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Friday, May 05, 2006

Cool script

People were milling around and huddling at tenant stalls and booths, walking to and fro food stations, spilling onto the basement of Robinsons to shop for groceries while I was throwing questions for a most-wanted interview with Kadangyan band main men Baba Mitra and Iligan City-born Jean Marquesto who already took the name John Govinda. Both are proponents of local ethno-tribal music.

Despite the buzzing, humming, and droning noises of shoppers, the two visual artists-turned-musicians managed to express their message louder – embrace back cultural roots to efficiently move with the call of the times so to strengthen nationalist pride.

Baba Mitra, who is of Ifugao descent, is vocalist of Kadangyan deemed “godfather of local ethno-tribal music”, of which I had expounded in an article for the Entertainment section dated January 12 (The Kadangyan mystique: The life they live is their music).

Getting him to sit down for an interview transported me back to beautiful, verdant Ifugao. Back in 2002, along with other participants to the first ever Explore 2002: North Philippines Expedition, I got immersed in the culture of the Ifugaos as we toured inside the Ifugao Museum in Linda, municipality of Kiangan where burial jars, weaponry, furniture, kitchen utensils, ritual paraphernalia, garments and implements, and other tools of human workmanship had amazingly connected with the lives of those brown people of the ancient Ifugao world.

We had a short trip to the Nagacadan Rice Terraces, a part of the rice terraces system of Banaue. We joined Ifugao performers from the Kiangan School of Living Traditions in their dance-ritual of courtship, marriage and burial.

One of special memories I had was when I motioned to Ifugao Governor Teddy Baguilat, Jr to take center stage. The beatings of the gangsa carried both of us away as we leapt and strode with our stretched arms. Our palms and fingers spoke in a dance-ritual offered to Kabuni-an. Together, we soared like birds, mighty and free, to the anthem of the Gran Cordillera.

Meanwhile, John Govinda who gave up his plans to study medicine is from Iligan City. John shared with Baba this passion to retrace links with past culture and together the two promoted ethno-tribal music that employs indigenous musical instruments emphasizing on strong cultural continuity over time.

Through what they call drug-free music, the fusion of North Philippines’ gangsa and South Philippines’ gong allowed for the message to reverberate in support to universalism and peace, that it is possible for music to touch ideologies and philosophies without having to break up, destroy, erase, collapse, or, worst indoctrinate.

The group performed the other day for a fashion show at the Elizabeth Mall entertainment area and held a concert at the parking lot of the Ayala Center Cebu yesterday showcasing a repertoire of their 10-track self-titled debut album they themselves produced. As usual, the hypnotic mantra in Babanam (actually O Babanam Kevalam) mirrored what Kadangyan stands for – “datu sa kultura” (rich in culture).

With the acceptance of their music into mainstream, receiving raves over the airwaves as supported by UR105 and Killer Bee, they are able to wow crowds despite the fact that some of today’s youth find them outrageous in the manner they dress up o project their inner selves.

With worthwhile activities like propagating the use of recycled trash for musical instruments, the group is also into the reeducation of the public on Alibata (baybayin scripts). And this is what I would want to expound in this column.

Baybayin is actually more appropriate term than alibata. Speaking of etymology, it comes from the Tagalog root word “baybay” meaning to spell or from the word pagbabaybay or spelling.

At a tent booth near the Fountain area of Robinsons, featuring one of their drums using for material the hide of a deer accidentally killed of which the group had used to give birth to the spirit of the dead deer, the duo embarked on free henna tattooing for every P500 purchase at any Robinson tenant/shop/stall.

One can choose from a variety of tattoo designs, but the most interesting of these is the ancient script baybayin often referred to as alibata, a term coined inexplicably to mimic the first two letters of the alphabet of the Maguindanao people - alif and bet - derived from Arabic.

A passionate John, with his Muslim inspiration being from the area, through his collaboration with Baba hopes that many out there would soon find themselves delving into the study of the baybayin script, interested to perhaps initiate a forum, discussion, or a conference.

Setting up a booth for a henna tattoo exhibit is John and Baba’s way of encouraging new opportunities to interact with enthusiasts on learning the ancient writing scripts and writing systems of the Philippines.

Now why am I bringing this up? My fascination for baybayin came at such an early age. Though back in grade 4, the lessons were limited, one trivia stuck in my head that other loads of information were not able to overwrite through time. That of knowing that though major languages (yes dear! languages, not dialects!) in the Philippines are now written using the Roman alphabet, these languages were first represented using a script related to and directly or indirectly derived from the Bugis and Makassar scripts of Celebes.

I remember one advertising congress held here in Cebu some years back when George Escalona of Tattoo Museum painted my name in henna using the baybayin script. I went gaga over those pretty fascinating strokes of graceful loops, crooked lines, wavy arrows, cute zigzags, and an inverted fat heart beautifully tattooed in the native script on my left arm. Those spoke so much of the beautiful past of my Tribu Sibo people, and of the Pintados, as well. It is so sad though that the two forms of these indigenous scripts that still survive to date are not used here in Sugbo. The scripts are used by the Tagbanwa of Palawan and Mangyans of Mindoro today.

It is believed that the Philippine scripts were derived from Kavi script or old Javanese, perhaps indirectly through the Buginese. The Buginese origin of the Philippine scripts best accounts for the fact that the latter cannot represent the final consonants of syllables since Buginese has the same limitation.
I brought up this Kadangyan initiative in the hope that many of us most especially the young people would take interest in promoting advocacy for “cool-tural revival”.

Kadangyan is not only about music inspired by the ancient world. It is here to promote a culture of excellence.

5/05/2006 08:31:00 PM | Anonymous charles said....   

Hi Eleanor! Nice to see that you have a new post again!

5/08/2006 01:25:00 AM | Anonymous Sarcasmom said....   

Hello Eleanor. I am dropping ing from Michele's. What a captivating writer you are. I am sorry to say that I have little knowledge about the Phillipines. I am very glad to have found your website.

5/08/2006 01:28:00 AM | Anonymous sage said....   

Hi. Here from Michele's. Interesting site and your top banner is beautiful. I too know very little about the Philippines.

5/08/2006 01:33:00 AM | Anonymous Linda said....   

Hello Eleanor - Michele sent me. that's quite interesting about the music! I have a t-shirt from Cebu - someone got it especially for me from there when he visited.

5/08/2006 04:21:00 AM | Anonymous Reflekshins said....   

Any links to hear what the music sounds like?



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5/22/2006 06:16:00 PM | Anonymous eleanor said....   

haller shane. u may stream their music through www.fiestamundo.com/kadangyan. u will love the mystic in babanam kevalam or infinite love for tribal wisdom. thanks for the post......

5/22/2006 06:19:00 PM | Anonymous eleanor said....   

haller linda. what was on that shirt aside from CEBU? does it say anything in cebuano/sugbuano language? thanks for the post....

5/22/2006 06:33:00 PM | Anonymous eleanor said....   

haller sage, daghang salamat (thank you very much), the pic was taken at a marine sanctuary in bohol island, with a coastal reforestation program, thanks for the post......the philippines is a beautiful country with its 7,100 islands (with only 40% of these islands named, the rest do have names given by lumads (natives) but unannotated in the official annals. sad to note that the phils suffered to much "smears" on the image it had been built up to the world - - - there is so much more to its rotten political system and the war in mindanao that dates back to the time when conquerors first reached our shores in search of so-called "spices"

5/22/2006 06:35:00 PM | Anonymous eleanor said....   

haller sarcasmom, thanks much for posting. and hey, u don't sound a sarcasmom hee hee....thanks for the compliment.......

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