Saturday, July 24, 2010

Nieves in Excelsis

Today, July 24, is Nieves Benito Epistola's 84th birthday. She left too soon in 2002. Following is a reprint of an old piece where this blogger, her student in stylistics, tried to sum up her life after her death in September that year.

Why do you feed your students?

Nieves Benito Epistola, professor emeritus of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of the Philippines Diliman, was often asked this through much of her career that spanned 51 years. Her answer remained the same: “There are three good reasons for doing things. The first important need is physiological; the second, to have security or a sense of belonging, and the third, self-actualization.”

She used to say, whenever she was assigned to a 7 a.m. or a 12 noon class, “How can you expect them to learn if they are hungry? Communication is easier if you eat the same things. On the metaphorical level, you give them nourishment for the mind.”

Apart from language, the center of her life’s work, this genuine concern for the needs of students and other people marked the life of the woman popularly known as Mrs. E.

She almost did not make it to UP. Her original dream was to become a teacher at the provincial high school in Lingayen, Pangasinan, her hometown. Her idol was her teacher, Fe Manza, who went on to become a Department of Education superintendent.
“I wanted to be like her, to go back and serve my province,” Mrs. E said.

In those days, high school teachers in the provinces were mostly UP graduates. But the parish priest discouraged Nieves Benito from going to UP because he feared that she would become an atheist and a communist.

She went to Bishop Mariano Madriaga to ask his permission. He said, “You can take care of yourself. By the way, I am also a UP graduate.”

She entered postwar UP in 1946 along with the valedictorians, salutatorians and other high school honor graduates. When the main campus moved from Padre Faura street, Manila, to Diliman in 1949, so did she and her batch mates. Then UP President Bienvenido Gonzalez gave them diplomas of distinction for being pioneer students of Diliman, Quezon City.

For her undergraduate practicum, she taught Section A of UP High School. The class, made up of the brightest fourth-year students, was notorious for making practice teachers cry.

“They were not able to make me cry. Takot sa akin,” said the towering, five-feet-seven B.S. Education major.

The next semester, she was again given Section A, but she didn’t prepare a lesson plan, only an outline of activities. She taught English like a college class, and it worked.

Her career interconnected with the growth of the campus. Gonzalez showed her his vision for UP Diliman from his office. He told her that the Main Library would be at the center because it is the heart and soul of the university. Around it would be the classroom buildings. Dormitories would occupy the circle outside the classrooms. The outermost rim would be for employee housing.

“That was when I realized the symbolic structure of Diliman,” she said.
Gonzalez recruited her to be a UP instructor. Ever since, she personally knew every university president after him.

After graduating in 1950, Miss Benito was first sent to UP’s small college in Iloilo where she taught English and philosophy of education for a year. She witnessed the experiments of the community school movement led by the late father of writer Mila D. Aguilar.

These experiments used Hiligaynon as the medium of instruction in grade school. Research showed that two out of 10 pupils dropped out because they only learned a smattering of English. They still ended up illiterate.

She said, “In the control group conducted in English, the children were attentive, respectful and looked up to the teacher. That was the teacher-centered class. In the experimental group, a little boy was in front, conducting class discussions, interacting in Hiligaynon while the teacher stayed at the back. It was a student-centered class. That made an impact on me.”

She continued, “I had no technical terms for my observations then, no vocabulary to deal with the new situation. My B.S.E. training was in traditional grammar which is prescriptive. When you say grammar, you look at every sentence a student writes to see how well he or she knows and applies the rules.”

To Diliman, she returned. Dr. Cecilio Lopez, the father of linguistics in the Philippines, tried to “pirate” her from the English department where she was taking course work for her masters.

Lopez invited her to the colloquia of the Summer Institute of Linguistics. The focus was on studies of the unrecorded languages in Mindanao done by missionary couples. She wondered, “Why were foreigners doing the research for us? We should do it ourselves!”

She went back to her home province to study the Pangasinan language. In linguistics she found a blend of the humanities and sciences. When Lopez attended conferences abroad, she took over his classes.

One day he told her, “Miss Benito, you’re going to Yale University to do your Ph.D. under Dr. Isidore Dyen.” (Dyen was a famous linguist.)

Her answer was: “I’ll think about it.” Silvino V. Epistola, now a retired professor of philosophy and Asian studies, was her boyfriend. The year was 1958; they planned to wed in 1960.

Over dinner, she told him that she was going to be sent to the US so the wedding would not push through as scheduled. S.V. insisted, “It’s 1960 or nothing.”

Dr. Tomas Fonacier, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, told S.V. that he would soon be sent as a Mombusho scholar, one of the first from the Philippines, to the University of Tokyo.

That was the clincher–the faculty sweethearts decided to marry on April 26, 1958 at historic Pinaglabanan Church in San Juan with Fr. Pacifico Ortiz, S.J., officiating. The new Mrs. Epistola wore a white dress of mid-calf length. The only other people present were the couple’s respective parents, fellow faculty member Josefa Lava and her husband Buddy.

Mrs. E paraphrased D.H. Lawrence in describing her relationship with S.V., “You should not feel superior or inferior to anyone. You’re just aware of a human presence."

Having been a wartime teenager, Mrs. E always associated the Japanese with soldiers. But when their plane touched down in Tokyo on a Sunday, she and her husband saw families taking a stroll, the women in their kimono.

The two years spent honeymooning and studying there were, in her words, “a beautiful sojourn. The Japanese have a sense of aesthetics. Even the smallest shop displayed flowers. When I first went to a department store, I was awed because all that they sold were made in Japan. I acquired a consciousness of not just being a Filipino but an Asian, too.”

While S.V. got the meat and bones of Tanizaki and other novelists, in the original Japanese, Mrs. E trained in Malayo-Polynesian linguistics under the eminent linguist, Prof. Shiro Hattori. She earned his admiration for doing the first work on a Filipino verbal system.

Her facility in linguistics enabled her to communicate with Japanese vendors. She guested in cultural radio programs six times and memorized or read messages in Nippongo translated for her in Roman letters by a friend.

The Japanese students went to the Epistola house to practice their English, accompanying the Filipino couple to the Catholic church on Sundays.

One Sunday, Mrs. E overhead a student asking another, “Do you believe in God?”

“No,” came the reply. “I just came to hear English.”

Mrs. E cooked sinigang for many Filipinos stationed in Japan. This dish she served moved them to tears. They often said, “Ganito ang luto ng nanay namin sa Pilipinas.”

In 1960, the Epistolas returned to their home country only for her to fall ill. After her appendectomy was complicated by intestinal adhesions, she nearly died. She described the experience, “I was up there, looking at my body lying on the hospital bed with S.V. seated beside it. It was like the book Embraced by the Light."

UP President Carlos P. Romulo chose S.V. to go to Harvard University on a Rockefeller grant.

Although she would be entitled to $400 a month as “wife allowance” to support her husband’s studies, Mrs. E applied as an M.A. student in linguistics at Harvard. Dr. Lopez and Shiro Hattori sent to Boston testimonials about her excellence as a teacher and a scholar. She received her acceptance papers two weeks ahead of S.V. That got him worried.

Dr. Felixberto Santa Maria, then the English department chair, objected to Mrs. E’s going into linguistics. “That means when you come back, you’ll be with the Department of Linguistics. You’re the best English 1 and 2 teacher there is.”

She argued, “Eighty percent of work in the English department involves language teaching. Graduate studies in linguistics will make me a better freshman English teacher. Masarap turuan ang freshmen. They’re starry-eyed.”

And she vowed to herself, “Maski na matanda na ako, I’ll still be enthusiastic about teaching.”

During the Epistolas’ five years in Boston, they were exposed to the students’ anti-Vietnam War activism. This readied them for the First Quarter Storm.

The couple attended a memorable lecture of Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. He recited poems in Old English and said, “What are words but shared memories?”

Mrs. E went backstage and introduced herself to him as “your admirer from the Philippines.” The poet-fictionist said, “Oh, I’ve read Rizal” in the original Spanish. She also shook hands with pianists Van Cliburn and Arthur Rubinstein and cellist Mtislav Rostropovich, and enjoyed other concerts at Boston Symphony Hall with its perfect acoustics.

Roman Jacobson, the founder of stylistics (the application of linguistic methods to literary study), was Mrs. E’s mentor for five years. “I got it straight from the horse’s mouth,” she said, she simplified his formula into style equals repetition with variation, with or without contrast.

Jacobson was the first to create a language communication model that integrated many ideas in the 1950s. This model focuses on an ideal communication between an addresser and an addressee.

She said, “An addresser sends a message to the addressee by means of a code common to them. There must be a context. More importantly, there must be contact.”

From Calvert Watkins, head of Harvard’s linguistics department and a classical scholar, she learned this: “When you’re a student of linguistics, you must be interested in anything involving language.”

Her own view was: “We need a healthy dose of science in dealing with language. In the Philippine context, it’s so difficult to get people to understand the nature of language because everybody thinks that he/she is an expert. Everybody is either bilingual or multilingual.”

Since Harvard students were allowed access to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is just 10 minutes away by bus, Mrs. E went there to listen to Noam Chomsky, considered the god of linguistics. Only two to three MIT students were formally enrolled, but many auditors and admirers came. The class moved to a bigger lecture room.

Every time Mrs. E, the elected secretary of the Harvard Linguistics Club, returned to her home campus, her classmates asked her, “What’s the latest from the god?”

She was exposed to Harvard’s male chauvinism (“Anywhere you go, it’s downward from here”), and learned the finer points of baseball and American football when she watched these games with S.V.

When they went to the States, they brought with them two suitcases. Although they accumulated knickknacks and household appliances, including a complete set of glassware for every type of drink, they gave these all away. They carried the same number of suitcases upon their return to the Philippines.

They brought back books, and records. Mrs. E said Dr. Rod Paras Perez, then enrolled at Harvard, “lovingly packed our books. Everything he does is a work of art.”

She offered to cook him a special breakfast before his comprehensives. “I’ll come, provided S.V. doesn’t say anything,” he said. He came, had breakfast with the E’s, and S.V. kept his promise to keep his trap shut.

Back at UP, she introduced to her department the idea of a dynamic, interactive classroom. Instead of giving a lecture on linguistics, she presented to her colleagues for discussion Tom Fawthrop’s “On Examinations.” This essay “revolutionized the thinking of everybody. It attacked the grading systems that were based on exams,” she said.

Her expository writing classes not only meant writing exercises but also opportunities for oral interaction. Chairs were rearranged face to face. She and Prof. Dolores Stephens Feria turned these classes into “idea courses” where Third World perspectives, sexual politics, among other topics, were discussed.

Aware that “you cannot come from a vacuum when you have to talk about ideas in a group,” Mrs. E put together essays by assorted writers, condensed and edited them. The collection is called Democratic Visions: Readings in English 5.

An indication of her participation in upholding freedom during the Marcos regime was when she tried getting her passport validated for an academic year’s stay in China. She could not get her clearance and was given the runaround. Later, an official told her that there was a thick military dossier on her because she had helped many students who went underground.

Not batting an eyelash, she answered, “Yes, that’s true. I help all my students, whether underground or above ground.” She proceeded to lecture the official for two hours telling him, “What we do at UP is also for the country.”

From 1983 to 1984, she taught at the Beijing Language Institute. It was her first time to be abroad without S.V. “After 25 years of marriage, he wasn’t my bedmate. Many of my pet cats died,” she mused.

She lived in a suite at the Friendship Hotel. Her bedroom had two single beds. When Mrs. Feria visited her and stayed for some time, she introduced the American woman to others as her half-sister. “In the land of concubines, that wasn’t unusual,” Mrs. E said.

During her first six months in Beijing, her movements were restricted to the hotel, the school and the Friendship Store. She got her mail by diplomatic pouch from the Philippine Embassy which was 10 minutes away from the store.

“It was like living in a huge cage. I couldn’t keep notes or a diary. I was limited to teaching and my instructional materials. Six Chinese persons would clean my room. They were the eyes and ears of the administration. I borrowed Animal Farm from the British Council, but I never got to show it to my students because we were being monitored,” she said of the cramped democratic space.

She did not call her students by their Chinese names. They adopted English names. One even chose “Chomsky” for himself.

Mrs. E said, “I bet you some of my former students died at Tiananmen Square. They were listening to the Voice of America, and most were asking for recommendations to study in the States.”

In a small room in the institute, she saw the books of Mao Zedong gathering dust. In the Great Hall of the People, she witnessed Communist Party leaders enjoying huge ponkan oranges that were unavailable in the public market. She learned that these were only for the leaders. She had caught the tail-end of the Cultural Revolution.

The stay was instructive though. “Everything is grand and great in China,” she said. “I saw a one-thousand-year-old tree. In most of Europe, the landmarks can only go as far back as hundreds of years. I climbed the Great Wall twice, the right and the left sides, and had my lunch up there.”

Again she returned to UP where she later become associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters. She officially retired in 1991. But the English department asked her to continue teaching on a reduced load. She handled graduate courses in rhetoric, pragmatics and discourse analysis.

She went on teaching, learning (“Everything is a learning experience!” she often exclaimed) and taking care of S.V. In 2000, two aneurysms were discovered in the left side of his brain. The condition sidelined him. For a month Mrs. E commuted from Diliman to the Philippine General Hospital, where he was confined, and back.

Her dream was “to still be alive in 2000, but the year went by just like that.”

In January this year, S.V. had a heart attack. He seems to have recovered. His wife pointedly told him at Gilda and Marcelo Fernando’s golden wedding anniversary party in June to stay the course so they could make it to their own 50th in 2008. Suddenly, she caught a persistent cold in August.

Her health spiraled downward so fast. From her PGH sickbed, she instructed S.V. to drop by a supermarket on his way home and buy cans of mackerel for her cats and kittens. She reminded him to religiously take his medicines. She sent several text messages on the eve of her death, one wishing “Good luck” to a grandniece finishing her thesis.

Her final actions showed that she was summing up a life that replicated the prayer, “Others, Lord, others that I may live in Thee.” And so she went.

Originally published in Malaya, Sept. 23, 2002

Photo shows Nieves with National Artist Jose Maceda and Dr. S.V. Epistola (taken by the author at her 75th birthday celebration at the UP Executive House in 2001)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Unmasking a Copycat

Igal or Pangalay?

By Rosalie Matilac
Managing director, AlunAlun Dance Circle

I was appalled by the documents e-mailed to me by the Pesta Igal Secretariat regarding the performances set on 14-15 July 2010 at the UP Asian Center. The feeling came from the gut when I read the text from the organizers’ program, written by Dr. Matthew Santamaria: “Igal is dance to Sama or Sinama-speaking peoples…In the Philippines, it is considered a tradition all its own that has related variants such as the pangalay of the Tausug…”

Immediately, a Zen dictum on kindness crossed my mind: “Those who know kindness are few, those who abuse kindness are many.” In the field of intellectual property and creation, kindness can really be a rarity, especially when the little kindness one possesses is overpowered by other self-serving desires. I am referring to the attempt of Pesta Igal’s main organizers, headed by Dr. Matthew Santamaria, to copy the theories, concepts, and studies of Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa on the pangalay through an old advertising trick—re-branding.

I expected kindness and respect from Dr. Santamaria, the moving force behind the launching of Igal as dance tradition apart from Pangalay; after all, when Dr. Santamaria came to the parlor of pangalay researcher and conservationist, Ms. Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa, he knew nothing about the dances of the Sulu Archipelago. That was in 1999, when, through my prodding, Ms. Amilbangsa began teaching again after a period of semi-retirement. I was among the first batch of the 1999 class, and became a witness to the entry of Matthew Santamaria as a pangalay student, fresh from his stay in Japan. I saw how Ms. Ligaya Amilbangsa took him in, taught him everything she knew, shared with him all her documents and papers, treated him as a colleague, a son, and a beloved student. In fact, Dr. Santamaria was one of the founding members of the AlunAlun Dance Circle in 1999, inspired by the gentle waves (alunalun) that is so like the pangalay dance style that the group vows to preserve.

The easy accessibility of students to their teacher’s artistic and scholastic works creates a problem when former students use these without proper citation. While Philippine law safeguards intellectual property starting at the moment of creation, the protection of creators generally depends on the publication of their works. Much of Ms. Amilbangsa’s precious insights are still unpublished, but are open to us--her students, during our dance classes and discussions.

Ms. Amilbangsa taught us for free, which was a lot of kindness from a great teacher like her. In the unwritten ethics of social exchange, there must be some form of payment that students give to their teacher--in the form of recognition and respect. That we should treat her with respect, even reverence, by acknowledging and complementing her great contribution in preserving pangalay is an unspoken code of conduct.

The ambiguous “it”

What irks me is how Dr. Santamaria shrewdly used the pioneering formulations of Ms. Amilbangsa, found in her numerous monographs and unprecedented book, Pangalay: Traditional Dances and Related Folk Artistic Expressions (1983).

Dr. Santamaria in the paper entitled “Igal: Dance of Southern Seas” stated: “…First, dance scholars, notably Amilbangsa (1983), consider it to have the richest movement vocabulary among the dance traditions in the Philippines.”

Through the use of the pronoun “it,” Dr. Santamaria misrepresents Ms. Amilbangsa by making it appear that she spoke of igal as that which has “the richest movement vocabulary among the dance traditions in the Philippines;” when in fact, Ms. Amilbangsa used the description for pangalay. Ms. Amilbangsa has repeatedly written about the richness of pangalay, notably in “The Pangalay Dance Style of the Philippines: An Intangible Cultural Heritage,” a paper presented to the ONCC-UNESCO Experts Meeting on Intangible Cultural Heritage in Bangkok in 2005, where she wrote: “Among Philippine indigenous dances, the pangalay dance style has the richest movement vocabulary.”

Dr. Santamaria proceeds to describe igal: “This vocabulary is characterized by postures (set poses) and gestures (transitional movements from one pose to another) that give emphasis on flexion of the fingers, wrists and arms.
These ideas, stolen from Ms. Amilbangsa, were what drove me to unmask the work of Dr. Santamaria. The “vocabulary” that Dr. Santamaria describes as “igal” is actually the lifework of Ms. Amilbangsa, which, Dr. Santamaria now conveniently copies, uses, and paraphrases for his own ends.

Unmasking a copycat

Upon examination of the text, there are some evidences to prove my case. For starters, if we juxtapose the basic ideas of Dr. Santamaria’s description of igal with the formulations of Ms Amilbangsa, we will see the similarity in concepts and the derivation of ideas based on Ms. Amilbangsa’s. Much of Dr. Santamaria’s ‘igal’ is derived from the Pangalay (1983), and in the monographs of Ms. Ligaya Amilbangsa, which Dr. Santamaria have copies of.

At this point, let me stress that Ligaya Amilbangsa created her trailblazing works on the pangalay and on the other dance styles of the Sulu Archipelago without the support of government or any funding institution. She immersed herself in the Sulu Archipelago, where she lived for over two decades starting in 1969. Her writings and choreography were borne out of decades of research, participant observation, immersion, intuitive insight, and theorizing. Thanks to her painstaking deconstruction of the dances, she was able to define the art of the pangalay dance style (along with langka martial art traditions and lunsay), to give us what is now called the dance vocabulary of the pangalay composed of postures and gestures. She alone invented this method through careful analysis of the dance and through intuition. For example, the idea of “transitional movements from one pose to another” is Ms. Amilbangsa’s concept based on her own deconstruction of the dance.

Even the way knees are bent or flexed, the outward-inward or inward-inward movements of the hands, the figure 8 movement that is likened to the gentle waves of the sea, the breathing that goes with the rhythm of the body movement—were intuited by her based on meticulous observation and research for over two decades.

However, the pangalay movement vocabulary as defined by Ligaya Amilbangsa is not rigid, as she is aware of the dynamic interplay of many factors with tradition: “Owing to the limitless possibilities of dance improvisation, depending upon the performer’s skill, it would be a mistake to regard a single version of the pangalay as the correct form or style.” (Amilbangsa, 1983, p 14)
Perhaps it is this absence of rigidity in pangalay dance style that led Dr. Santamaria to use and circumvent the basic ideas of Ligaya Amilbangsa to create his description of igal.

For example, Dr. Santamaria wrote in 2010: “ … the dance tradition is considered to constitute the Philippines’ living link to other major performance traditions in Southeast Asia. This is most evident in the uncanny similarity of igal dance postures to that of Classical Cambodian, Thai and Balinese postures.”

These ideas obviously come from Ms. Amilbangsa, who wrote:Pangalay is a living link to the traditional dance cultures of Asia with closest affinity to the Indian, Javanese, Thai, Burmese and Cambodian styles of classical dancing (Amilbangsa, 2005).

Pangalay literally is a gift or offering. Generally it connotes dance which is synonymous to ‘igal’. ..It bears closest affinity to the classical dance traditions in the Asian region: the Pakarena (Sulawesi), Legong and Bedoyo (court dance) of Indonesia, the Khmer Court Dance of Cambodia, the Ramwong and Lakhon (dance drama) of Thailand, the Bharata Natyam and Manipuri of India, the Buyo and Noh of Japan, the Geong Jae and Salpuri of Korea.” (Amilbangsa, 2001)

As early as 1983, Ligaya Amilbangsa has defined pangalay in its many layers of meaning, and has clearly pointed out the relation of the pangalay style with the term ‘igal’:

Mangalay or mag-igal means to dance (v.) or to move in rhythmic steps and glides and with rhythmic gestures.

Pangalay or igal generally connotes dance (n.) or a piece of dancing regardless of
the function or the form.

Pangalay, in a restricted sense, connotes a traditional dance form or style which, altogether with the langka or martial dance style, bears closest affinity to the Thai (Siamese) and Balinese modes of dancing. (Amilbangsa 1983, p.13)

Ligaya Amilbangsa recorded the variances of pangalay during her time, and the names of some dances naturally had the term ‘igal’ (dance) in them, for example: courtship dance like Igal Ha Agung, game-song dance like Igal Ha Panyu, mimetic dance like Igal-Kussah, occupational dance like Igal Buwani, and so on. (Amilbangsa 1983, p.17)

I don’t know why Dr. Santamaria has appropriated the generic term ‘igal’ to make a niche for himself. His reasons are not the subject of this paper. My concern is about the process and the product of his work: he did not labor as Ligaya Amilbangsa did, nor did he stumble into anything original and different from what Ligaya Amilbangsa has observed, researched, and formulated. To rationalize his use of the term ‘ igal,’ he conveniently assigned pangalay as a Tausug tradition, and igal as a Sama Dilaut tradition, which subverts the integrity of Ligaya

Amilbangsa’s thesis, that pangalay is a dance tradition of the “Tausug, Samal, Badjao and Jama Mapun”—the peoples of the Sulu Archipelago. In her various lectures, Ms. Amilbangsa also noted that pangalay is related to the paunjalay/ pangunjalay of the Yakan in Basilan, which is also part of the Sulu Archipelago.

The ‘suchness’ of igal and pangalay

The ‘igal’ that Dr. Santamaria is talking about is none other than the pangalay style systematized by Ligaya Amilbangsa. Dr. Santamaria tries to make a different thing out of igal by saying that this is the dance of the Sama Dilaut in Sitangkai, Tawitawi province and in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia. But if we pursue Ligaya Amilbangsa’s socio-historical contextualization, it follows that since pangalay is also the dance style of the Bajau or the Sama Dilaut—known to be the most widely dispersed maritime people of the Sulu-Sulawesi territory, it is a natural course of time and process that pangalay (also called igal by the people), through the Bajau diaspora, will develop its own variances in the places that they inhabit—including Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon.

Ms. Amilbangsa also made it clear that the geographic location of the Sulu Archipelago that “links Zamboanga to the northeastern extremity of Borneo, and separates the Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea,” allowed fluid contact of its peoples with the rest of Southeast Asia. Thus, pangalay as the dominant dance style of the Sulu Archipelago would, in all probability, also be known in contiguous areas. The Sulu Sultanate, with the Sulu Archipelago as seat of its empire during the peak of its reign in the 18th and 19th centuries, wielded political, economic, and cultural power and influence over what is now known as parts of Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asia, as well as China.

But to keep things simple, I will just repeat what sages have known since time immemorial: The ‘suchness’ of a thing does not change, even if given many other names, just as a rose is such, even by any other name.

The evidence of the same ‘suchness’ of pangalay and igal can be found in the program of Pesta Igal itself, which included dances that belonged to the repertoire of the AlunAlun Dance Circle:

The long program of the gala evening performance…includes contemporary works using igal movement vocabulary…The added features for the evening’s repertoire are …”Igal Kabkab”, a fan dance incorporating some movement techniques from Japanese and Okinawan dance techniques,…and “Jesu” a liturgical dance set to Johann Sebastian Bach “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring” as arranged by jazz guitarist Windham Hill. (“Pesta Igal: From the Water Villages to the Stage”, Teatro Filipino Integrated, Inc. 2010)

Igal Kabkab, literally “fan dance,” has been researched and notated by Ligaya Amilbangsa in the 1970s. I saw her sketches using stick figures of the postures and gestures of Igal Kabkab, which she taught us earnestly, so our muscle memory may be the keeper of this beautiful pangalay fan dance. Matthew Santamaria learned Igal Kabkab from Ms Amilbangsa. It is now an important part of the pangalay movement vocabulary. The programs of the performances of the AlunAlun Dance Circle from 1999 to the present show that Igal Kabkab is part of the pangalay repertoire. Now, Dr. Santamaria recklessly categorizes this pangalay fan dance under ‘igal,’ as if he were the one who discovered and recorded it. To mask his deed, he tries to create his own brand of Igal Kabkab by incorporating Japanese and Okinawan fan dance techniques into it—which also raises a question whether it is wise to fuse the indigenous Igal Kabkab, rich and beautiful on its own, with fan dance styles that are not intrinsic to it.

Next case in point is “Jesu.” As artistic director of the AlunAlun Dance Circle, Ms. Amilbangsa has encouraged us to use the pangalay movement vocabulary with any kind of music. “Jesu” was part of such an experiment, largely choreographed by Dr. Santamaria, with my help, and with the guidance of our teacher. I was even the one who suggested to Dr Santamaria that we should use Windham Hill’s rendition instead of the heavy orchestra music that he worked with. “Jesu” is recorded in the published program of the show entitled, “Pangalay ng Bayan: Choreographic Explorations,” at the CCP Little Theatre on 12 January 2002. Now, as part of Pesta Igal, Dr. Santamaria conveniently categorizes “Jesu” under igal choreography. Isn’t this a proof that igal and pangalay are the same?

The testimony of the people

Finally, the strongest evidence for the same suchness of igal and pangalay can be found among the Sama Dilaut themselves. Through the research and shoot of several documentaries that I made, notably Memories of the Sea (2006) and Sayaw sa Alon (2008), I have met and made friends with the Bajau or Sama Dilaut. Whether they are the Bajau in Sitangkai or Sangasanga (Tawitawi), in Taluksangay (Zamboanga), in Roxas Boulevard and Paranaque (Metro Manila), even in Batangas and Laguna-- they do not separate igal and pangalay.

The separation of igal and pangalay is a result of scholastic pursuits gone awry. The design of Dr. Santamaria to create division where there should be none runs against the very principle of Asian dance, which is about wholeness and harmony even among opposing forces (yin and yang, stillness in motion, motion in stillness). Meanwhile, the simple answer to the question, whether igal and pangalay are different, lies in the heart of the people: to them, igal and pangalay are the same, the dance which evokes the spirit of natural elements, the dance that gives them identity, that expresses their soul, and connects them with their true nature as a people.

Therefore, the thesis of Dr. Santamaria, that “igal is considered a tradition all its own,” is a lie. That is the simple truth.


Pangalay: Traditional Dances and Related Folk Artistic Expressions, Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa, Filipinas Foundation, 1983.

“The Aesthetics of the Pangalay Dance style of the Sulu Archipelago,” Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa, paper presented during the Malay World Arts Festival Conference, 4-8 October 2001, Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

“The Pangalay Dance Style of the Philippines: An Intangible Cultural Heritage,” Ligaya Amilbangsa, a paper presented to the Sub-Regional Experts Meeting in Asia on Intangible Cultural Heritage: Safeguarding and Inventory-making, Office of the National Culture Commission (ONCC) in cooperation with UNESCO, 13-16 December 2005,
Bangkok, Thailand.

“Pesta Igal: From the Water Villages to the Stage,” paper circulated by Teatro Filipino Integrated, Inc. for the promotion of Pesta Igal: Traditional Music and Dance of the Southern Seas, July 14-15, 2010, University of the Philippines Asian Center Auditorium.

“Igal: Dance of the Southern Seas,” MCM Santamaria, Ph.D., 2010.

Photo by FRANCO ANTONIO REGALADO shows the author (second from right) with some members of the AlunAlun Dance Circle at a full-moon festival in June. Source:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sinag Shines with Scissors and Paper

Starting at age seven, Sinag de Leon has been making paper cut-outs when she first discovered how it was done from a Childcraft volume.

Inspired by and fascinated with the designs of fragile paper cuts from China and Bulacan pastillas wrappers, she continues to relive, through her unique version of paper cuts, the rich variety of art that marked her childhood and growing up years. She has experimented with paper of different colors, textures, thicknesses and sizes, coming up with projects using her own designs for pencil holders, bookmarks, among other gift ideas. In 1995, she started making cards with “snowflake” paper cut designs, using art paper and card board and calling them Sinag Cards.

Just as there are no two snowflakes alike, Sinag’s paper cuts do not repeat themselves. After sharing her experience in making them with the Baguio community in 2007 and receiving a positive response, she seriously considered turning paper cuts into framed objects.

The process of cutting paper into shapes that she herself cannot predict the outcome of can take from five minutes for small sizes to an entire day for complicated, detailed ones. After she slowly and carefully opens the folded paper to prevent any tearing, she pastes the cut-out onto a background, still a tricky process. All throughout, she is guided by the thought of highlighting the paper’s beauty, for this particular show, paper from the Iloilo Producers’ Association.

Having worked with paper made in Japan and Thailand in past shows, for this current one, Sinag finds Philippine-made paper a joy to behold, handle and transform. She is doubly proud that she found it in a province where she partly traces her roots to.

“Sinalimbay,” Sinag’s second solo exhibit, gets its name from a combination of Tagalog and Ilonggo words whose common meaning has to do with gliding, swooping (like the movement of birds) and meeting the air from different directions.

In photo: Elaborate doesn't quite capture what Sinag did with this piece of paper
"Sinalimbay" opens on July 16 at 5 p.m. at Kiss the Cook Gourmet with a live performance of Diwa de Leon's Hegalong Project at 65 Maginhawa street, UP Village, Quezon City. The exhibit runs for a month. Contact Kiss the Cook Gourmet for details at tel. 434-3700 or Sinag at +632-9208-431994

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Joey Cob’s Challenge: ‘Satisfied Ka Ba?’

He insisted on calling me “Mama Beth” from first eyeball until I told him “Mama Bear” sounded better. Since then, our brief exchange of SMS and email has been more relaxed, comfortable enough for me to say “Wait lang” when he persists with a question or request.

Today, while going through my computer folder labeled “Pending” to stand for unfinished work, I saw this exchange Joey Cobcobo and I had right before the May 10 elections when I hurriedly made a side trip to SM Megamall Art Center to check out the group show called "Signos," a Slash/Art project. Noel Cuizon and Karen Ocampo Flores, the persons behind Slash/Art, had conceptualized this exhibit (before the former was taken ill; he is on the road to recovery). It was a politically charged show like anything that would spring from the combined energies of Noel and Karen. They can rally the visual arts community to comment on the national situation.

These days, however, I am hovering in "neitherland" (neither here nor there; not all there). I fight lapses of memory, drawing up endless to-do lists, the done list never quite catching up with what remains to still be accomplished. I saw this Q&A, a quiet admonition that reminds me of what remains, well, undone “that gives a bit of heartache at the setting of the sun,” to quote an old poem from childhood.

Let Joey speak. This old bear needs to check on the heated porridge. His youth enables him to draw up his own to-do list, to explore non-traditional materials and to match his activities with this rare quality called faith. Old mama bear feels refreshed just reviewing his answers.

Why do you work with what seems to be frail material (piña)? Have you given up on canvas on board?

I like paper, pulp and the raw materials of piña which we have here. We’re known as piña country. I want my prints to be look like three-dimensional forms, with no limitations at all. A Japanese master paper-maker studied the combination of piña, saba and koxo (mulberry). The result is one of the strongest types of paper. This was tested here and abroad. Handmade paper with piña is acid-free paper, it’s organic, no chemicals are added. When I paste/glue, I use kunyaku powder from Kunyaku’ plant. So what with canvas or wood? Saan ba sila galing? Minsan mas masaya ung mahirap at makitid na daan kesa sa lahat na komportable pero kelangan mo lang i-explore, pag-aralan. Maybe it’s just a matter of how you frame it, or where you place it? Or even, do you love it?

Kung ano man maging resulta ng eleksyon, may saysay ba ito sa iyong buhay at sa buhay ng karaniwang Pinoy?

Lahat ng pinagpaguran natin ay magkakaroon lamang ng saysay kung ito’y maiintindihan at maipauunawa natin sa lahat ng antas ng tao. Boto ng mayaman ay parehas lang ang bigat kumpara sa boto ng mahirap. Pila ko, pila mo rin. Bilog ko, bilog mo rin. Huwag lang sanang bilugin ang taong walang alam.
Sumabay pa tong reunion ng high school batch ko. Sama ako dyan pero magtratrabaho ako. Survey on Top 10 promises of the politicians so after merienda at pikturan, umupo ako sa gitna ng malaking batong mesa. We joked around hanggang sa ipasok ko ang tunay na agenda. Magbigay naman kayo ng mga pangako ng mga politiko na napanood, narinig at nakita ninyo sa inyong lugar. Madaming naglabasan pero pumili ako ng 10 pangako ng mga politiko. Kahit ano puwede mauna:
1. Babayaran ko ang utang ng Pilipinas.
2. OpO = Oposisyon ako
3. Libreng computer at Internet sa bawat pamilya
4. Di ako sinungaling, i-lie detector test niyo pa ako.
5. Kasangga mo ang langit.
6. Tapusin ang kahirapan.
7. Gusto ko happy ka.
8. Hindi ako magnanakaw.
9. College graduate sa bawat isang pamilya
10. Libreng pabahay
After that discussion, haay salamat, uwian na, but they pushed me to lead them in prayer, especially for a schoolmate who died. Okay, fine. It was a solid prayer, the first time I felt the strong impact of the God Spirit. I can’t explain the real joy and peace in my heart that still remains. Lahat napagod sa botohan, lahat may napala, tumatak man sa isipan ng Pinoy o hindi ang aking ginawa, ito ay ingay pa din. Wala akong pinagsisihan, wala akong pinanghinayangan sa aking mga ginawa. Ang tanong ko lang sa kapwa Pinoy: SATISFIED KA BA?

Photo shows Joey Cobcobo and his contribution to "Signos"