by Chaya Erika Go
Volunteering, No. 4
Last summer, I volunteered for Cartwheel Foundation‘s anniversary concert. I would be there when the cultural dialogue happens, when Music and Art would be the language. I knew it would be a celebration I’d never forgive myself for passing.
My adventure started when I, along with other volunteers, waited at the Victory Bus terminal along EDSA at five a.m. to welcome the musicians from Tinglayan, Kalinga province. There were 15 of them (mostly the menfolks), lugging their sacks of bamboo instruments and gongs. Instantly, it felt like a reunion–a heartfelt meeting among far away friends. Stories were told among those who could speak Tagalog and a bit of English, and smiles were shared with those who couldn’t.
My new friends from Kalinga belong to the Ichananaw indigenous group. They had travelled to Manila from their upland community in Brgy. Dananao, which is a three-hour trek on foot from the town proper of Tinglayan. Tinglayan itself is halfway up a very steep mountain slope from a tributary of the Chico River. I could imagine the lack of roads, of access to markets, of employment, and consequently, the lack of education among our Ichananaw brothers and sisters.
Cartwheel’s Music and Art Education program, a program that helps communities integrate indigenous music and art into their basic education curriculum, found its way to them. It also responded to the leaders and elders’ desire to document their indigenous music, dance and art. But beyond helping the Ichananaws preserve their culture for their youth, the program brought something special to the community last year. The Ichananaws were invited to participate in a cross-cultural musical dialogue with other indigenous groups and with Cultures in Harmony, a young group of American classical musicians too!
From the bus terminal, we took a van (interrupted by a flat tire!) to a Novaliches retreat house where my friends would reside for three nights, meet up with the Tala-Andig and the Umajam of Bukidnon, reunite with their American musician-friends, and ready themselves for the melodious get-together on the grand stage of The Cultural Center of the Philippines.
My volunteer work was simply to look after them, and so I was eager to be assigned backstage to assist all the indigenous groups–it was obviously where all the chatting, costume wearing, and who would have imagined, impromptu cross-tribal group dancing and music playing were going to happen!
I took photos on and off rehearsals, trying to capture the diversity of my Filipino heritage in the Ichananaw of the North, and the Tala-Andig and Umajam of the South. A few minutes before the start of the show, one could clearly feel the energy rising backstage. The Ichananaw elders brought along their ceremonial rice wine, drank among themselves, and started dancing to warm themselves up for the show! To the indigenous peoples who have barely travelled to Manila, a show at the CCP was the ultimate adrenalin rush!
“Reconnecting with Our Roots: A Cultural Exchange,” directed by acclaimed stage and TV writer and director Floy Quintos, became a visual tapestry of the authentic cultures I saw for the first time. My most loved part was the final act where our traditional music and the Western classical music blended harmoniously in the six pieces created by the indigenous communities with the Cultures in Harmony. These pieces retold their histories and everyday lives. They were a music of welcome and unity with others, regardless of race or culture.
The show ended with a standing ovation! Many of us were teary eyed–so proud of what has been created and shared with the audience that night. I was elated to have reconnected with my roots, too.
Ka Pablo Oggas, an Ichananaw teacher and participant (2nd photo above, in front), said that being able to share his talents and skills made him feel he was needed and that was one of the happiest (moments) in his life. “The most beautiful memories we had were even before the concert. During the rehearsals, we talked with the other groups and we think, ‘So this is how it is to meet others.’ And that experience–of meeting those from far away and we’ve never seen–really struck me that you can be a friend to them, especially when they share their experiences, their lives and themselves.”
I am proud to have known Ka Pablo and the Ichananaw and so grateful indeed to have been a part of this cultural program.
(Here’s a slideshow of the photos I took backstage and during rehearsals.)
Philippine Copyright 2010