Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Posts tagged ‘heritage’

​Cultural Immersion: Baguio Weddings – A Kiss, A Gong, and A Dance

The sound of gongs is strongly infusing the festive atmosphere. The bride and the groom were greeting well-wishers who had attended their wedding ceremony earlier. Looking closer at the floor near the stage, a group of men playing gongs were formed in a circle. Old men in baseball caps, traditionally dressed elderly women wearing colored beads, young men in tuxedos, and ladies in satin gowns took turns in dancing traditional dances to the beat. In such a wedding feast in Baguio, no modernity can hinder the rhythmic culture their generations have embraced. 

In the definitive Filipino culture, weddings are held as a community event. Almost – if not everyone – in the community are invited to celebrate. The bayanihan system (a classic Filipino attitude where the whole bayan or community helps one another) becomes alive in such occasions. Neighbors would voluntarily help to cook, arrange, and even organize the wedding. While this tradition is slowly dying because more couples are relying on professional wedding coordinators, this concept is still being kept in many rural provinces and cities, including Baguio.

An example of the bayanihan system – locals form a line to pass food to one another in this large gathering at my friend’s wedding.

Every Filipino loves Baguio for its cool climate, strawberries, and many popular tourist sites. I love Baguio for its meek and courteous people. Some of them have become my friends and I have the privilege to taste their culture and their way of living.

I had two friends who have recently married at Baguio. Just like how the quaint townspeople of Bulacan would hold their weddings, they similarly hold their matrimony with a community celebration. My province, Bulacan, would have videoke as a form of entertainment while Baguio people would celebrate this occasion with dances and gongs. 

Gongs are considered an ancient instrument by city people like me. I am impressed that these people would not use them for production numbers alone. Both elders and youths would join together and strike musical rhythms on it. They are accompanied with traditional dances that love and courtship to mark the occasion. 

Food being served to the community at my friend’s wedding.

Usually, they would hold their celebrations the whole day, even up to the wee hours of the morning the next day. There is an abundant flow of food, mostly made of pork and chicken, rice, and pansit (a type of Filipino noodles) which the whole community would partake. Locals are not shy to share their talents while everybody would show their appreciation to them. Celebrations would continue at the house of the bride and the groom. Old men at night would chant to call the spirit of the anito (traditional deity) to bless the gathering. As the music and dancing continues, the bride and the groom danced along with everyone. And of course, the visitors are not exempted from joining in the fun.
For the first time, I played the gong. It was heavy for me, but the hypnotic rhythm of the instrument made me enjoy every moment I danced to its tune. I just think I look awkward while dancing. My Instagram post just proves that (sorry I can’t upload the video on this blog. So please click the link to find out. I am the lady in the white dress and black blazer in the video).

Baguio people are proud of their artful heritage, as they wear woven Kalinga skirts or intermarry these designs with modern fashion. They love their culture so much the rhythm of the gongs pulse through their veins, willingly dancing along every clanging beat without hesitation. Through the sound of their instrument they become one, bringing into awareness the legacy they carry as Igorots.

Celebrations would continue at my friend’s house the whole night

Manila, a fascinating city of sights, color, sounds, is nothing as unique as this. The mixture of various cultures has turned this central city of Luzon into a melting pot of obscurity. We have become more in tuned with modernity and Western civilization, losing into consciousness the beautiful, old songs that have been passed down to us through school. Looks like Madonna’s Crazy For You has become the local fixture in videoke sessions. 
I keep on learning so much from other cultures in my own country. With all regions having their own differences, it just proves that we are a diverse society. I’m glad we have Filipinos who still carry the pride of their heritage. The Igorots are teaching us that traditional hertages are not a myth but they are living, breathing, and are worth to be celebrated for their uniqueness.

You can check out the videos on my Instagram account @rhemapenaflor. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

The Measurement of Being Pinoy

Here’s another article I wrote for a newsletter way back in 2010. Too bad I couldn’t remember where this was published or if it was published at all! Proud of being Pinoy, though. Forgive the picture though, couldn’t find a better one from my archive 🙂 Enjoy reading! 🙂

Nowadays, a lot of us express our patriotic spirit even more. I’ve seen more and more people wear “Tatak Pinoy” t-shirts on the streets (even foreigners are delighted to have one), more shoutouts in social sites expressing “Pinoyness”, and an articulate appreciation of who we are in the broadcast media. We seem to love our nation more than ever before. But is this really enough to prove our love for our Inang Bayan?

Maybe. It has always been said that it’s the thought that counts. But it’s also true that action speaks louder than words. Even though many like web pages such as “I love Pilipinas” or “Proud to be Pinoy”, many still cling on to the “ningas kugon” stigma. Here it comes…and there it goes…

We love to express ourselves. In our willingness to voice out our feelings, sometimes we easily criticize anything we don’t see right. One time, I was on the jeep accidentally overhearing a conversation between an opinionated passenger and the jeepney driver. When the jeep passed by a huge, smelly mountain of trash on the sidewalk, the passenger clicked on his tongue, shook his head, and said, “Wala talagang disiplina ang mga Pilipino.” Take a look of himself…is he not totally Filipino?

We blurt out our disagreement with the wrong things we see…which I also do. But sometimes we tend to go sideways with our thoughts. We agree to what’s right and to those things we disagree with we shift the blame to others. Just like the guy in the jeep, most of us like saying that our own brothers are no good than us in an indirect way. But we do not realize these people are completely like you and me – totally Filipino.

I wonder if we make an effort to keep the value of our cultural pride. I was very surprised one time when groups of young boys who claim to be Badjaos sat on the doorway of our jeep and sang for a penny. Looking at their historical heritage, I wondered how they can be willing to sell the pride of their race – while we ourselves exploit by looking down at them. Though I am not sure if they are really Badjaos, I couldn’t help think that this made us label them negatively.

To think, the variety in our culture made us unique as a nation. The Philippines does not only have 7,107 islands but also has hundreds of dialects and ethnic groups. Each one is unique, if not mixed, to one after another. Though we have picked a pieces of Asian Eastern and European cultures, the results of this is unique in its own sense.

It’s so sad that most people do not take notice of other cultures and tribes that thrive in the other parts of the country. We had made a wrong sense that these kinds of people only live in the past and just stay in our textbooks as the facts to be unlearned after graduation (which I also admit I did). When they come and invade our cities, we are irked. But we do not realize this destroys the pride of their heritage. Most of us think they are just nuisance and wish that the government sends them away to somewhere we don’t care about. When I think of these things I feel guilty I had the same thought – these people are our fellow brothers and sisters – totally Filipino.

In fact, we need to learn from them. It’s not bad to enjoy going to tourist spots to enjoy scuba diving and city tours. We do learn from them, don’t we? But I believe one will learn more when one stays to learn the people’s lifestyle. When I had gone to Bicol for a vacation, I got a hold of more than sweet pili and a peek of the Mayon. I appreciated the place even more because of the people whom I ate and lived with. I got a hold of their simple, quiet lifestyle that was totally apart from my fast-paced environment. I never thought that there are so many differences between my culture and their culture – the language itself, to start with.

The culture of the other ethnic groups is also very important to be preserved. However, we just let them rot away by degrading their sense of existence.

That’s why it’s disparaging to hear of ourselves just mumble away against things we do not understand. Sometimes, we do not realize we ourselves are the part of both problem and solution. We can be indirectly part of the problem like environmental crisis and degradation of culture but we can counter them back. It’s good that no superheroes were created. Whatever we have ruined must also be fixed by ourselves. Of course, we cannot do this alone. That’s why we have bayanihan, right?

Why not focus on the good qualities we have as a Filipino? Think again on the words we have said, begin by doing small good things that will help us grow as a nation. Whether that would be picking trash, cease to be self-righteous, and help by giving a piece of what we have, I’m sure that could go a long way.

So, what’s really the true measure of being Filipino? Yeah, it’s great to see the Pinoy map hanging on your shirt and the Philippine flag as your keychain bag. But I guess it takes more than artifacts and social sites to show that you are proud to be Pinoy. It takes sincerity to be one. Our character in real life situations should reflect that we are truly Filipino in mind, in words, and in action.

Crushing A Heritage

After quite a time, we were able to work out-of-town again. For the sake of

Pres. Aquino speaking for the LP-CAR new members’ oathtaking at Benguet State University

covering Pres. Aquino’s Liberal Party convention for its new members in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), we set out to Baguio Sunday afternoon.

It’s still the same old place I’ve visited for almost two years ago. Crickets crooned at us when we got at Kennon Road. The crisp cold, pine-scented air dawned upon the atmosphere in the evening. The places near the city proper lay as ever quiet and serene once the stars took over the sky. Even though the media people seemed to be the only ones awake in the town, we kept ourselves almost quiet and low.

The amateur photographer…

I can’t help but observe the place. The pine trees, almost shabby and thin, loomed almost everywhere. But I couldn’t forget my mother’s remarks that these are fewer today compared to her visit 40 years ago. Oh yes, four decades much. She was a young teacher in training at Teacher’s Camp then. To me, the place was far too serene than my world. Not unless you see how much of it has been exploited through commercialism.

For a long time, Baguio has been called the “Summer Capital of the Philippines”.

Behold, Baguio from afar, covered by mist, fog and clouds 🙂

Even in the summer, the air is much colder than Manila. I can vouch with all my heart that I have to shower in ice-cold water if I don’t put on the heater and most of the residents walked around in jackets despite of being in the sun. Because of it’s romantically inclined atmosphere and cool weather, it has been a target of tourists every year. But now, most of these tourists have invaded this place.

My friend from Baguio would tell me how Korean schools thrived like mushrooms in the city. Deep inside my heart, I applaud her and her contemporaries for speaking good English that she had to be willing to teach foreigners. But with this spring of foreign presence comes a spring of commercialization. Who will never forget that horrible earth-balling in a popular mall in Baguio? That same old friend was one of those who protest against it because they were destroying the environment. They did not ask for it to be changed. They were already happy with the view it gives on its rooftop and its open-aired closure. I was supposing these entrepreneurs thought they would be able to gain more by making a major change in the environment. They were not careful about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against foreign presence. Like most Pinoys, I’d love

It’s very common for the locals to take a walk along the mountain sides…it looks quite dangerous for us lowlanders, as my friend would put it, but I’m impressed how they take their walk with grace 🙂

to welcome them as friends. Yet it seems that a lot of entrepreneurs thought of gaining much by changing the place a lot. What they did not know was that the natural beauty of the place was already enough to keep them coming in. But for the sake of selling, they opt to market the place through residences, commercialism, and infrastructure. In order to please a lot of customers, all they need is resources. Commercialism is not evil. But focusing on the wrong strategies can destroy much. Yet, as I observe, this results to cutting of more trees and quarrying of more land just to fill up spaces.

Sorry, I’m quite a bad photographer. You see, the bald part of the mountain I’d like you to see is at the far right. I just couldn’t focus the camera well…but there’s another part that looked worst but we were not able to pass it.

While going back home, I noticed that a part of one of its mountains was being quarried. It looked like a chocolate-covered custard pudding scraped from top to bottom. I can never forget another part of Baguio being quarried; worst than the one we passed by. My friend brought me to this beautiful memorial park built on the side of the mountain in another part of Baguio. Everything around it was an awesome sight, save for the mountain on the opposite side that had a huge chunk of it scraped down, right in the middle. She was as disappointed as I was. It’s a scary sight especially that rains pour regularly in Baguio. Much of the trees were lost.

Commercialization and industrialization through infrastructure can bring a lot of investments in…but focusing too much on it comes with a painful price. Infrastructure is temporal, one work can deteriorate and be out-moded by another. But nature itself can thrive along…unless abused and destroyed. By taking pride in these infrastructures, it won’t last long. We can change a place and shift to another if our changes over it does not last anymore. But to restore a place’s natural beauty, it would take years of genuine compassion and patience – something that we don’t have when we meet the deadlines and financial quota of commercialism.

I just hope that Baguio won’t go worst when I return. If I don’t hear those crickets or smell that pine-scented air, I’d be really disappointed. So will my friends and those who have basked in its deeper beauty long before than I did. Once we lost its beauty, we’d loose more than tourism and money – we’d loose a heritage and probably our lives as we are intertwined with God’s gift of nature.

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