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KASAMA Vol. 14 No. 3 /July-August-September 2000 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

as performed by ACPC/Tent

The Cast:

Burot Cosme,
Evelyn Wanan,
Ama Samboa,
Engelbert Payao,
Waway Saway,
Nga-Bun Wanan,
Glenn Sarmiento,
Emilio Sudaria,
Geejay Arriola

Musical Direction: Popong Landero
Movement Design: Aries Clemeno
Production & Costume Design: Ed Manalo & Steve de Leon
Direction: Al Santos

The Seven Rituals of Mother Earth (Ang Pitong Ritwal ng Inang Lupa) is an indigenous theatre production that brings together the diverse cultures and experiences of Filipino tribal communities from Kalinga of the northern Cordilleras to Tawi-Tawi of the Muslim Sulu archipelago.

The play revolves around seven rituals depicting the community's life cycles and interaction with the environment: birth, baptism, fertility, healing, war, death and re-birth. It is performed in a bamboo set depicting the three segments of the universe from the Manobo world view: the uppermost is "lemlunay" (heaven), the middle is "sal-ladan" (where humans exist), and the lowest portion is "bolibolan" which is the underworld and dwelling place of evil spirits. The bamboo installation also functions as a giant music instrument.

"Seven Rituals" depicts the relationship of indigenous people's culture with the environment, and how the preservation of their traditions, spirituality and communal lifeways is linked with the conservation and protection of nature elements. Folklore serves as dramatic metaphor of indigenous belief systems which regards trees, rivers and mountains as sacred dwelling places of ancestral spirits.

In the play, a mythical "Minokawa" a Dreamseller representing development aggression, lures a community to a 'progressive' lifestyle with promises of improvement in their quality of living. The issue of 'development' and its impact on tribal communities is raised by the presentation along with the questions: Who defines development? What is at stake? And who benefits from so-called progress?

The national performing team features young performers from the Talaandig, Dibabawon, T'boli, Tausug, Kalinga, B'laan and Ayta tribal communities and two from the provincial towns of Iliilo and Davao City. The true to life experiences of the members of the company are themselves unique stories.

Burot Cosme from the Ayta community of Botolan, Zambales leads the cast. He portrays the role of a native man whose soul is stolen by an evil spirit. To be released from captivity, his tribal kin perform an elaborate ritual of catching the evil spirit.

In real life, Burot is a youth leader of his tribe who dropped out of school because of discrimination. "They call us monkeys and despise us because our values and ways of thinking are different," he laments. He is a farmer and a hunter whose native skills in agriculture and knowledge of forest flora and fauna will fill many science books. And yet his innate wisdom does not qualify with the standards of the mainstream educational system.

Ama Samboa of the Dibabawon tribe of Mindanao was adopted by a Visayan family when she was 9 years old and lived in the city for several years away from her tribe. At 12 years, she joined the collaboration of "Seven Rituals" and learned from her co-participants the value of being rooted in her own indigenous culture and tradition. But her own tribe is one among many indigenous communities in the Philippines facing 'extinction'. "There is so little left," she cries during the dialogue with the audience after a performance.

Nga-bun Wanan is a T'boli from Lake Sebu, a mountain kingdom where the spirit world is nestled on trees. The T'bolis believe that "lemlunay" is a paradise where there is no sorrow, and where "d'watas" (goddesses) play music during festivities that never end. Nga-bun is the narrator of the play and uses her tribe's traditional chants to tell the story of the myth.

Today, the T'bolis, like many other indigenous communities in the world, is at the crossroads of embracing lowland influences at the risk of losing their rich culture and tradition. And so the play asks: What are the choices for indigenous people in this era of globalisation? In which direction will they go? And what lies at the end of the road of their choice?

From these personal experiences, the play was created with the collaboration of the performers from the different tribes. Their stories and experiences were woven into the presentation as a collective representation of the issues confronting Filipino indigenous communities. And while these are individual plaints from the eyes of young people, they mirror the realities confronting Filipino indigenous communities in general.

At the end of the one hour presentation, the performers engage the audience in a dialogue. It is perhaps the moment, as they talk about their personal experiences as young people from the tribes, that the presentation is best able to articulate their hopes as well as their struggles as individuals and as members of their tribal communities.

Mindanaoan performer and designer Geejay Arriola lends her craft to the company with her many years experience of immersion with Southern indigenous communities. Together with Popong Landero, the play's musical director, they round up the play's vision of a Filipino society that engages in building bridges of peace and multi-culturalism.

The play is a result of three years of training, research and advocacy work conducted by the network of the Asian Council for People's Culture / Theatre for the Environment Network. ACPC/Tent is a national organization of cultural workers and indigenous educators. Over-all direction is by Al Santos, music direction by Popong Landero, movement design by Aries Clemeno and production and costume design by Ed Manalo and Steve de Leon.

ACPC/Tent is also engaged in developing indigenous education in the Philippines. We have established our School of Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions (SKT) which is a network of four culturally-responsive pilot schools for tribal communities in the T'boli, Talaandig, Ayta and Kalinga communities. Our main programme now is in the area of curriculum-building and teachers' training. While there are a number of ongoing initiatives towards indigenous education, there is still a lot to be developed in terms of a truly indigenous-oriented learning system.

Presently, one of our goals is to build support linkages for our schools. In this connection, we are launching an advocacy performance tour.

Each performance will culminate with a forum wherein we will aim to introduce the audience to our concept as well as the context of indigenous education in the Philippines. We will also be conducting workshops on cultural survival and education of indigenous people. We hope that through this dialogue we will be able to contribute to the worldwide campaign for education and at the same time establish new partnerships with various institutions for our work. We hope that these partnerships can lead to learning, understanding and enrichment of each other's education perspective on both ways.

Al Santos
Program Director ACPC/Tent

The previous issue of "Kasama" (Vol.14 No.2 April-June 2000) featured an article on the SKT (Silungan ng Katatubong Kaalaman at Tradisyon or School of Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions) built at the LAKAS Ayta village of Bihawo, Zambales. The PagSandiwa (Oneness in Spirit) Indigenous People's Festival was organised by ACPC/Tent to celebrate the relationship of Indigenous people and Mother Earth and inaugurate the first full-term Indigenous school in the Philippines.

"Ang Pitong Ritwal ng Inang Lupa" (The Seven Rituals of Mother Earth) is embarking on its 2nd National Advocacy Tour of Mindanao and the Visayas during September to October 2000 and will also tour France, Belgium, Germany, Holland and Austria in March-May 2001. An Australian tour for the latter part of 2001 may be possible!

For a tour schedule or to book a performance contact:

Asian Council for People's Culture
13 Madre Selva St., Roxas District,
Quezon City 1103 Philippines
Tel. (632) 3734932
Fax: (632) 4121954