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My Analogue Days: Working With The Panay Bukidnon

Despite having a heavy set of rattan hammock mounted on scaffoldings that had to be moved out the stage for the next performing group, the Panay Bukidnon, the indigenous people of Panay Islands, had been one of my favorites of the 18 groups I had to stage direct for the Tunogtugan Festival, both in the Dipolog and Maasin, Iloilo legs. Even if on many occasions I was lost in translation most specially whenever the group finalized its repertoire for the day (which may be a concept too foreign to their traditional way of ritual music) I love this group so much.

Photo by lakandula

Since I started my passion for lomography I have been serious in documenting my work, which I have completely ignored doing in the past. So, whenever I have projects now, my analogue days will be filled with capturing memories during breaks at work or whenever the situation allows. As a freelancer, I am only employed when I have projects. Recently, I have successfully completed scriptwriting and stage directing the concerts and special ceremonies of “Tunogtugan: 1st International Gongs and Bamboo Music Festival” which ran from February 16-21 in Mindanao, February 23-23 in Visayas and February 27-28 in Metro Manila. The event featured traditional and contemporary artist-musicians from Brunei Darussalam,
Canada, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and of course, the Philippines.

Featured in this article is my interaction with the group of Panay Bukidnon. Here’s a brief background information about them.

Living in and around the towns of Calinog, Lambunao, Januiay and Maasin in Iloilo, Tapaz and Jamindan in Capiz, Valderrama, Bugasong and Lawaan in Antique, and in some parts of Libacao, Aklan, the Panay Bukidnons are the highland people of Western Visayas. With rich traditional cultures of music, dance, stories, costuming, and rituals, the Panay Bukidnons have a well-developed gong culture. The various sound qualities heard in agung music are given names/proper nouns—for example, ‘tawag-linaw’ for ‘clear sound.’ Gongs are named based on such sound qualities, along with their roles in evoking magic and light, as well as how they are imbued with power, charm and spells. Moreover, gongs are associated with a person with power and authority in the Panay Bukidnon epic stories.

Their musical expressions explore the sonic properties of instruments made from bamboo, wood, and metal. For instance, the agung (metal instrument) is played by patik) or by beating the rim/side of the gong with thin bamboo sticks, and by kadul or by striking the bossed area of the gong with a rubber-padded beater. The tambur, a two-headed drum, is beaten by a pair of thin bamboo sticks. The kahuy (wooden instrument) is struck on a sarug or bamboo floor. On the other hand, their bamboo instruments are mostly played solo, or sometimes are used to accompany dances.

On our first encounter in time for rehearsing the opening ceremony, I was told that the father of lady whose portrait appears below, died. I was lost for words to say to her who at that time was still in utter disbelief about the sad news. Nevertheless, she opted to stay for the festival in Dipolog and vowed to catch the wake on her return. Despite her loss, she was resilient and remained focused on the festival and their group’s performance. If you have seen her in their concerts, you would not know she was grieving all that time. She carried through the despair lightly with the support of the group.

Photo by lakandula

Lola (Filipino for grandma) is a term of endearment I would call the eldest woman in the group who is a master in playing the one string bamboo zither. She had a solo part complete with spot light and necessary lapel microphone for her soft-sounding instrument. She’s adorable. She would talk to you in her native tongue as if you both understand each other. Onstage and off-stage, you would never catch her face without a charming smile. When I directed her to be seated by the front stairs for her solo part instead of using the platform upstage, she took it with great enthusiasm. She felt very comfortable with this new blocking.

Photo by lakandula

During the curtain call after their first concert, Lola lost her balance and stumbled on stage that shocked us all. She got up immediately as if nothing happened and walked to down-center stage to take her bow to the audience, leaving the stagehand who came to her rescue dumbfounded and the entire audience amazed with her I’m-okay gesture.

While I sensed that she and other elderly in the group may had some bickerings with the young Rolinda (the one with the black veil over her head) who was the focal point of the group when it came to communications, they were all able to participate and follow instructions well. Age difference plus the obvious language barrier may contributed to some miscommunication within the group but they were able to settle their differences easily. You see, they all come from the same tribe but from different islands.

One thing I admired so much about this group was the authenticity of their traditional music. They played their instruments not because they were told to but because it was part of their life and how they communicate with the world. They played their music not to entertain the audience but to relive the rituals of their ancestors and their people. Sometimes their playing was longer, other times shorter that an audience like me would only know it’s finished when they literally stopped (which on many cases were quite abrupt). Good thing, the emcee and I were always on guard on what was happening on stage, even if on many occasions we were both guessing the ending.

The young Rolinda is a local chantress. Her chanting made shivers run down my spine and brought me to a different world — a spiritual one. The first time I heard her, I knew I had to ask her to officiate the prayer for the closing concert. The youngest of them all was a boy who performed the monkey dance complete with eating a banana onstage. Told him to interact more with the audience like he could offer them some of the bananas. He did just like that during the shows to the amazement of unsuspecting audience in the front seats. He also played solo the jaw harp after his humorous monkey dance.

The Panay Bukidnon was a colorful photographic subject — both individually and collectively. They wore predominantly red attire — all hand embroidered — together with old coins as traditional adornment. But aside from the visual package, there is something really special about this group which I noticed specially when they dance. They all seemed to be in trance — as if possessed or in union with the spirits of their ancestors. Indeed an amazing sight to behold. I am so proud and honored to have met them and to have witnessed their rituals.

Took these shots backstage while they prepared for their turn on stage. As flash photography was prohibited during the show (and as a director, I would not be the one to break that rule) and bulb mode shooting was not a good option for me, I found solace in sneaking to the backstage in between performances.

Textured these portrait shots with light blurs while riding the bus at South Luzon Expressway on my way home from Calamba.

written by lakandula

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