From the Cordillera to Panay Island, Two Rivers Run Parallel— 01.28.2021
This post may be too early for a throwback as this was only launched recently. Although driven by recent events, the motivation to take action reflects a 30-year hankering to understand the indigenous people (IP), the Panay Bukidnon (also known as Suludnon), in the Visayas.
Last January 23, 2021, Papaya launched the project SHRI VISHAYAS: Intersections of Indigenous, Rural, and Contemporary Cultures. It is a new platform for understanding less-seen, under-appreciated, under-valued, often exploited, and now gravely harassed communities. This is despite the Philippine government’s Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 which affirms indigenous peoples’ rights to ancestral domains, self-governance and empowerment, social justice and human rights, and rights to cultural identity.
SHRI VISHAYAS (SV) is a process of learning and harnessing this knowledge into actions that could benefit communities from a cross-section of society. The platform is designed to enable engagements between the indigenous people of Panay — the mountain people — and the city dwellers or the people from the lowlands. It aims to provide a meeting point between the culture bearers of Panay Bukidnon and contemporary art practitioners and cultural workers in the Visayas. The platform also includes engagements between the farming and fishing communities in the countryside and those living in urban centers.
SV is envisioned to be a learning hub and plans to adopt a methodology appropriate not only under the prevailing socio-political conditions, but also under the extreme constraints of the global pandemic. It will be guided by a pedagogy rooted in indigenous knowledge, historical context, and relevant contemporary discourse. By building knowledge, SV hopes to narrow the gap between the indigenous peoples and the non-indigenous peoples, between rural and urban, and pave new paths for mutual respect, understanding, cooperation, and collaboration for social, economic, and cultural experiments and discoveries.
SV is also envisioned to develop into a “community festival” — a ritual of thanksgiving — celebrating the intersections, differences, and commonalities between indigenous, rural, and contemporary cultures. Each engagement, and the coming together in public, is likened to a “taboan.” The knowledge, objects, and materials produced and derived from the dialogues, community residencies, and workshops will be processed, documented, archived, and shared in a “tabo” where the public can witness the festival unfolding as part of daily life.
NOT A ONE-TIME CALL TO STOP THE KILLINGS!
The incidents in the communities of Tapaz (Capiz) and Calinog (Iloilo) last December 30, 2020 should remind people from the urban centers that there is a marginalized sector who should be held with high respect, but instead are being oppressed and practically decimated by their own government. On this date, nine IP leaders were killed while 17 are currently under detention. These community leaders have been against the Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project Stage II in Calinog (locally referred to as the Jalaur River Dam). Because of their opposition, they have been red-tagged as either members or sympathizers of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
Within a week after it happened, there was an attempt to unite artists in Panay and stand behind the IPs, but issues surrounding the incident appeared complicated enough. The call to coalesce was met with calculated reactions, but nonetheless, gave a sense of what is to be addressed first — a serious study on the real situation of the Panay Bukidnon, why they matter, and why artists should be concerned. SV aims to address this knowledge imbalance, provide artists opportunities to engage, be informed, and recognize the importance and value of IP communities.
In a more pragmatic sense, SV reconnects with the historical impetus of VIVA ExCon as a platform that upholds the indigenous and the rural as integral to art making and cultural work in the region. It should be recalled that the theme for the first VIVA ExCon in 1990 was “Re-visiting Traditions of the Islands.” This was followed in 1992 with “Art and the Indigenous Elements.” The self-reflexivity of VIVA ExCon 2018 with “Reimagining the Rural” was carried through its theme “Bisan Tubig Di Magbalon,” a line taken from the Visayan folk ballad Dandansoy. With Antique hosting VIVA ExCon 2022, SV hopes to work in parallel with the biennale.
SHRI VISHAYAS, while being a platform, is also a group open to anyone interested in the indigenous and the rural. It is committed to a long-term process of learning and understanding the importance of the intersections, cultural work, and the social functions of art. It shall be taking small and modest steps leading to a larger vision. This is not a one-time call to stop-the-killings!
Postscript: 40 years ago, the indigenous peoples from the Cordillera region resisted the construction of the Chico River Dam Project at the height of Marcos’ Martial Law years. This opposition resulted in the killing of their tribal leader Macli-ing Dulag (1930-1980).
January 28, 2021