Jogjakarta in Hindsight

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“It’s Jogja not Yogya!”, I’ve been corrected a hundred of times.

All throughout my stay in Central Java in 2013, I was at the receiving end of the generosity and kindness of Krido and his family. They did not only open their warm home to me, but they also took their precious time in bringing me to the best places there are in the area and endlessly feeding me with the delicious nasi gudeg and different varieties of sambal sauce to pair.

I used this colourful and historic city as my base in exploring three UNESCO World Heritage Sites nearby, namely: Borobudur, Prambanan (together with the Rotu Boko ruins), and Sangiran Early Man Site. The photos in this post, however, are those from Jogjakarta itself.

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The historic Tugu Jogja, the most representative landmark of Jogjakarta

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The Dutch-built Fort Vredeburg and its front moat. The fort was meant to intimidate the then reigning sultanate of Jogjakarta, hence it was constructed right in front of one of the royal palaces (locally called kraton) of the city.

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Mirota Batik is a specialty shop along Malioboro Street, the main thoroughfare of the city. One of the highlights of this boutique is the live demonstration of batik-making. Indonesian batik is in the register of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

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A wonderful artwork standing at the heart of Jogjakarta. The city center still has a lot of Dutch colonial-era buildings to boast.

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the corridors of the Sumur Gumuling, the eccentric underground mosque inside the Kraton Jogjakarta complex.

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The circular well with five staircases at the center of the underground mosque is considered to be a unique architectural feature of the Sumur Gumuling.

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Modernity and Antiquity: inside Kampung Taman, the village adjacent to the kraton complex.

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Taking a break from the hot weather outside: in an artsy nook in Kampung Taman.

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Taman Sari, known to the Dutch as the “Waterkasteel”, used to be the royal bath of the Jogjakarta sultan’s family.

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On top of the central tower of the Taman Sari is the former private chamber of the sultan. From here, would have been able to see everything that was happening inside the bath.

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The stylized gable of the front gate of the Taman Sari.

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One of the best hangout corners in town: Kalimilk, a truly Jogjakarta brand. Durian milkshake – checked.

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We traveled more than thirty minutes out of the city (at 11pm!) to go to this eatery (locally called warung). Krido and his cousins told me that this one is their favourite.

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Aunt Willy, my “supermom” in Jogjakarta. I felt so safe knowing that I was with her! 🙂

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Krido’s mom and dad, who were also in town when I was there, gave me this traditional Indonesian sarong that is typical from their hometown in the Dieng Plateau.

To Krido – I appreciate the gift of friendship. Ours is indeed another proof that it is possible to cultivate deep and meaningful connections from online platforms such as Instagram. Thank you for being with me from my arrival at the Jogja airport, to the magnificent temples and far-flung dig sites we visited, until my day of departure up in Semarang!

Three years and counting 🙂

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Abra in Colours: The Tingguians, Bamboos, and the Art of Dyeing

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Abra is a province in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) that is notorious for its records of election-related violence more than any other thing. Development is slow in this province and not much is really happening inside. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that this place is not one of those that would be in your priority of places to see in the Philippines: to mention that you are going to Abra to other Filipinos will surely invite some stare of judgment and even dissent.

What led us to Abra in July 2013 is to feature its “natural dye makers” — the indigenous highland people called Tingguians — for What I See travel photography show.

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The view of Bangued, the capital town of Abra, from the top of the Cassamata Hill National Park.

Right after the storm: International photographer Francisco "Paco" Guerrero scouting the surroundings of the long Calaba Bridge for the best capture there is to find.

Right after the storm: International photographer Francisco “Paco” Guerrero, the host of What I See, scouting the surroundings of the Calaba Bridge and the river basin for the best capture there is to find.

The Bamboo Split Weavers

The Tingguians, also called Isneg, are engaged in various crafts. The most important of which is bamboo crafts production. It is for this reason that Abra is aggressively positioning itself as the “Bamboo Capital of the Philippines”.

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The Natural Dye Makers

In documenting the production of natural dyes from plants, the team went to the Tingguian village of Namarabar in Penarubia, a town an hour away from the capital Bangued.

Norma Agaid, a Tingguian elder and the sister of the “Father of Philippine Natural Dyes” Luis Agaid, explained which plants yield what kinds of colours: mahogany for red, jackfruit and ginger for yellow, the malatayum plant for indigo, the narra tree for brown, among others.

Of all the mountain tribes in the Philippines, we have the most number of colours. We only get these colours from sources present around us“, she proudly shared.

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A local icon: Norma Agaid sporting an authentic Tingguian attire. Notice the “frog” pattern in her skirt. Traditionally, this is worn during the rainy months in the belief that this will please the gods and their ancestors in giving them the best out of the planting season.

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the malatayum plant produces the colour indigo that will later be used in dyeing textiles with various shades of blue.

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Brewing narra barks in this earthenware produces the colour brown sap. The narra is the national tree of the Philippines.

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The Tingguian women — in their native backstrap-woven clothes — preparing to serenade the What I See team with a traditional welcome song that they composed only a few minutes before we arrived.

The charm of Abra stems from the fact that it is not at all in the tourism map. Indeed, it is highly ignored by outsiders. Hence, our experience in this rustic province can only be as natural and authentic as we can get. Indigenous dyeing is obviously a dying art. It is important to shed light into it as it is a part of the bigger “Filipino identity and local artistry” that most of us Filipinos tend to take for granted.

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Tingguian designs are largely linear and simple, but are assigned with many meanings. Some textiles are reserved for use only during special occasions such as birth-giving, nuptials, and harvesting. The vividness of colours in this shroud only suggests the level of mastery they have in controlling the strength of the dyes they make from readily available sources around them.

Paco Guerrero, whose background is no less than Anthropology, could not have described the Tingguians any better, “In the forest, they do not only see trees and plants. They see colours.”

The Philippines through the Hands of Ten Filipinos

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A Tingguian bamboo split weaver in the province of Abra in the Cordillera Administrative Region. The Tingguian people, also known as Isneg, are a lowland indigenous people group that traces their ancestry to the much older Itneg group of the highlands.

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Hand of a Tagbanua bird’s nest (an expensive ingredient for an exotic soup) hunter holding a locally-prepared torch used to lighten up the deepest parts of the caves in Coron Island of Palawan. Gathering bird’s nest is known to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The Tagbanua people are sea-dwellers and are some of the first to occupy the archipelago.

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A traditional healer performing “bulo-bulo” (a form of cleansing done by blowing a water-filled glass containing an amulet) to a curious patient in Siquijor. Sometimes, just right after the ritual, foreign objects — such as sand, pebbles, and even worms — emerge inside the glass! This small island is notorious for its history of sorcery, witchcraft and the dark arts.

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A Taubuid Mangyan showing a pipe he made using a bamboo twig and clay with some tribal etchings. These people inhabit the central parts of Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park, and are some of the oldest known groups in the Philippines. They have an ancient writing system identified as a paleograph and is registered in the Memory of the World list.

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A local potter in the “Pagburnayan” village in the historic town of Vigan, a World Heritage Site. Pottery was introduced by Chinese merchant-craftsmen who have been trading with earlier Filipinos since time immemorial. The Pagburnayan village is home to one of the longest extant dragon kilns outside mainland China.

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An Ifugao preparing a “moma”, a bettelnut chew in Banaue. The Ifugao are the same people who constructed the world-famous rice terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (a World Heritage Site), and are, likewise, the guardians of the “Hudhud” chants (a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity).

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An Iraya, a lowland Mangyan sub-group, making a broom out of tiger grasses in Tamisan, a village on the foot of Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park, an ASEAN Heritage Park. Even with extensive and heavy use, these local brooms are known to last for years.

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Hands of a Maranao woman inlaying mother of pearls to a wooden chest. The Maranao people of Tugaya beside Lake Lanao are some of the most artistic groups in the Philippines. Nearly all households in town are engaged in various traditional ‘okir’-based crafts such as wood carving, weaving, brass-ware making, among others.

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An Ilocano showing an heirloom “abel” textile from Paoay in Ilocos Norte. The half century-old textile featured in this photo follows the “sinukitan” technique. Abel are loom-woven textiles that are known for their versatility, sturdiness and creative patterns, as well as the critical role they played during the galleon trade years with Mexico and Spain.

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A Tagalog tourist holding a newly hatched Hawksbill turtle in Puerto Galera, a declared World Biosphere Reserve. The Philippines is recognized by the scientific community as the center of the famed Coral Triangle, a region home to the highest concentration of marine biodiversity in the world.

A Pilgrim’s Progress: Our Lady of Caysasay

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A rare opportunity to have a photo taken of an all-women devotees presented itself. The photo below was taken from the back of the Nuestra Señora de Caysasay, a Marian image canonically crowned by virtue of a Holy See approval in 1954.

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Though I cannot come up with anything conclusive as to what the ongoing activity might have been then, the fact that the service was only attended by women made me feel alienated, and a bit awkward about my presence inside the shrine when things were unfolding. If any, however, despite my unconventional stance on religion, one cannot deny the experience and fulfillment in capturing religion in action as a material culture here.

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Pilgrims to the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay in Taal, Batangas may receive the plenary indulgence that is granted to those who visit the ancient church of Sta. Maria Maggiore in Rome.

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The old town of Taal is one of the only four heritage towns in the Philippines — together with Vigan in Ilocos Sur, Pila in Laguna, and Silay in Negros Occidental — designated as National Historic Landmarks by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines.

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Guling-guling 2014

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In the Philippines, it is only my hometown Paoay that celebrates Fat Tuesday, the last day of merry-making before entering the Lenten season. Guling-guling, a four-century old tradition, involves street dancing, cooking dodol (a Malay deli), and smearing the sign of the cross (using ash or rice flour mixtures) on the foreheads of devote Christians – which is interesting as, in this town, this religious practice is done prior to Ash Wednesday. Modern-day celebrations now culminate in a dance showdown in front of the UNESCO World Heritage listed San Agustin church, the crowning glory of the earthquake baroque architecture.

The dancers sport the loom-woven textile called abel Iloco, one of the products that my humble town is known for.

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Hudhud and Darangen: Voices from Pre-colonial Philippines

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The Philippine Culture in Southeast Asia

Given more than 300 years under colonial rule[1], much of the cultural exponents of the Philippines have largely been branded as “westernized” to the extent of being “un-Asian” in terms of practices, orientation and even the mentality of its people. The dominant understanding of mainstream Philippine history only traces its beginning with the discovery of the Philippines by Spain in the 1500s. The cultural shifts that took place in the succeeding centuries masked how the Philippines was like prior to the 16th century, somehow severing the connection to the old ways of life that were known to early Filipinos (Del Castillo & Medina, 1974). Several festivals in the Philippines – which are already traditions introduced by the Spaniards – even depict how the ‘indios’ (the term they used to call the natives) have been enlightened and civilized through Christianization[2], and that their defeat[3] across the archipelago should be celebrated and immortalized. By and large, these became some of the  reasons why the Philippines at the moment is alienated from its Southeast Asian neighbors that have preserved much of their heritage, both tangible and intangible ones. This, however, does not preclude the fact that the Philippines has some traditions that – with adequate understanding and appreciation – ought to be cherished around the world. Post-colonial approaches have always been interested in unearthing what the Philippines might have been prior to the being dominated by foreign powers. But, for a country as diverse as the Philippines, coming up with a homogenized description on the ways of life of the people poses some difficulty. This occurrence of multiple cultural traits and lifestyles of the ancient Filipinos, however, should never be frowned upon. Rather, this only suggests how rich the history and culture is, and how there is no singular way in capturing the ways ancient Filipinos saw and approached life. After all, these are also the strings necessary in tying the Philippines back to the larger Southeast Asian cultural paradigm, to which it shares affinities and resemblances with. This note is a reflection on two ancient Philippine chants: the hudhud and the darangen epic. These two chants hold vast knowledge on the ways of life of ancient Filipinos.  Being the best preserved oral traditions that are not tainted by western influences these chants present themselves as valuable living specimens that possess high authenticity and reliability in providing not only the kind of music and songs that they had, but also a scintilla about the Philippines’ earlier worldviews. In here, I will also be drawing insights from my own experiences in witnessing firsthand how these chants are performed and how the locals deem them as important to their life-cycles and identities. The hudhud chants hail from the mountainous Cordillera region in northern Philippines, more popularly known for their world-renowned Ifugao rice terraces. Key in understanding the hudhud chants is to see its relation with and its influences on the immediate cultural landscape (Guerrero, 2013). The darangen epic, on the other hand, is a lengthy oral tradition that is artistically sung and acted (sometimes even danced[4]), rather than just being plainly recited. It recounts the history of the Maranao people around Lake Lanao, predating even the Islamization of southern Philippines in the 13th century. What binds these two ancient folk songs together is that they have both been proclaimed by UNESCO as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity, an initiative that strengthens the call for humanity to widen its concept of cultural heritage by bringing in the intangible aspects being essential components of cultural diversity (UNESCO, 2000). The hudhud and darangen are the only two representative traditions of the Philippines that have been proclaimed as such. I am fortunate enough to have witnessed how these chants are performed in the traditional way.  

Cultural Landscape: Relationship of the Hudhud and the Rice Terraces

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Keeping the spirit alive by passing down indigenous knowledge to the younger generations.

As a continually evolving cultural landscape, the World Heritage-listed rice terraces in Ifugao[5] should be seen and understood in relation to its environment (mountains and forests) and the traditions of its people (rituals, farming practices, beliefs, etc.). It is interesting to note that integral to their life-cycle is a set of ancient songs called hudhud. More than a ritual song, the hudhud plays a key role in shaping and preserving the ways of life of the Ifugao people for more than 2,000 years. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts of the Philippines documented these intangible treasures as, “recited and chanted … only during four occasions: the harvesting and weeding of rice, funeral wakes and bone washing rituals…. The hudhud [is] comprised of over 200 stories with about 40 episodes each. The language… almost impossible to transcribe, is full of repetitions, synonyms, figurative terms and metaphors. Performed in a leader/chorus style, the lead chanter – often an elderly woman – recites an introductory line to set the tone, and then this is taken up by a chorus of women to the end of the phrase…. It may take days to complete a story, depending on the situation. The hudhud is a celebration of Ifugao heroes, heroines, wealth and culture” (NCCA). When I went to Ifugao several years ago, during the harvesting month, the mixture of the picturesque rice terraces and the performance of the hudhud by women reaping rice stalks was awe-inspiring — women singing while in the paddies is not an everyday scene. In my conversations with the locals, I realized how the songs are really revered and have never been altered from how their ancestors sang them many centuries ago.

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Ifugao women gathering together in a hudhud ritual. (Photo lifted from B. Capati’s presentation)

Pryer-Pereira provided insights as to how such an old and lengthy song is successfully committed to the memories of the people. She explained that “the chanters of the hudhud rely heavily on culturally constituted environmental stimuli to help them remember the chant. Objects such as rice harvesting tools, familiar bodily movements, and the songs of other chanters help to distribute the burden of chant memorization. It is only when these individual memories work together that the whole text can be recalled” (2007). It was also revealed to me by the locals that there are particular chants from the hudhud that are specifically sang for pest protection, and in guiding them in seed selection. As I paid closer attention to the practice, I noticed that most of those who were singing are adult women. In the Philippines, the preservers and guardians of culture are, unquestionably, always the women. This, however, brings to the fore another concern: “[t]he few people who know all the poems are very old, and young people are not interested in this tradition” (UNESCO, 2008).  Efforts are currently being undertaken by the government and various organizations to bring hudhud closer to the younger generation. One initiative undertaken was the institutionalization of Hudhud Schools of Living Traditions in the Ifugao (Talavera, nd).

Songs that Breathe the History of the Maranao: the Darangen Epic

The darangen, which literally means to “narrate in songs”, is one of the oldest and longest epic poems in the Philippines.  It consists of many cycles of episodes relating to different heroes, foremost among them Bantugan, whose name means, “one who makes history.” Through his heroic tales, the epic proves that early forms of government, culture, art, music, metal work and warrior arts were already in existence before the arrival of colonizers (Philippine Star, 2005).  In fact, the epic happens to be the local rendition of early Filipinos of the Hindu Ramayana, dating much older than the introduction of Islam in the south (Ty, 2010) – a undeniable proof that the far past is not unacquainted with the concept of cultural globalization (Tan, 2009). UNESCO further detailed that the epic comprises “17 cycles and a total of 72,000 lines, [and that] the darangen celebrates episodes from Maranao history and the tribulations of mythical heroes. In addition to offering compelling narrative content, the epic explores the underlying themes of life and death, courtship, politics, love and aesthetics through symbol, metaphor, irony and satire. The Darangen also encodes customary law, standards of social and ethical behavior, notions of aesthetic beauty, and social values specific to the Maranao. To this day, elders refer to this time-honored text in the administration of customary law” (UNESCO, 2005). The NCCA also revealed that the recorded and transcribed part of the darangen is composed of cycles in iambic tetrameter or catalectic trochaic tetrameter. Though each cycle is independent from each other, the cycles are connected to one another in a logical, cohesive progression.

Two Maranao singers recite some parts of the darangen epic. It was a powerful vocal performance.

Having witnessed how some parts of the darangen were performed by the Maranao themselves in Marawi, I can still clearly recall how the performers displayed good grasp of the lines, together with their abilities to engage the audience during the hours-long performance. The excerpt that I have seen lasted for roughly two hours, and I was told that that was only a small chapter of the epic. Henrieta Elle, a retired professor of music and dance at the Mindanao State University in Marawi, also explained to me that it would usually take almost a week to complete the cycles of the darangen and that the performance is often accompanied by heroic musical scores that use stylized brass gongs called kulintang, drums called tambor, and a kudyapi (a native  guitar-like instrument). Performers are also expected to wear their finest woven textiles called ina-ol and malong.

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Kasingkil dance is from a portion of the darangen that retells the princess’ little wanderings in the bamboo forest.

Given the vastness and depth of the darangen, several aspects of it are still waiting to be unlocked and understood by scholars and practitioners. Nevertheless, current threats to the darangen stems from the fact that it is in an archaic language that is not used as an everyday medium of communication in the locality. Like the fate of the hudhud in the north, the darangen also faces an alarmingly decreasing appreciation from the younger folks. Nowadays, parts of the darangen are just performed during weddings and other special occasions. It has also been observed that there is a thinning number of people who know how to play the kulintang and kudyapi. At present, there are no living kudyapi masters anymore in Lanao del Sur.

Assessments 

The culture and history of the Filipino people is indeed older than what was earlier established. The richness of the old Filipino culture is carefully preserved in the oldest forms of literary works there are to find – ancient songs. The challenge nowadays is to make sense of them amidst being in the modern age. From the north, we see how highland chants have directly dictated the ways of life and the modes of survival of the people in  harshly mountainous, uneven terrains. The hudhud compliments the rice terraces in being enduring portraits of the ways of life of the Ifugao for over two millennium. Down south, cultural diversity and religious syncretism is recognized and established through the darangen epic. This epic breathes the history of the Maranao people, providing listeners a rich amount of knowledge about their norms, beliefs, and customs as it is rendered in a melodious performance of singing and dancing. Having both these oral literatures proclaimed as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity only strengthens their importance and relevance not only to the Filipino people but to all around the world.

References:

Bersola, C. (2011). The Hudhud of the Ifugao: enchanting chanting. The Philippine Star. Retrieved:  http://www.philstar.com/good-news/644254/hudhud-ifugao-enchanting-chanting

Del Castillo, T., and B. Medina (1974). Philippine literature: from ancient times to present. Caloocan: Philippine Graphic Arts.

Guerrero, B. (2013). Philippine world heritage sites: history of its people and their culture. 10th Cagayan Valley Regional Tourism Conference Proceedings. Np.

NCCA (nd). Intangible heritage: masterpieces of oral ang intangible heritage of humanity. Retrieved:http://www.ncca.gov.ph/about-culture-and-arts/culture-profile/culture-profile-intangible-heritage.php

Peralta, J. (2003). Ifugao Hudhud: local to global dimension of the sacred. Manila: NCCA.

Philippine Star (2005). UNESCO proclaims darangen epic as masterpiece of intangible heritage. Philippine Star. Pryer-

Pereira, T. (2007). Telling tales: memory, culture, and the hudhud chants.  Swathmore University. Retrieved:http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/Linguistics/Papers/2007/pyer-pereira_tiana.pdf

Talavera, R. (nd). The role of schools for living Traditions (SLT) in safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage in the Philippines: the case of the chants of the Ifugao. Manila: NCCA.

Tan, M. (2009). A Maranao epic. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Ty, R. (2010). Muslims’ syncretism of the Hindu ramayana in the predominantly christian PhilippinesRetrieved:http://www.academia.edu/1671423/Muslims_Syncretism_of_the_Hindu_Ramayana_in_the_Predominantly_Christian_Philippines

UNESCO (2000). UNESCO to protect masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity. Retrieved: http://www.unesco.org/bpi/eng/unescopress/2000/00-48e.shtml

UNESCO (2005). Darangen epic of the Maranao people of Lake Lanao. Retrieved: http://www.unesco.org/culture/intangible-heritage/32apa_uk.htm

UNESCO (2008). Hudhud chants of the Ifugao. Retrieved: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/RL/00015


[1]    Three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, three decades of American control, and short periods of British and Japanese occupations.
[2]    Sinulog festival in Cebu, Ati-atihan festival in Aklan, Daro Sinulog in Dumaguete, and to some extent even the Guling-guling festival in Paoay, Ilocos Norte.
[3]    Moro-moro is a play that recounts the battles of the Spaniards against the Muslim antagonists, where the colonizers and Christianity always win.
[4]    Most of the dances of the Maranao people are based on the Darangen. The finest of these dances is the Kasingkil.
[5]    Inscibed to the UNESCO World Heritage List as “Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras” , the first set of properties in the list to be designated as a cultural landscape upon inscription in 1995.