T A O M U S I C   O R D E R I N G   I N F O R M A T I O N
 

 

Hanunuo Mangyan Artists, MARINO: Hanunuo Mangyan Music
and Chanted Poetry, Tao Music, 1998
Marino: Music and Poetry To Remember Ourselves

My friend,
Though there is a body of water to cross
Though a felled tree blocks the path
When I think of it,
What I want to reach is there, just within reach;
Though this water acts as a chasm between,
It is as though it were merely a gap I could seal with my weaving.

Ambahan translation by Ma. Luisa Aguilar Carino

The sentiment -the longing to be reunited with a cherished one - is familiar to all friends, mates, and kin; of whatever age, class, or culture. Only the metaphor for bridging the distance might differ, as in this case which gives away the poet's milieu.

The poem above, in its original language, was crafted, nobody knows how long ago, by someone whose identity we shall never know. All we know is that it is an Ambahan, the name for the ancient form of chanted poetry belonging to the Mangyan, the ethno-linguistic group now inhabiting the mountains and interior coastal areas of Mindoro. The form is particularly identified with the Hanunuo, one of at least seven sub-groups comprising the Mangyan.

The Ambahan quoted above is included in the cassette recording - cum- monograph aptly entitled 'Marino' - from the Mangyan adjective that means 'beautiful'. The album is the third in the groundbreaking Philippine Indigenous Music Series, a continuing project of the Tao Foundation for Culture and Arts, an organization established by artist and cultural activist Grace Nono, her husband and co-record producer Bob Aves, Noni Buencamino, Alex Cruz, Dazzle Rivera, and Virgie Gapuz. A collection of all-new recordings, 'Marino's references include Antoon Postma's 'Ambahan: Mangyan Treasures', as well as a recording produced in the '50s, by National Artist for Music Dr. Jose Maceda, and Harold Conklin, titled 'Hanunuo Music from the Philippines', published by the Smithsonian Institute's Folkways Records.

'Marino' - like its two predecessors in the Indigenous Music Series - was recorded and published by Tao Music, a Tao Foundation subsidiary 'committed to producing and publishing record titles of Filipino indigenous music, contemporary culture-based music, and other experimental, educational genres, with the use of state of the art technologies.'

The series was launched with the release of the cassette recording 'Earth Kulintang', a collection of traditional Maguindanaon kulintang solos, performed by recognized kulintang master and teacher Aga Mayo Butocan. Butocan teaches at the U.P. College of Music and regularly represents the Philippines in international music festivals/ conferences on indigenous culture.

The second record title to come out of the series was released last year. 'Pakaradia-an', a Maranao word which means vocal and instrumental entertainment featured Maranao princess Sindao Banisil in her rendition of excerpts from the Maranao epic chant 'Darangen', as well of Maranao musical instruments. Banisil taught Maranao music and dance at the University of the East, the Philippine Women's University, and is the founding-President of the Mindanao Pakaradia-an Cultural Foundation.

Says Grace Nono of the Indigenous Music Series project: 'The goal is to encourage others to ask themselves who they are; to embark on a journey of re-discovery of one's origins and milieu; to know about the historical processes that gave birth to present situations. It is important to study one's history and culture because in those contexts, one is brought closer to knowing one's true identity.'

That may appear self-evident enough, yet many of us who understand it intellectually are not able to translate into action the realization that self-awareness is the key to freedom. As Nono puts it, 'Once you are aware of who you are, you gain control over your own life. As someone once said, 'there are forces in society that profit from the slumbering majority'.

The Indigenous Music Series, by introducing us to the poetry and music of our cultural brothers and sisters, holds up a mirror that shows us forgotten or hitherto unseen facets of ourselves as people.
It gives us a glimmer of the beauty and articulations of truth that our forebears were capable of, long before the sap of other cultures seeped into our collective consciousness, in many cases enriching our own, but in several other instances, displacing and burying it. From reawakened pride in our own culture which these recordings should help achieve, we may regain the faith and self-confidence to free ourselves from the tentacles of psychological octopi that impede our advance as a people. Most insidious of these are all the manifestations of a tenacious colonial mindset which has predisposed us to believe all the negative qualities heaped on us by our colonizers in their desire to subdue us more easily ('lazy', thieving', 'undisciplined') - faults present in all cultures, but not in all members of any culture; otherwise, should the existence of English words for these failings, for example, be taken to mean that all Americans and all Britons possess these character flaws? Language, after all, reflects culture. From this pernicious colonial conditioning have come our habits of self-denigration and self-blame, xenophilia (love of the foreign), loss of hope in our future as a people.

Nono and Aves consider the album 'Marino' and the two earlier albums in the Indigenous Music Series but a small step toward the goal they want to help achieve, which is to help the Filipino discover for him/herself where he/she wants to go, as well as how to get there. 'Kiliti lamang ang mga ito. Mga pampagising,' Nono says.

And music, being so universal in its appeal, is one of the most potent means of bridging cultures. 'We can begin by opening ourselves to music that's different from what we commonly hear. If we continually help ourselves to be exposed to music and lifeways that are other than our own, eventually we will learn to respect and appreciate them. Respect - the key to bridging cultures.'

The Ambahan translation above, for example, gives the reader a clue to the nature of the Hanunuo and the Mangyan people in general. Their traits commend them to the world, and should do credit to us or embarrass us into reacquiring the same virtues, as the case may be.
For these, our brothers and sisters are a gentle, peace-loving, and scrupulously honest people - as foreign and Filipino researchers have noted in many studies and as a recent interview with some of them gave me a glimpse of.

Gathered in the living room of Nono and Aves one afternoon after they took part in a lecture - demonstration at the Ateneo University, about ten Hanunuo shyly but candidly responded to my questions about, among other subjects, their perceptions of lowlanders - you and me - whom they call damuong. Memorable observations expressed in that interview (which deserves a separate story) is that made by Willy, a highly vocal Mangyan woman leader, who is a judge on Mangyan Law, Adviser to the Samahang Pang-tribo ng mga Mangyan sa Mindoro, and former Barangay Captain. Speaking a mixture of colloquial and poetic Tagalog in a Mangyan accent, she said: 'Sa totoo lang, sa kanilang magandang mukha, kung tingnan mo maamo, pero ang mga damuong ay merong mga lihim na hindi ibinubunyag sa mga Mangyan. (In truth, behind their beautiful faces, they look gentle, but the lowlanders have secrets that they do not reveal to the Mangyan).'

She cites the Mangyan's ancestral domain problem, and a more personal one involving a sibling, two children, and two nephews who drowned many years ago, a tragedy she suspects to have been no accident. She bases her suspicion on the refusal of damuong living near the scene to say anything that might shed light on the tragedy.

Willy's companions are not as scathing as she is in her opinions of damuong; either they do not share her assessment entirely, or they are simply a little more cautious. But it is her statements that are the most provocative, and that demand listening to. She says for instance: 'Sana naman, ang karapatan ng tulad namin, ay igalang n'yo naman (I wish you would respect the rights of people like us).'

Recording the music of various ethno-linguistic groups, Nono says, also aims to encourage diversity. 'Diversity is the natural law of the earth. We - humans and other living things alike are all different, and meant to be that way. But that doesn't mean we can't have respect and appreciation for each other. I have learned this a long time ago-that the reason why we are able to complement each other is because we are different. So if globalization makes us yield without conscience to every popular trend that is fed to us by those who have everything to gain from our ignorance, then we are just as guilty for killing diversity, for helping to displace those who practice non-dominant lifeways, for being co-conspirators in the destruction of the web of life, and our own lives, ultimately. But are we even aware of any of it?'

'Marino' and the other albums in the series, including those to come, should also help us rid of our prejudices. 'Porke ba naka-bahag, mas mababang uri? Porke ba hindi tumuntong sa paaralan, ay mangmang?' (Does it follow that just because one wears G-strings, one is inferior? That because one hasn't studied in a formal school, one is ignorant?), Nono adds.

The series also strives to express the reality that culture is dynamic. That for example, 'whereas being Filipino in the past meant a fixed and static definition, this time, culture is viewed in the context of history - which is a never-ending story of encounters, clashes, marriages, and everything in between'.

Featuring Hanunuo practitioners of the Ambahan in 'Marino', Nono says, 'is a way of giving recognition to those people who continue to keep these indigenous expressions alive by continuing to practice them to this day. While some of them have been thrust into the limelight, like Ginaw Bilog who was accorded a Gawad Award a few years back, for his mastery of the Ambahan, it is just right that others who have made similar efforts in preserving Hanunuo culture be given their due credit. Whereas some cultures are virtuoso-oriented, a trait that breeds the flourishing of a few, elite specialists, others give more importance to having their cultural expressions practiced by the bigger numbers. The latter is how the Ambahan, a cultural expression that is applied in every Hanunuo life situation, was approached these past centuries.'

In certain cultures, reciters of historical traditions, like the whare wanaga of the New Zealand Maori, the sagamen of 11th century Iceland, and the griots of Mali, have professional status. By contrast, laments Nono, 'Karaniwan dito sa atin, kailangan pang umakyat ng ilang bundok bago makarinig o makakita ng traditional culture master'.

The centennial which we celebrate this year focuses on the birth of the republic, which is fine; but this focus should not obscure the fact that nationhood does not begin or end with the establishment of formal institutions. The growth of any people's sense of identity is a never-ending process. It dates back to the first stirrings of collective self-awareness among the land's original or host inhabitants, and extends as far forward as all their descendants' entire lifespan as a people. The concept of host-inhabitants has been conveniently glossed-over by conquering cultures, who assume and proclaim a right to their newfound land by virtue of their 'superiority' to the host-inhabitants in terms of 'intelligence', warrior-skills, and overall 'sophistication'. Sadly, even modern-day descendants of host-inhabitants become so far-removed from them in culture and technology there is exists alienation, even enmity, between them. It is as if a family as hospitable and peaceable as it is wealthy (the cynical would call such a family foolish) had thought nothing of opening its home to others, but the guests, having a more assertive and aggressive nature than their hosts, eventually (gradually or immediately, forcibly or subtly) gained control of the household, then building their own families and bringing-up their children, grandchildren, great- grandchildren, and so on. And it is as if in time these descendants of the home's mere guests began regarding their hosts' progeny as poor, weak, dull, sad, backward oddities.

Is this to be dismissed as no more than a case of survival of the fittest? Yet in most cultures, gratitude and acknowledgement of origins are held up as values and virtues. Filipino yuppies can be heard repeating, if haltingly, 'Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan'. Or as Robert Feleo, artist of his people, once said, and I paraphrase, a people's culture is an indispensable weapon for healing its ills, for solving its problems, for moving forward. And to the extent that a dominant culture ignores those of other ethnolinguistic groups making up the larger whole, to that extent is that dominant culture impoverished.

The publication of 'Marino' and the other record titles of the Indigenous Music Series is a step forward acquainting ourselves with the traditional cultures of this nation; not only that our dominant culture be thereby enriched; but also, that the voices of our minority brothers and sisters be heard, that their concerns be addressed by those they call on to help them, in their thorny trail of cultural survival. As Nono puts it in her Letter to the Reader and Listener, 'it is to rediscover ourselves in the other; to listen to the song of a sister, a brother, and to find again something which we had forgotten for a long, long time'.

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