassion in Agusan Manobo ritual song and dance. Lastly, in Philippine cultures, the verb to be “in front” has rich associations as regards to interpersonal relationships as in the concept of katungod (literally “one in front with whom the self is related” and which is similar to the Tagalog word katapat). This is constantly iterated in Agusan Manobo song tud-om. Pace Goffman’s work on face and on the literature on palabas, the katungod is a central concept in Filipino culture for it expresses solid cultural values for personalism and pakikipagkapwa.

Invitation to preview The River of Exchange

I wish to invite those residing in Manila to preview my first film, a documentary entitled

The River of Exchange:
Music of the Agusan Manobo and Visayan Settler Relations in Caraga,
Mindanao Island, Philippines

It will be held on Wednesday, SEPTEMBER 24, 2008, 5:00 to 6:15PM
at the Abelardo Auditorium
University of the Philippines College of Music (Diliman, Quezon City)

Admission is free. All are welcomed.

[The film has also been scheduled for screening at the national meeting of the Anthropological Association of the Philippines in Pampanga in October 2008)

The making of this documentary was made possible through an equipment grant from the Prince Claus Foundation for Culture and Development of The Netherlands and partial fieldwork funding from the Office of the Chancellor, University of the Philippines.

Hereunder is the synopsis of the film:

This is a story of the encounter and consequent cultural exchanges
between inland, aboriginal Manobos and coastal, Visayan settlers in an
“out-of-the-way” place in Agusan Valley, Caraga, Mindanao Island,
Philippines. It explores, in particular, the varied embodiments of this
social history in traditional Manobo song and ritual and in performances of recent, Visayan-brought electronically-amplified sounds. In Manobo ritual, spirits possses the body of the medium as a means of divination for curing, but these spirits indicate as well Manobo imaginative perceptions of their relationships with outsiders, including the Visayan spirit whose voice is incorporated in the Manobo body.

With the introduction of modern cultural practices, Manobo rituals have
been erased and displaced to the margins but some are altered, as in the incarnation of the Visayan spirit, to accommodate the unassailable
Visayan presence that is felt in Manobo day to day life. This spirit is
addressed as a friend, a form of recognition that resonates with the
Christian compadrazgo social relation. Cultural exchanges come full
circle with the performance of Manobo heritage in recent street ethnic
dancing competitions with Visayans mimicking Manobos. Whether a spirit is incarnated in these festivals or not is a moot question. The mimicry seems instead to reproduce a mere pictorial representation of heritage minus its really real links to the world.

Thank you. Hope to see you in the event.