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The sum of all of us.

Two of the most frequently asked questions about culture are these: What is the identity of the Filipino? and What is Filipino culture? The first is easily resolved. Being a Filipino is determined by citizenship. But the question on what is Filipino culture is a bit more acerbic because there is no such thing, unless culture is in the plural form.

Our national identity--being Filipino--is not defined by culture, but by citizenship. If it is culturally defined, all Filipinos will be exhibiting more or less the same behavioral pattern. But how can we do that when there are some 80 major ethno-linguistic groups in the country and, to date--excluding the many others not yet recorded--there are more than 400 variations of these groups? The richness of Philippine cultures is awesome, even in their present forms, in spite of the inroads of externally introduced influences and whatever internally initiated changes that have taken place through time.

Is Filipino culture more like the Ifugaos?

Take for instance the Ifugaos of the northern Cordilleras in northern Luzon. We know them for the rice terraces--now a UNESCO World Heritage Site--constructed and not carved on towering mountain slopes; or the Hudhud, the epic chant of Ifugao women, which the UNESCO declared in 2001 a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity; or the more recently nominated to the UNESCO Representative List, Punnuk Tugging ritual, which marks the convergence of the end of an agricultural cycle and the beginning of a new one, done in the confluence of raging rivers. These are only some of the features of this one culture.

The complexity of the Ifugao ritual life, which involves clinging on to more than 1,500 deities, persists even through Christianity. Their oral literatures, in the form of ritual myths that comprise the core of their religious rites, are formidable poetry. Their craft in weaving, even utilizing only the back strap loom and wood carving, has gained international note. Is their culture the Filipino cultural identity we seek to identify with?

Is it more like the Maranaos?

Consider next the Maranaos who live along the fringes of Lake Lanao in the high plateau of Lanao del Sur in Mindanao. Their singular piece of vernacular architecture--the humongous and highly okir-embellished royal house, the Torogan--can stand column to column with the indigenous istanas of Southeast Asian indigenous structures. Their pre-Islamic epic poetry, the Darangen, can stand, word to word, to the Odyssey in length and magnificence of language. It is among them that the Victorian Period horror vacui or fear of empty space--in visual art, the meticulous filling of empty spaces that permeates arabesque Islamic art--is found from ancient times to the present. Even the most mundane domestic article as the handle of a scoop net, with the Maranaos, is carved and painted with okir, an artistic crafting style with a complex art motif nomenclature like pako rabong or climbing fern, all derived from nature, as their mythical creatures that represent prestige and elegance: the Sarimanok, the enigmatic messenger bird, or the Niaga-naga, the classic "S" dragon motif. Is this the Filipino cultural identity we seek?

Who are we?

Ifugao or Maranao cultures are Filipino as any in spite of all the differences in which their humanity is expressed. We think that all the characteristics of these cultures have already been fathomed and described after all the publications by different authorities and by the people themselves. The image of the Tinguian of Abra has been studied meticulously by Fay-Cooper Cole in 1907, followed by others, both foreign and Filipino, and their studies have been published widely. For a year, beginning February 2014, the province gathered resource persons including members of the 12 Tinguian subgroups to compile a list of Tinguian cultural properties that are significant to national cultural heritage. This list was submitted last April to be part of the Philippine Registry of Philippine Cultural Heritage as mandated by the Cultural Heritage Act of 2009. Yet even to this day, a list of more than 60 elements of intangible cultural heritage, and increasing, are still being documented without anyone knowing the end of it.

An insight into the complexities of Philippine cultures may be glimpsed in the newly published book by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO or ICHCAP of Korea, entitled: "Pinagmulan: Enumerations from the Inventory of Philippine Intangible Cultural Heritage," which can be accessed through the Internet. The book is distributed free to all member states of UNESCO, and through the Asia-Pacific region. Locally, it is freely distributed only to institutions like libraries. Availability of funds will enable the publication of the public/student version of the book. The inventory and succeeding volumes are works in progress.

We are Us!

In the stifling confines of urban environment, the intrusive effects of foreign cultures are obvious. But hardly noticed are the internally induced local adaptations that are internalized from the relevant features of the entirety of environment like, for instance, the ubiquitous jeep of World War II fame, now a Philippine icon.

Some speak of "corrupted" or "destroyed" culture. But one must realize that no culture is ever destroyed nor corrupted. Intrusions are not unidirectional. Filipinos are recipients of as well as contributors to globalization.

Culture is adaptive. Culture is dynamic and ever changing. This is why cultural preservation is now recognized as a misnomer, that safeguarding culture and its changes is the more logical concern. It is everything that is learned and transmitted to become heritage. It cannot be reduced to a single stamp of identity as not a single individual person can so be identified.

The most difficult thing to define is a self-evident fact. Years back, during a long-winded discourse by an anthropologist at the NCCA in a meeting with the Cabinet and President Fidel Ramos on Filipino identity, the President intervened by saying--the Filipino? That is us. And that sums it up. (Dr. Jesus Peralta)

Dr. Jesus Peralta is an anthropologist, a graduate of the University of California, Davis. He was director III of the Philippine National Museum and the program director of the UNESCO project in safeguarding the Ifugao Epic Chant, Hudhud. Presently, he is a consultant to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts; Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee member; and consultant to the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) Committee. He is in the hall of fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award in Literature.


Lang-ay Festival 2015 in Bontoc, Mountain Province (Image by Marvz Alcaraz courtesy of NCCA Public Affairs and Information Office)
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Title Annotation:Panorama
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Oct 18, 2015
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