The Southern Philippines is known for its rich traditional practices particularly in relation with birth, marriage, death, funeral and mourning, worship, beliefs, myths, everything that pertains to their daily activities and the way they enjoy and celebrate life.
Southern tribes, like any ethnic group, have their own brand of musicality and a wide array of musical instruments to accompany specific songs and dances. Vocal music or hymnal verses called anasheed or nasheed are believed to be rendered a capella or without any instrumental accompaniment since the supremacy of a human voice soaring audibly is the purest form of exaltation to praise Allah.
Their musical instruments are basically intended to be played for a corresponding dance, song, or event. Two popular types of drums, the daf (flat like a tambourine) and tonbak (held on the lap while beating like a tomtom), are commonly used to accompany almost every performance. Islamic musical instruments maybe called differently but similar to existing popular variety like the rebab from the string family similar to a banjo and the ney which is a traditional woodwind instrument. Today, these ethnic tribes have updated their musical instruments to catch-up with the times without totally diminishing their authentic value.
Commonly used musical instruments are the kulintang, a perfectly assembled set of gongs in graduated sizes and varied tones which were laid on a rack to produce melodically, and the gandingan which is a set of four larger suspended gongs. The kulintang is traditionally considered a woman’s instrument because of its association with graceful, slow, frail, and relaxed movements that exhibited elegance and feminine comportment.
Last May 17, Kinding Sindaw (Maranao term for Dance of Light), resident artists of world renowned La Mama Experimental Theater brought the popular Melayu Heritage to the Philippine Center’s Kalayaan Hall in New York City. With that, this side of the world witnessed the grandeur and magnificence of the majestic tradition. Music and exquisite dances were showcased in an aptly tagged stage presentation, “Mga Ninuno.” Kinding Sindaw, in its driven capacity to propagate their ancient tradition, audaciously mounted “Mga Ninuno” before an appreciative crowd.
The pervasive heart-pounding beats and rhythmic sounds of gongs, drums, and kulintang broke the deafening tranquility of the art-laden walls of the hall and heralded the more-than-an-hour-long cultural presentation of visually captivating and imaginary picturesque journey back to ancient Philippines where the rich cultures of diverse tribes once-upon originated.
Potri Ranka Manis, Kinding Sindaw’s founder, tradition-bearer, and director, enthusiastically welcomed and oriented the audience to the different aspects and details of the show.
“Tonight, you’re going to travel with us back in time to Southern Philippines to experience for yourselves the vast richness of my peoples’ cultural heritage through dramatically interpreted dances from excerpts and snippets of legends, epics, and myths,” was part of Potri’s very engaging welcome speech.
Before the show, Potri oriented the crowd with the different instruments strategically mounted on stage which simultaneously served as backdrop. A prolific speaker equipped with the full mastery of everything Maranao, Potri ushered her audience into each portion with a brief narration or a picturesque backgrounder to fully appreciate every production number.
“Mga Ninuno” in a capsule
“Mga Ninunos” curtain raiser was an excerpt from a Kissa: Parang Sabil. Kissa is a chanted story-telling of the Tausug people of Jolo, Sulu while Parang Sabil depicts an event that happened in 1907.
The myth of the Sarimanok depicts the descent of Sari from the seventh heaven to guard the waters on earth but she fell in love with a fisherman which was forbidden by the gods. With graceful hand movements, a lively version of shell-clicking number akin to castanets while being accompanied with bouncy drum beats, the dancers effectively associated their precise rhythmic movements with undulating sea waves.
Male dancers successfully interpreted the pearl diver ritual with their synchronized body movements as they swayed and stumped in unison to the accompaniment of gongs and drums.
While Marayaw Duyong Tarasul is a poem-dance that depicts the existence of mermaids, monkeys and the pearls, Langka Silat Gayung is all about the graceful movements of martial arts that could be traced back to the ancient Taosug heritage.
The second part presented excerpts from two great epics: Darangen and Rajah Mangandiri. Darangen is an ancient epic song that encompasses a wealth and knowledge about the Maranao people who live in the Lake Lanao region and Rajah Mangandiri is an original dance and music version of the Ramayana which depicts a vibrant tapestry of royal court dances of the sultanate with steps derived from animal movements, colorful silk costume, kulintang music and indigenous Maranao chants.
Sagayan is a ritual dance against evil spirits. It usually precedes royal processions to drive away negativity and protect the entourage.
The fan dance by an all male ensemble was exciting to watch and made even more by the wispy sounds of the fans when they briskly unfurled them to the jaunty beats of gongs and drums. Kaeg Manisan is a traditional woman dance using two scarves to display her emotions since they are forbidden to show what she feels, especially to man.
Aper-Aper depicts a magical butterfly that guided Potri Malaila Malano Ganding and Rajah Mangandiri back to their kingdom, Agama Niyog.
Pangungulilat is a kulintang solo performed by the Onor (maiden) during Sultanate Court events. This also becomes an opportunity for interested parents to present dowry for their sons. The more expertise a maiden displays during her playing the kulintang, the higher dowry is offered.
The art of self-defense wasn’t left being interpreted. Silat is the dance demonstration of the graceful movements and of martial arts from the Philippine Melayu heritage.
The final portion was a glimpse from the T’boli epic Lemlunay, an ancient epic about the hero Tudbulol and his seven sisters with individual magical powers. The epic was chanted by a Hefung (shaman) all day and night for seven days. Famous for their hand woven Tinalak in preparation for Mo’nimum, a mass wedding that happens during the 9th full moon. A unique dance with the frequent use of the dancer’s upper torso subtle facial expression and arms extended sidewards and forward. This T’boli ritual dance is used to appease the Diwata (fairy/maiden), solicit good harvest, seek deliverance from pestilence, prepare for war, celebrate victories, birth, weddings and affirm social unity.
Other ritual dances were performed which mirror regular daily activities: water-fetching with a bamboo pole as water carrier was called Blakang; Madal Tanum is a rice-planting ritual; Madal Unok is for hunting season; Madal Saluray Hegelong is a courtship dance with a musical conversation of two instruments: the saluray (bamboo zither) and the Hegelong (2-stringed horse hair lute); Madal Ye’ Ma is the dance of the bride and the groom and also a marriage anniversary ritual of the parents during Mo’nimum at the Bong Gono (wedding at the big house); and the Madal Soyew which is performed to honor creation and pray for bounty and health.
What made “Mga Ninuno” even more amazing was its limited number of participating artists that included: Amira Aziza, Malaika Queano, Rose Yapching, Angela Torregoza, Ronnie Bargayo, Lisa Parker, Guro Frank Ortega, Amir Rasolpour, Jaclyn Reyes, Greggy Garsuta, Denise Wong, Will Simbol, Nadia Biruar, Mahammed Zebede Dimaporo, Celia Benitez, Clarissa Salazar, and, of course, Potri Ranka Manis.
The success of “Mga Ninuno” could be primarily credited to Potri’s nearly flawless narrative efforts, impeccable choice of exotic costume, brilliant direction, and balance chronological presentation of highlighted excerpts from great tribal epics and myths.
Potri’s comprehensive knowledge of the subject gave her the full control of the show’s entirety. The audience could perceive her mastery of the Maranao’s history by the way she presented the significant snippets and glimpses in a convincingly relaxed manner while occasionally punctuating it with rib-tickling tales.
Incidentally, the Pan American Concerned Citizens Action League, Inc. (PACCAL) was right all along after having had recognized Potri’s advocacy when she was chosen Outstanding in Cultural Heritage during the Women’s History Month celebration last March. Her immense dedication and selfless efforts justifiably earned for her the unanimous nod.
To conclude that “Mga Ninuno” is simply worth-watching will definitely be an understatement for the entire show was both educationally entertaining and captivating.
The dance movements were more than expressive that could candidly communicate and its music inevitably induced a gamut of emotions whereby successfully attaining the very objective of its conceptualization. The sights and sounds drumbeat one’s heightened curiosity while gradually inducing a surreal involvement through a mesmerized state. Not just an ordinary presentation, the public needs more cultural shows of “Mga Ninuno’s” caliber.
Kudos to Potri Ranka Manis for a great show! Plaudits to Kinding Sindaw for a very entertaining performance!
“Mga Ninuno” was brought on stage through the courtesy and support of the following: Konsulado ng Pilipinas, New York Department of Cultural Affairs, Kalusugan Coalition, UniPRO, and the Foundation for Filipino Artists, Inc.
Kinding Sindaw’s Board of Directors deserves due acknowledgment for their efforts: Luis Pedron, Michael Espiritu, Steven De Castro, Lisa Parker Lawrence Waldron, Corky Lee, Myrna Santos, Kay Habana, and Josette Camino.
For more information about Kinding Sindaw, visit www.kindingsindaw.com; For comments and suggestions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org