, DECEMBER 10, 2007  (STAR) By Ricardo M. de Ungria - Recently concluded at the Magsaysay Park in Davao City was the Kalimudan: Pinaghiusa sa Mindanao: Mindanao Indigenous People’s (IP) Gathering/Exposition 2007, held from Nov. 16 to 25. Organized by the Department of Tourism XI, with support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the 10-day celebration of indigenous knowledge and wisdom showcased the variety of IP architecture and the songs and dances of 24 IP communities all over Mindanao as performed by their cultural masters. It also featured a trade fair, crafts sales, and creativity workshops, and a public forum for the advancement and protection of IP rights. It was the first kalimudan, or gathering, of its kind in the whole of Mindanao.

A palisade of bamboos fenced off the eastern section of the park to give space to the exposition. A curving passageway from the entrance led to an open structure called Tigumanan, where the public forums were held, before branching out through a narrow pathway and breaking out dramatically into an open space where more than a dozen examples of architecture by the IP groups stood in a circle around the park grounds that became sanctified by the cultural performances and rituals every day.

The festivities opened on Nov. 17 with a promenade, rituals, open-house buklog dancing, and culinary feasts and food tasting. An ode to the bamboo entitled “Kawayan ng Lahi” by National Artist Virgilio Almario and inscribed on wood by a local artist was unveiled along the narrow pathway and read in translation in some of the tribal languages. The poet himself graced the ceremony. His poem locates the bamboo in legend and praises its many uses:

“Kawayan, kawayan

Ng aming sanlaksang pangangailangan!

“Pagkain kung labong,

Alkansiya kung bumbong,

Kanyon kung bagong taon.

“Ang himaymay pwedeng lubid

O sawali ng kamalig

O sapin ng bagong basket.”

It ends with its significance to the Filipino people:

“At noon daw Himagsikan,

Bukod sa talibong, ginamit na tagdan,

Upang iwagayway ang bandila ng bayan.

Kawayan! Kawayan!

Biyaya ka’t modelo para sa Filipino!

Marunong yumuko kung bagyo;

Pagkatapos, tumatayong taas-noo;

Marangal, masikap, makatao.”

Bamboo, too, was celebrated in the various IP houses that showcased what was called “vernacular architecture.” (The word “vernacular” here is an unhappy choice since it reeks of colonialism, “verna” being — as Dr. Gemino Abad had argued against the term “vernacular literature” — a slave born and raised in the house of the master.) Bamboo made up the basic frame of the houses that were walled and roofed with materials available and specific to the places of residence by the groups. Bamboo also was the material for a variety of tambara or altars containing offerings to spirits in front of the houses. All the houses featured were raised several feet off the ground, attesting to the hostilities in their environment that they defended themselves against. Many had birds in cages tucked under their eaves to warn them of intruders or enemies around. Among the B’laans, for example, if the almugan bird in the cage by their window cries three times, it means bad omen for travel; if it cries at night, it means something bad is around. The Dibabawons, on the other hand, look to the bulilok bird for news of ripe fruits in the fields; they keep a wooden figure of it in the ceiling of their simple house.

Every day, droves of students and guests clambered up the houses precariously through a notched tree trunk that served as stairs for a look-see inside, where the small space wondrously functioned as kitchen, bedroom, living room, dining room, and recreation room for entire families. The students especially had fun with their teachers at the Subanen sacred platform called buklog where communities held their dancing on a flexible floor made of tree trunks several feet from the ground. Vigorous up-and-down motions forced the bamboo that pierced the middle of the platform to hit a log at the bottom and announced the intensity and merriness of the dancing.

The documentation of these examples of Mindanao “vernacular architecture,” spearheaded by architecture students of UP Mindanao under Arch. Ligaya Namocatcat, and its immediate publication should be something to look forward to, considering the scant information we have about construction techniques, styles, and materials by our indigenous people’s master builders. It helped that members of the native groups stayed in the houses and answered questions by curious onlookers, and that student guides from the city tourism council were in full force to provide information and shepherd the visitors around. Still, some kind of information about the groups and the exhibits, aside from the schedule of events, should have been provided the visitors — or made available even for a minimum fee.

Each day of the exposition featured a set of IP groups doing techno demonstrations, hosting culinary feasts, and holding cultural performances. The Mandayas shared their skill at making dagmay, a local cloth less popular but older than the tinalak. There were similar demos on basket weaving by the Obo-Manobo, tie-dyeing by the Tagabawa, winemaking by the Subanen, and various crafts by the Mamanwas, Higaonons, T’bolis, B’laans, Maranaos, and the others. The Tausugs cooked their palikambing and pangi-pangi delicacies on two separate occasions I was there. The cultural shows were always well-attended and participatory, with the songs and dances dutifully annotated and explained by a member of the group, and the performances dramatically heightened by the presence in the background of the moon in its waxing, full, and waning phases through successive nights.

Throughout the festival as well, sectoral workshops were held on economic development, social services, environmental conservation, peace development, and indigenous governance, as well as forums on vernacular architecture and IP-focused education, including one with legislators held at Mandaya Hotel. At a convergence forum late in the week, members of the different indigenous people’s groups were one in expressing satisfaction and gratitude for the holding of Kalimudan where, for the first time in the lives of many who were there, they were able to see fellow IP groups that they saw only in pictures in books and establish communication — in the case of some B’laans, even family relations — with one another.

The fruits of all the discussions were consolidated into a “Kalimudan Declaration of Solidarity and Actions for Sustainable Change and Protection of Cultural Diversities” that was read by seven representatives of IP groups in their own dialects during the last night of the festival. The Declaration proclaimed the strong sense of unity among the tribes and sought the support of LGUs in increasing the number of IP-focused development interventions, implementing “community-based and participatory planning to conceptualize Kalimudan-related events,” and encouraging more participation in a Kalimudan 2008. The groups sealed their solidarity with one another through a symbolic ritual of stones that will be a permanent marker of Kalimudan in Magsaysay Park. The three-day Congress of Indigenous Peoples after Kalimudan should bring out in the open their pressing concerns and issues of the day and move forward the indigenous people’s cause that is in dire need of attention and support by the government and its legislators.

Itself a veritable dictionary and living museum of indigenous people’s culture and lore, the Kalimudan offers a strong argument for a Museum of the Peoples of Mindanao that should celebrate the diversity and unity in diversity of the ways of life and beliefs of the denizens of the island. Replicable in the other regions of Mindanao as a treasury of the customs and cultures particular to the peoples in those regions, the concept could be further refined to highlight the majority groups in the regions and evolve cultural villages as museums where agricultural practices, mythology, religious rites, and musical, dance, weaving, jewelry, and literary forms and techniques are preserved for future generations.

For 10 magical days of Kalimudan, it appeared that the harmony and peace among different groups was never an issue at all, and that war and its rhetoric and killing machines could be things of the past. Truly, if art could only have its way in this world, then meaningful coexistence of different groups with different beliefs and cultures would not be too much of a thing to hope, or even die, for in this lifetime.

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The author of six prizewinning poetry collections, Ricardo M. de Ungria served as Chancellor of UP in Mindanao from 2001 to 2007. He still resides in Davao City, where he has returned to his prime concerns that are poetry and cultural research and writing.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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