Welcome one and all to 2018! I certainly hope you had an amazing 2017 and that this year brings you continued health, wealth, and happiness. We have an extremely busy year ahead of us in Parangal Dance Company (PDC) and I challenge you to make it even more memorable than years past.
When I joined PDC, I honestly never thought I’d be here almost 10 years later. I did manage to “retire” once since joining, but here I am today as invested as I’ve ever been, if not more. It’s been an amazing decade for PDC for so many reasons, and this year will culminate with a celebration of music and dance in our anniversary show “Padayon.” That being said, I’m happy that we kicked off 2018 with this year’s Immersion Program.
In partnership with Kularts’ 2018 Tribal Tour headed by Alleluia Panis, we were first taken to the south to Cotabato, an area filled with the rich and diverse culture of the Maguindanaoan people. I remember when I first told my mother that I’d be going there, she was nervous and afraid for me. Like many others who aren’t from Cotabato, my mother had some angst about the area because she only knows what’s been propagated via mainstream media. Yes, Cotabato is under martial law, with military checkpoints throughout the city. Yes, there is a 10pm curfew that curtails travel in and out of the city. No, not once did I fear for my life nor felt in danger. In fact, our interactions with the Maguidanaoans were quite the opposite. The people (from day-to-day citizens to Sultanate dignitaries)) were friendly and hospitable; they welcomed us into their homes, greeted us with warmth, nourished our stomachs with bountiful feasts and our souls with amazing stories, and graced us with both music and dance. They had a single unified message — simply put, “We are a peace loving people. Tell others so that they know.”
While in Cotabato, we took part in a ritual known as Ipat, which typically lasts 7 days or more. We were privileged to have been immersed in an abbreviated Ipat lasting 3 days. Though I won’t go into the details about the actual ritual, what I can tell you is that as an outsider looking in, it can appear cultish. On the first night, I went into the ritual skeptical, but with an open mind. For those of us who often feel like we bear the weight of the world on our shoulders, how can we support the weight of an unknown and unfamiliar sprit on top of that? For a control freak and a planner like me, it’s tough to give in to the unknown so willing and freely. When entranced, I heard the echos of my spirit telling me to let go … and when I did, I cried. For those of you who know me well, you know that I rarely cry happy or sad tears, so I was surprised that I did, and so heavily.
In the comfort of my own room later that night, drained from the experience, I reflected. I told myself that there was a rational explanation for what had happened to me, trying to resolve it by coming up with “something” that I could hold on to that would explain it all, but I couldn’t. The manifestations of the ritual came out differently for each of us — some cried, some convulsed, some danced. In fact, some became so weak they couldn’t bear to sit up any longer and fell to their backs., and some just bore witness to what was happening around them, lost in the solitude of their own thoughts. I told myself it was just a fluke, that I was caught up in the mysticism of the ritual and that was it — until I cried again, and again, on separate occasions during the 3-day ritual. I can’t explain what happened, but I’ve come out of the experience knowing that my intentions were heard and some of the deep burdens that I once felt were now lifted.
From Catabato, we made our way north to Kalinga, where we were greeted by the Bawer family. Not only were we introduced to Ate Jenny’s family, but to her father, whom we fondly called Papa. He welcomed us to his farm and home on the Lamagen Luminawa mountaintop. We broke bread with him and his family on a section of the mountain where we could clearly see the Chico River, the water that nurtures life for the people of Bontoc, Kalinga, and Isabela in Cagayan. Papa recounted stories of his struggle and fight to get Kalinga natives to take pride in being Kalinga and to cherish the richness of their culture and heritage. If they didn’t, he said there will come a time when those from outside Kalinga will be the ones telling natives how to be Kalinga, rather than it being passed down generationally. Similar to my Ipat experience, I couldn’t help but be entranced. When you listen to Papa speak, every word has meaning and you find yourself in awe of his storytelling because of the wisdom that only a lifetime of struggle can illuiminate. We were again graced with music and dance and, albeit brief, I can still hear the melodic beats of the gansas ringing in rhythmic patterns in my head as they played atop this wondrous mountaintop with 3 generations of Bawers dancing and showing us what it means to be Kalinga, what it means to be Filipino. I left Kalinga truly humbled.
This trip was definitely a learning experience for me, as I’m sure it was for everyone. It opened my eyes as to why we do what we do at PDC and what it means and represents to me personally. As we are about to embark on our 10-year Anniversary show “Padayon” I urge you to reflect on what it means to you to be Filipino/Filipino-American, to appreciate the culture we are trying so hard to preserve and promote. I guarantee you we’ve only scratched the surface and what’s to come will be truly amazing.
Papa told us something very special and heartfelt and I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to him than to share his sentiments with all of you. “You will always pay tribute to the whole Philippines. I like to believe it that way. You are the people who bring the message of who we are, what we are. You are the very people who give context to the spirit of the Filipino people.” So, continue doing what you’re doing and be proud of who you are because you make a difference! And, always remember that dancing fills the stage, but music fills the theater.
To all the PDC veterans, here’s to another year of making memories ... and to our new members, welcome to the PDC family! We’re so happy that you’ve decided to join us in this monumental year of celebrating 10 years of existence. It will truly be eye opening and I, for one, look forward to getting to know each of you.
Here we come Herbst Theater — Padayon is going to be in you!!
Maraming maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat!
Padayon Program Director