10 documentaries on Philippine intangible cultural heritage

Published March 6, 2021, 10:00 AM

by Jules Vivas

Intangibly Filipino

BOAT MAKERS A kumpit being built in the barangay of Sheik Makdum, Sibutu Island, Tawi-Tawi (Photo by Roel Hoang Manipon)

The International Information and Networking Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP) has recently launched 10 video documentaries on different Philippine intangible cultural heritage (ICH) elements.

DANCE INTERPRETATION Writer and director Roel Hoang Manipon interviewing a master igal dancer (Photo by NCCA)

The documentaries, which run for an average of 27 minutes, can be viewed in two versions, one in English (with English subtitles) and the other with Korean subtitles, on ICHCAP’s official YouTube channel. They are part of ICHCAP’s video documentation of ICH project in the Asia-Pacific region. According to Roel Hoang Manipon, the main writer of documentaries and the director and co-director of several of them, ICH elements “are some of the most impactful factors in shaping civilization and culture.”

UNESCO defines ICH to include “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge, and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.”

HOLY WEEK Reenactment of the capture of Longinus in the moryonan Lenten ritual in Mogpog, Marinduque (Photo by Roel Hoang Manipon)

ICHCAP, which is headquartered in Jeonju, Korea, promotes the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and contributes to its implementation in the Asia-Pacific region. The ICH video documentation project started with four Central Asian countries and Mongolia, implemented from 2015 to 2017. ICHCAP selected Southeast Asia for the second phase of the project, beginning with four countries—Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. For the Philippines, ICHCAP partnered with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the national government agency for arts and culture.

SWAY TO CULTURE Dancer Nursida Jaluddin performs the Sama traditional dance or igal (Photo by Roel Hoang Manipon)

The Philippine ICH video documentation team is led by NCCA Secretariat’s Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts Section headed by Renee Talavera, theater veteran and Mindanao culture expert Nestor T. Horfilla as consultant for Mindanao and co-director of some of the documentaries, and Manipon.

Check out these 10 documentaries.

Buklog ritual of the Subanen of Zamboanga Peninsula

Inscribed in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in December 2019, the buklog is the most elaborate and grandest among the rituals of the Subanen people of the Zamboanga Peninsula in western Mindanao. It is held to appease and express gratitude to the spirits for many reasons such as a bountiful harvest, recovery from sickness or calamity, or acknowledgement of a new leader. It lasts several days with several attendant rituals. The most distinctive feature of the buklog is a tall structure with a highly flexible platform, which serves as a sacred and social space for rituals and the community dance. This ritual system is the most compelling cultural marker of the Subanen’s individual and collective identity and the strongest unifying force of the community.


Piña handloom weaving of the Aklanon of Panay Island

Piña has been woven by the Aklanon or Akeanon people in the province of Aklan, Western Visayas. It is made from the fibers of pineapple leaves and woven using the handloom. The whole process has remained almost unchanged since it began. Piña is considered the finest among handwoven textiles. Because of its quality, relative rarity and value, Filipinos take pride in the textile, which is used in fashion and finery, and passed down as heirlooms. Piña can only be produced through traditional means, which can be tedious, thus the decreasing number of practitioners.


Igal, traditional dance of the Sama people of Tawi-Tawi

For diverse reasons and occasions and with many variations, the Sama people of Tawi-Tawi perform their traditional dance, the igal. It is shared heritage among the Sama and other peoples in the western Mindanao area, where it is called pangalay in Tausug and pamansak in Yakan. All the names simply mean “dance.” The igal is characterized by graceful movements, mostly imitating motions in nature such as the flight of birds and the waves of the sea. The dance is also noted for the use of the finger extensions called janggay. The documentary features two notable traditional dancers—Hadja Sakinur-Ain Delasas from Simunul Island and Nursida Diamson Jaludin from Sibutu Island.


Lepa and other watercrafts and boat building practices of the Sama people of Tawi-Tawi

The Sama people of Tawi-Tawi are also known for making boats, of which the lepa is the most known. Used for fishing and traveling, it also serves as home for an entire family, who may have a wide range of boats, from the small ped-das to the big kumpit, used for a variety of purposes. The knowledge of building these boats is passed on from father to son, from the elders to the younger generation.    


Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia of Naga City, Bicol Region

The centuries-old image of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia or Our Lady of Peñafrancia is the subject of intense devotion in the Philippines, especially in the Bicol Region, where she is regarded as the region’s patroness and the Queen of Bicol. Millions of devotees flock to Naga City, where she is enshrined in a basilica, every September in a homage marked by prayers, masses, and fluvial processions.


Using mud as mordant in the traditional dyeing process of the Ifugao of Northern Luzon

For many centuries, the Ifugao, one of the indigenous groups that inhabit the upland interiors of the Cordillera region, has been weaving textiles by hand, using the back-strap loom like many weaving communities in the country, and the pedal loom which was recently introduced. The textiles are dyed using the ikat technique and natural dyes sourced from plants as well as mud, which also acts as a mordant, a substance to fix the colors on the materials, to make them more vivid or to create a different shade. The most suitable iron-rich mud is gathered in certain areas in the rice paddies, or ponds, with their bare hands and put them in buckets, all done with calmness and reverence as they believe that spirits reside in the place.


Giant Christmas lantern tradition of San Fernando City, Pampanga

Though Christmas celebration was introduced into the Philippines by the Spaniards, it was embraced by the Filipino people and became one of the country’s most anticipated holidays. In San Fernando, Pampanga, Christmas is celebrated in a most spectacular way with gigantic Christmas lanterns. For more than a hundred years, the city has been holding the ligligan parul (literally, Christmas lantern contest) or the Giant Lantern Festival, which traces its roots to the Christmas tradition called lubena. For the event, different communities come together and Pampangan lantern makers make lanterns which can reach up to 20 feet in diameter, use 7,000 to 10,000 light bulbs, and with large rotors manually operated to produce different patterns that change and “dance” to the tune of chosen music.


Traslacion of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, Manila

The Black Nazarene is one of the images of Jesus Christ that inspires intense veneration among the dominantly Catholic Filipinos. Every year on Jan. 9, the image is brought out for the commemoration of its transfer or traslacion or arrival at Quiapo Church from another church in Bagumbayan. Held in Quiapo, a densely populated district of Manila, the annual traslacion procession draws millions of devotees and participants who pray to and honor the Black Nazarene image, make attempts to touch it and help carry it to its destination.

Watch Traslacion of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo here.


Moryonan Lenten penitential rite in Marinduque Island

In the distinctive penitential rite moryonan or pagmomoryon, the townspeople of Marinduque wear masks and costumes and roam the streets in the oppressive of summer during Holy Week as penitence, vow, expression of gratitude, and request for something. They are called moryon. The practice also involves the re-enactment of the story of the Roman soldier Longinus, locally called Longhino, who is said to have stabbed Jesus Christ with his spear during His crucifixion. Every town in Marinduque now practices the moryonan such as Gasan, Santa Cruz, and the capital Boac, but the tradition originated in Mogpog, where the most traditional form of the practice is still exists. The moryonan has become a main tourist attraction in the province as well as its strong cultural marker and identity.


Mask making for Moryonan Lenten tradition of Marinduque

The most distinctive feature of the Lenten penitential rite of the moryonan or pagmomoryon in Marinduque is the wearing of masks, which not only hides the identity of the wearer but also contributes to the discomfort, thus enabling the wearer to relive the suffering of Jesus Christ. The moryon masks are carved out of local wood and made and designed by folk artisans, who learned the craft from their elders. There are fewer than 10 moryon mask-makers in Marinduque, all concentrated in the town of Mogpog, where the most traditional form of the moryonan is still practiced.