by Eloisa Fe Lusotan
Inside the auditorium, as I sat surrounded by strangely clothed people, people closely acquainted with their origins, I was shamed for there I was clad in clothes I could not entirely relate myself with. Perhaps, because I am a modern Filipino but I tell you this is not enough. For the root of our non-identification is strongly manifested in the way we clothe ourselves. The way we deem our traditional culture, embracing all that is western and later on, feeling lost in our shoes, never realizing that it is only in the bareness of our foot that we can readily identify with our warm soil.
Listening to the KAPWA lectures, I chilled because the cold of the air conditioner was directed to where I was seated. I transferred seats until I reached the front row where some of my classmates were seated. And by that time everybody went out for lunch break.
During the lunch break I was outside talking to a man chewing something. He was from the Cordillera region, one of the men I saw wearing bahag the other day. He was chewing nga-nga (beetle nut wrapped in mint leaf along with other spices) and so we talked with his mouth red-orange. I cannot successfully relate to you every detail of the conversation but it was more of a grandfather telling tales and a child fascinated by the realities beyond his scope. With that, I did not go in to sit before the lectures, instead I went stall to stall and had small talks with several people. These people, they are once in a lifetime.
With sheer admiration I had a glimpse of a life entirely distinct from what I have (I was with my friends, 3 of us).
There was a tribe from Guimaras in one of the stalls outside the audi, we were buying something from them when out of a sudden I said, “sana umulan ng pera,” the native replied something like, “kung uulan ng pera magkakamatayan ang mga tao;” hearing that I smiled unto myself and sighed contentment. Their men carved designs on crafts made from coconut shells which they sold along with bracelets and various amulets.
With the man from Cordillera, I met Balugtu. Balugtu literally means rainbow, to my surprise there is actually a man named rainbow! (Pardon me I’ve never heard of Rainbow, I only know Jack and Joe.) Mr. Balugtu had several groups performing in and out of the country. He plays that reed instrument; I forgot to ask how it was called though, they were based in Baguio and went wherever there were invitations and sponsorships. There was also Datu Waway Saway; who played that same instrument in his stall, playing a very engaging melody as we were trying to produce the same sound in vain. Imagine, he actually allowed us to blow through the mouthpiece though he knew we did not have money to buy any of the instruments. He was the leader of the Talaandig tribe from Bukidnon, and I realized how reputed he was not until I Googled his name, as he told me when I started with my questions. He showed us how Talaandig men court women through hand gestures and that light flat instrument. We were trying to grasp in words, translating what his delicate gestures showed. Datu Waway dances gracefully, as he said the katutubos are graceful dancers. We were imitating the light movements of his hands when he told us to just look up and imitate the birds. How I wish we simply can, without second thought. We do look up and gaze at birds, but we are more concerned on the altitude of their flight, never on the flapping of their wings. Datu Waway took pictures of us before he went out to eat. I held a 5 thousand peso drum made from cow skin in those photos.
These men are among the many wonderful creatures gathered in the auditorium for that 3-day convention. There were a lot of them and the distinction is black and white. They have a culture and theirs, they apparently live. I assume their respective tribes are among those who fled to the uplands to avoid the first attempt at colonization. Thus, saving what great tradition they have, preserving it for posterity up to this time. Nonetheless, despite their great efforts, a threat is posed; the younger generations are attracted to urban living, to enlightenment no higher than theirs. Consequently, the natives have started incorporating modern means to record their customs. As was raised in my Lit2 course, to what extent shall they allow technological advances permeate their dealings? There is a major difference between documentation and carrying on of tradition; documentation is quite impersonal, one becomes a spectator rather than a partaker. And then these traditions will have to suffer in documentation alone for they will seem a sort of “once upon a time” thing soon, at the instance of excessive techno-dependency. A love for them keeps these traditions burning, when love is not cultivated, the traditions will be in peril. Certainly love is best cultivated through constant practise; constant practise and love is its cornerstone.
These cultural minorities are the real elites able to keep their legacies from colonial influence. They have a distinct charm; a practical sense of living. Up the mountains where air is fresh, songs are sung. The mind is in its purest state, far from the superficialities of the modern world. Carefree, they just seem so happy with their lives. Well I do not really know but at least I’m sure that when they play their music and when they dance, they are. The absorbing individual rhythms converge into harmony. They travel through different rhythms without contracts or mutual agreements, they just listen and they listen well, perhaps because they are peaceful souls. I wonder if we will be able to do the same. I had a chance to be in that circle where they gathered together to play their music. We called onto Nong Balugtu and he let us play the drum. We were inside the circle, beating the cow-skin drum, this one taller than that which I held in the photos. As we struck the surface with our hands there was fear, fear that we were not going where they were headed, there was fear because we cannot leave our cautious systems to roam around like them. They roamed around; explored beats but still go back to one common factor which binds the rhythm. Nong Balugtu earlier offered me some nga-nga, he also urged me to dance with the circle of dancers inside that bigger circle but then I refused to. How I wish I tried chewing nga-nga and forgot about having my mouth red-orange. How I wish I danced. Now, I can only sigh to that wonderful experience, and swear to myself I will chew nga-nga and I will dance the way they do… someday.