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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Kapwa 2Conference in Iloilo - June 26- July 1, 2008
University of the Philippines in the Visayas, Iloilo

Typhoon Frank came and devastated many parts of the Visayas including the conference site. But it wasn't enough to dampen the spirit of the conference. The organizers Katrin de Guia and Kidlat Tahimik of Heritage Arts and Academies of the Philippines (HAPI) decided to push through even though they knew that the local contingent of IPs (indigenous experts) have had to deal with losses - human and environmental. But what better way to comfort our kapwa than by gathering together at this conference and also experience the city without running water and sporadic brownouts -- such minor inconveniences in the face of so much destruction in the surrounding areas.

Opening salvo: Drumming/Cordillera group and Opening ritual by a Panay Bukidnon local performing arts group at the Museo Iloilo. Opening talks and opening of the art exhibit featuring photographs of indigenous peoples.

I knew I was going to love this conference! As soon as the gongs started thumping dancers moved into the circle in spontaneous explosion of energy and rhythms and tribal movements. We were all drawn into the circle, slowly becoming aware of the body taking hold and the mind letting go. Delicious. Delirious.

Alas, this is an academic conference as well, so the first day of the conference proper was composed of plenary presenters. Apo Federico Caballero, epic chanter and National Living Artist from the Panay Bukidnon community opened the morning. Followed by Keynotes by: Katrin de Guia, Melba Maggay, Lily Mendoza, Jim Perkinson, Rogee PePua, Reiko Ogawa, Alicia Magos, Angel Shaw, Felipe de Leon Jr., and a performance by Kidlat Tahimik (you had to be there for this!). In a way, this felt like a reunion of kindreds for me as most of us trace our common denominator to Ver Enriquez.

Day 2: More presentations by local scholars from UP Visayas about the survival of the indigenous arts like sinamay weaving, advocacy for local development through the performing arts, the indio-genius in literature, harana and kundiman, contemporary performance of the Hinilaud epic and many more.

End of conference proper: Closing ritual by Datu Waway Saway of Tala-andig community in Mindanao asking the ancestors to bless the seeds that were planted at this conference.

More drumming and more dancing. Highlight: a Bob Aves/Apo Caballero collaborative piece. How does a Panay Bukidnon epic chant sound along with ethno-fusion jazz music? Ask me -- I have the CD!

Day 3: School of Living Traditions: A Symposium

A circle of indigenous experts from these groups took center stage to tell us about the work that these schools are doing: Tiboli of Lake Sebu, Tala-Andig, Cordillera groups (Ifugao, Kalinga, Sagada), Panay Bukidnon, Ati, Mangyan.

This was the highlight of the conference for me. I am thankful for the wholeness, endurance, wisdom, courage, and sophistication that I witnessed among our IPs. Deflecting the expected "romance" that could easily surface in these encounters, I slowly came to appreciate that to be indigenous can also mean being tech-savvy and English-speaking when necessary. To be quick to shed jeans for the G-string. To chew betel nut and smoke Marlboros at the same time.

During "Dreamtime" the Schools of Living traditions met in their own groups to draw up a list of future goals and visions. Those of us who were not IPs also convened a caucus and drew up a list of our own "dreams" on how best to spread the good news about the indigenous and indio-genius in each one of us. How can the modern Filipino recognize and understand the need for rootedness in our own indigenous traditions. Our list was long and therefore couldn't include them in this post but there will be more news about this later.

In the afternoon symposium, more presentations from James Rickard, Maori woodcarver and arts and cultural advocate of Maori culture. My task was to respond to his presentation and connect the work that I do among Fil Ams.

Japanese ethnodocumentary filmmaker Mr Tadayoshi, presented Ainu films. Venus Herbito, emerging Fil Am video/filmmaker, responded briefly to this presentation.

Capping the symposium was an animated dialogue on many topics that could have gone on forever but at some point we had to end. Thus, we closed with another ritual where each one of us gave our handkerchiefs and tied them together to symbolize the umbilical cord that binds us - KAPWA.

Day 4: Day trips to local artists Boy Masculino's tree houses and to Momo's indigenous architecture space in Lawigan. Pictures to follow.\

Day 5: More film showings at Museo Iloilo including films from Korea, Tibet, Japan, Okinawa, and of course, Kidlat Tahimik's films.

Then on to Baguio with Kidlat Tahimik and foreign participants (that's me!). In Baguio, we stayed in Kidlat's home. This place is hard to describe but you could google images of it if you type "Kidlat Tahimik in Tuding" -- and you will know what I mean. This home deserves a long blog post all its own and I will do so when I get back to posting.

We also hang-out at VOCAS - Kidlat's artists collective space and Oh My Gulay cafe - the best vegetarian eats in Baguio. Kidlat also introduced us to his 92-year old Mother - the first woman mayor of Baguio and the only woman who ever beat Ferdinand Marcos in a debate. Still feisty and strong. My kind of warrior.

This post is way too long now and I have to get back to my Fulbright group. More to follow.

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