Celebrating Mindanao's best

Seven artists and two performing groups honored in first CCP Kaisa sa Sining Gador Awards          

Seven Mindanao artists and two theater groups that have been at the forefront of sustained efforts in the translation, trans-creation, and promotion of local lore and cultural traditions were honored in the first Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Kaisa sa Sining (KSS) Gador Awards. 

Various awarding ceremonies were held in July in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Iligan, Davao, Dipolog, and in Manila facilitated by local KSS production teams.

The award, named after the Meranaw vessel gador, is a bulbous, rounded brass jar inlaid traditionally with silver, carved with okir floral designs, and with a slender neck. Often presented as a gift and symbolic of the prestige of its owners, it now becomes the iconic representation of the Gador Award. 

The present KSS Gador trophy is inlaid with mother-of-pearl. It is not made of brass but of wood.  Pepito Sumayan, Sining Kambayoka Ensemble (SKE) artistic director, said this is “because of the abundance of wood in Tugaya, Lanao del Sur where the trophies were made by craftsman Lantong Pangcoga.”

ARTISTIC SHOWCASE Performance of 'Sarimanok' by the Integrated Performing Arts Guild (IPAG)

CCP’s KSS network has 50 cultural organizations in 46 communities nationwide with its regional arts centers. A total of 17 are located in Mindanao. They were organized in 2014 and they institutionalized the KSS Gador Awards, which aims to encourage a strong, vibrant, and dynamic promotion of culture and arts in the regions. 

Carmencita Jasareno Bernardo, manager of CCP’s CED, said that the Gador Awards is to recognize and “to pay tribute to Mindanao’s pride and cultural treasures.”  

‘The Gador is not only a container that carries sustenance or that represents wealth and prestige, (but) more of a symbol of sustenance, power, and wealth combined, not of the material kind, but that which is permanent.’

On this list are the individual artists who have distinguished themselves through the migration of indigenous forms for contemporary audiences.

The son of poets, the musician Joey Ayala of Davao City who uses the two-stringed T’boli hegalong for his Bagong Lumad Band performances of pop music, is similar to an innovative awardee from Davao City, Agnes Locsin. Locsin was Ballet Philippines’ artistic director and chief choreographer who contributed a rich trove of neo-ethnic creations based on contemporary dance expressions that have since evolved into contemporary dance classics. 

Maria Datang Todi, T’boli tribal leader, musician, dancer, and chanter of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, founded the School of Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions (SIKAT), the first T’boli School of Living Traditions to pass on ethnic cultures in an informal learning setting where the community learns traditional music, dance, native arts, and crafts. 

Three stalwarts of Mindanao theater with their improvisations of appropriating traditional forms, trans-creating these for contemporary audiences, likewise received the first Gador Awards. 

Nestor Horfilla established the first Mindanao Community Theater Network, where he, along with Bro. Karl Gaspar, organized hundreds of community and church-based cultural groups in Mindanao. As director and dramaturge, Horfilla has mounted 110 productions around the country and abroad. 

The multitalented actor and playwright Sunnie C. Noel, a longtime executive director and artistic director of the Mindanao State University main campus’ official theater company, the SKE, led the promotion, growth, and education of Mindanawons of the island’s culture and arts programs. 

The MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology’s (MSU-IIT) resident theater company, the Integrated Performing Arts Group (IPAG) artistic director Steven Patrick C. Fernandez, was also cited. He is an actor, playwright, dramaturge, educator, and director of most of IPAG’s 50 productions in its 42-year existence. 

Two of Mindanao’s iconic theater groups, the SKE and the IPAG, are the first recipients of the Gador awards. The SKE, founded in 1974, and IPAG, founded in 1978, continue to perform each one’s idioms for contemporary audiences aimed at their understanding artistic expressions based on Mindanao’s diverse cultures. 

In his acceptance speech, Fernandez acknowledged the collaborative efforts of all artists and groups in the promotion of diverse cultures and their artistic expressions. 

Such recognitions, Fernandez said, “ascertains triumph,” pointing out the Gador as “not only a container that carries sustenance or that represents wealth and prestige, (but) more of a symbol of sustenance, power, and wealth combined, not of the material kind, but that which is permanent, i.e. culture.”

The author, Christine F. Godinez Ortega, is a creative writer, journalist, educator, founder, and board chair of the Mindanao Creative & Cultural Workers Group, Inc. She is also director of the Iligan National Writers’ Workshop.