The evening was filled with music. It was a night of revelry, a celebration of the indigenous peoples' month (October 2005). Women from the group of Bataks played the powerful yet acoustically symmetrical bamboo.
While the Batak women tapped the bamboo with a pair of sticks, the men - young and old - performed the warrior dance.
Women of the other tribes - Tagbanua and Pala'wan - danced and sang while men provided the music. The Bataks, one of the most numerous tribes in Palawan, are known to be the more active, unabashed, boisterous compared to the other tribes.
Elder Nanay Rita rendered the Uyman, a spontaneous chant in native Tagbanua and Tagalog, that expressed how happy she was with the celebration and hoped that their lives continue to be blessed despite the environmental degradation and poverty. She was playing the gimbal (drum) and accompanied by a taga-aring, a second-voice singer.
The Tagbanua women performed with much fervour, a fitting contribution to the fourth anniversary of Pabilugon, a monthly moon-watching ritual of songs, dances and prayers.
While the other women showed their skills in music and dancing, Nanay Ebing, Nanay Digna and the other Tagbanua women of Sitio Iratag of Barangay Irawan engaged the audience wi th linu'lut, a glutinous rice mixed with coconut milk and salt, stuffed in buho (bamboo) and roasted over a fire. Eating the linu'lut was not hard because one just had to crack open the bamboo cut in manageable pieces. The other half of the bamboo served as a spoon.
It was a day of fun, camaraderie and friendship. But most of all, it was a sharing of tradition, culture, skills and style. Masino Intaray, a Gawad ng Manlilikha ng Bayan awardee - which is the indigenous equivalent of a national artist, held a special performance of the Basal with his brother Tagong, Jose Apol, Jose Rilla, his nephews, nieces and grandchildren.
Masino received the award for his lyrical chanting of the basal, a narration of epics interspersed with gong playing. Masino can chant for up to three nights in a row. His epic `Kudaman' has been published in a book and transcribed from Pala'wan to French and Filipino.
As Nanay Dayang Ma casaet and Dinggot Prieto Macasaet, the daughter and mother advocates of indigenous peoples' rights put it, the day was a convergence of cultures and traditions.
The two were beaming with pride seeing the indigenous people perform. The event was rare since only chieftains of different indigenous people converge for some meeting called by government agencies.
They also shared observations on the role of women during rituals. For the Batak, the women hit the musical instruments with fervour and only the men danced. For the Tagbanuas and Pala'wans, the men provided music while women danced. However, in both communities threatened by extinction due to massive logging operations and mining concessions, women are treated equally.
But for Dinggot, putting the indigenous people in limelight once a year doesn't do much in terms of changing their social condition. However, it brings appreciation and education among non-indigenous people for their cultural heritage and beliefs.
Dancing and singing is not so much about performance as it is about being connected to one's heritage. The indigenous people's dance traditions are part of their cosmic reality tied to their lands, to their waters. The rituals are based on the cycle and rhythm of their lives which are in turn always tied to the land, to the ocean, to the physical reality, Dinggot explained.
"To take one away from the other is to take (the) heart away from a person," she enthused.