KASAMA Vol. 14 No. 2 / April-May-June 2000 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Five hours travel by express bus from Manila to the town of Botolan followed by a 20-minute tricycle ride along an unsealed road will bring you to the village of Bihawo. In April this year, the LAKAS Ayta village was chosen as the Indigenous Peoples' Theatre Festival site to represent the spirit of the gathering -to come close to Mother Earth and pay homage to her elemental spirits.

The occasion was the PagSandiwa (Oneness in Spirit) Festival celebrating the relationship of indigenous people and Mother Earth. The 5-day celebration from 26-30 April 2000 brought together hundreds of tribal elders, shamans, healers, storytellers and performance artists from various parts of the Philippines.

Delegates from the Ayta, Badjao, Bagobo, Dibabawon, Dumagat, Ibaloy, I-wak, Kalanguya, Kalinga, Kankanaey, Subanen, Sama, Talaandig, Tausug and T'boli gathered to present their traditional dances, music and stories. The performance art also served as vehicles for the sharing of experiences in utilising culture and traditions for the protection of the environment.

The tribal participants travelled from their ancestral lands which, though wonders of creation, are environmentally endangered. They related how their lifeways and cultures are shaped and nourished by the wealth of their environment and how its protection is vital for the survival of their communities. In their belief systems, trees, rivers, mountains and natural elements are regarded as sacred dwelling places of ancestral spirits which must be regarded with utmost respect.

There were also workshops on folklore, traditional arts and crafts, curriculum, programming and teachers' training skills. In the evenings after dinner, we had story-telling about the histories of the tribes, their issues, struggles, heroes and victories of previous generations.

The Tribal Elders presented their reflections during the forum on Indigenous Education and Survival of the Tribe. The feature of that day was the ritual blessings from the different tribes present at the Festival for the first full-term Indigenous school in the Philippines specialising in the preservation and development of Indigenous knowledge and lifeways that uphold the ecological integrity of Mother Earth.

Building the School of Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions of the Ayta Tribe (SKT-Ayta) started last year. It is a large tribal house made of bamboo and cogon grass that will be their community's lifeline so long as it remains true to their ancestors' convictions and beliefs. It is the Ayta community's feast offering to Earth Day 2000.

PagSandiwa Indigenous People's Festival, organized by the Asian Council for People's Culture and Theatre for the Environment Network (ACPC/Tent), was made possible with the generous assistance of the Royal Netherlands Embassy, Bilance, MISSIO, Broedelijk Delen and LandBank. ACPC/Tent is a national organization of cultural workers and community educators.


ACPC/Tent National Performing Team

ACPC/Tent's National Performing Team presented Pitong Ritwal ng Inang Lupa (Seven Rituals of Mother Earth) featuring youth of the Kalinga, Ayta, Talaandig, T'boli, Dibabawon and Tausug peoples. The play revolves around seven rituals portraying the cycles of life and their interaction with the environment: birth, baptism, fertility, healing, war, death, and re-birth. It is performed in a bamboo set that depicts 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 serves as a giant music instrument.


CINE/Davao Children's Theatre Collective

Founded by CINE (Children's Innovative Education), The Davao Children's Theatre Collective has produced Limang Mukha ng Kaunlaran (Five Faces of Development), a commentary through young eyes and tender hearts about the impact upon children of globalization. Five young artists were fielded to gather material for the theatre production from the fisherfolk of Maputi, Banaybanay, the gold miners of Mainit, Nabunturan, the peasants of Cambilawa, Inambatan, Monkayo, the banana plantation workers of Abiud, Pag-Asa, and the Dibabawon tribal people of Buhi, Laak. The resulting production depicts the realities of war-torn Mindanao and young people's efforts to restore peace and regain justice and harmony.


Helobung School for Living Traditions

"Helobung" is a T'boli concept of entertainment featuring their rich and unique culture, music, chants, songs, traditional instruments, dances and mimesis. Based in South Cotabato, the T'boli promote harmony between nature and people and pay deep respect to the spirits that dwell in the natural environment. They believe that "lemlunay" (heaven) is a paradise where there is no sorrow and where "d'watas" (goddesses) play music during festivities that never end. In 1984, members of the tribe began to revitalize their skills in music, dance and crafts under the guidance of community elders. A troupe was formally organized and today it plays a crucial role in ensuring that T'boli tribal heritage will continue to flourish for many more generations. In recent years they have performed in France, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.


Tanghalang Ayta ng LAKAS

Tanghalang Ayta ng LAKAS, or Tala, started as a cultural group during the 1980s when the Aytas still lived on the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo. Today, it functions as a recorder and narrator of history. Tala's maiden play tells about the struggle for self-identity, dignity and empowerment of the Aytas. In a simple, straightforward manner that combines the talents of elders and youth, they reconstruct significant landmarks in their tribe's long years of journey since the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. For the Aytas, cultural heritage is the soul of their existence.


Kalinga People's Theatre

The Kalinga People's Theatre is a newly-founded cultural organization of youth and elders from the Tinglayan, Lubuagan, Botbot and Bangad tribes of Kalinga. Its mission is to promote peace among the Kalinga communities by restoring the sacredness of the "bodong" (peace pact) which was once an inviolable tradition among many tribes of the Cordilleras. The Kalinga systems of communal livelihood, collective leadership and warrior tradition have placed them at the forefront of Indigenous peoples' struggles. With epic stories, courtship dances, chants, rituals and musical celebrations, their cultural workers take their dreams of harmony across the boundaries of tribal conflict.


Talaandig School for Living Traditions

Founded in 1996, the school is located at the foot of Mt. Kitanglad National Park in Sitio Tulugan, Sonco, Lantapan, Bukidnon. In building the school the first step was the construction of the Tulugan, a big house that has a large hall with a central fireplace, where the community can gather for activities such as chanting, storytelling, weaving, handicrafts, dancing, and conducting tribal rituals. It is thus a natural learning center of indigenous knowledge of the Talaandig tribe. The function of the Tulugan as a repository of wisdom was disrupted for hundreds of years with the era of Spanish colonization. The Talaandig School for Living Traditions aims to re-establish the Tulugan as a venue for the transfer of knowledge to the next generation and a counter balance to the prevailing influences of Western culture, so that elders and youth may gather to affirm their ties as a community, uphold their identity and thereby ensure the survival of the Talaandig tribe.

Tambuli Cultural Troupe of Tawi-Tawi

The Tambuli Cultural Troupe was established in 1974 to revive and sustain interest in the Sama, Tausug, Badjaw and Jama Mapun folk music, dance and rituals. The mini archipelago of Tawi-Tawi is a paradise of marine biodiversity. Turtle Island is the home and nesting ground of the endangered pawikans (giant sea turtles) and the surrounding waters are the breeding places of rare marine species. The graceful flight and fishing skills of the local linggisan bird has inspired dances which mimic its intricate movements. The people believe that if harm befalls the linggisan, one invites misfortune and nature's anger. The Tambuli Troupe presents an allegorical play about the linggisan whose habitat is deteriorating with the coming of so-called development and modernization.

During June and July last year three Ayta youth delegates from LAKAS visited Australia on a speaking tour and cultural exchange. The July/Sept 1999 issue of Kasama featured their visit. This year Epang Domulot, Tubag Jugatan and Orosco Cabalic have been busy helping with the SKT School and the PagSandiwa Festival. The text above is reprinted from the festival booklet which arrived with this letter:

"How are all of you? We are glad to share with you our important activity here. This is the first time we will celebrate an IP [Indigenous Peoples] Festival called PagSandiwa - that means "one spirit". We also are proud to have the first IP school in our community. We hope we will be successful. We will have many things to share with you after the festival. Now, we are very busy. Tubag and Epang are festival deputy coordinators and Orosco is coordinating our theatre group and is one of the main actors. We hope we can send you a video tape of the whole festival. Regards to all, especially Kuya Bobby.
Epang, Tubag, and Orosco."