Performance elicits pride in the Philippines' Cordillera heritage
July 08, 2012
The understanding of the Cordillera as a geographical site, and as a marker to identify a Philippine ethno-linguistic group is still limited even in today's supposed enlightened cultural climate informed by the convenience of technology.
Director of the University of the Cordilleras (UC) Hapiyoh Mi Cultural Group and assistant professor of History Maria Catbagan-Aplaten frames her educational advocacy of the Cordillera in this mindset through the performances of the group "considered as the country's premier Cordilleran performing arts group," according to Martin Emile Z. Lopez, executive director of the Far Eastern University's (FEU) President's Committee on Culture.
What began as a homeroom activity in her Philippine Society and Culture class 12 years ago, Hapiyoh Mi has been transformed into a cultural ensemble that undertakes university-initiated education, research and extension activities from cultural workshops to group clinics and "give-back" activities, performance tours and even an anticipated book project.
Aplaten explains that while the UC Hapiyoh Mi Cultural Group serves as the vehicle to enlighten a larger public on the essential Cordillera, she is careful about drawing a misapprehension from the audience during performances - that what is being depicted is still commonplace, especially by those who are looking for things exotic.
The opportunity at making this statement presented itself again in a conference organized by the Association of Cultural Offices in Philippine Educational Institutions, Inc. (ACOPEI) last April 11-13, 2012.
Aplaten, with UC assistant vice president for corporate communications and director of the UC Center for Creative Productions Engr. Aloysius C. Mapalo held a discussion with executive director Lopez during this ACOPEI 2nd annual conference.
Lopez revealed in that meeting FEU's plans for their 2012-2013 cultural season. Lopez said this season's theme "Celebrating Collaborations with Other Universities" spotlights "FEU's artistic synergies with similar minded higher education institutions while continuing to uplift and develop cultural awareness among the FEU community."
One like-minded higher education institution happened to be UC with the university's Hapiyoh Mi Cultural Group. Hapiyoh, who was among the groups hailed in the 2011 nationwide search for the "Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations" opened FEU's cultural season with a series of performances in the FEU system culminating at the historic FEU Auditorium last June 22.
Lopez said UC's Hapiyoh Mi was chosen because "we wanted to present a uniquely Filipino production which would heighten the audience's sense of identity as well as their pride in being Filipino."
Aplaten, who was also the force behind the group's strong runner-up finish in the Commission on Higher Education's (CHED) 2010 National Academic and Cultural Festival and competition said Hapiyoh's goal is to foster an awareness that the Cordillera is a part of the distinct cultural heritage of the Filipino.
She said the group aims to transform the bigoted attitude of the uninitiated few whenever the word "Igorot" is mentioned. This starts by eliminating some of the racial and class stereotypes that people hold on the "Igorot."
Aplaten said the annotations that they deliver during performances instill upon the audience that the demonstration of Cordillera songs and dances are already echoes of the past. She said while these customs, rites and rituals are, by and large, no longer performed in most of the Cordillera communities, the bases of the UC performances are oral traditions obtained by the members who belong to various Cordillera ethno-linguistic groups.
"The desire to perform these songs and dances is driven by the standpoint that we also do not want to be ethno-centric and thus isolate ourselves from the larger Filipino community," Aplaten said. "The audience need to know that the legacy of the Cordillera is given importance in the way our group, for instance, showcases the attires of the Cordillera sub-groups which shows the skill and attention to detail Cordillera artisans devote in the making of fabrics and ornaments," she said.
Executive director Lopez said the FEU audience were transformed by the UC performance to the extent where one of them said "I learned to value my culture more and made me realize how wonderful our tradition is. Just watching them dance makes me proud to be Filipino." Since part of the performance is a community dance sequence another said, "We felt like we were one with the culture when we joined the dance."
The UC performance is bannered as "Intako Mensagni: Music and Dances of the Cordillera." It is an hour and a half performance that depicts the diversity of movements and utterances of the Cordillera sub-groups Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Apayao, Kalinga and Mountain Province.
Aplaten said the repertoire is choreographed and curated for performance purposes. She explained, however, that Cordillera elders were consulted in the course of storyboard development for accuracy, since it is also meant to educate. The repertoire is based on Cordillera life and practices.
Being a part of UC's home community, the Cordillera culture and community comprise a continuing university initiative for development and nurturance.