Written by Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Edited by Master Danongan Sibay Kalanduyan

Photographs and Illustrations by Philip Dominguez Mercurio unless otherwised noted.

Edition 3. Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007. All rights reserved.


Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: The Extent of Kulintang Music

Chapter 3: The Make-up of Various “Kulintang” Ensembles

Chapter 4: Agung Ensembles

Chapter 5: Instrumentation

Part A: Kulintang Ensemble Instrumentation
A detailed look into the common pieces of instrumentation making up the kulintang ensemble: kulintang , agung , dabakan , babendil , gandingan

Part B: Non Ensemble Instrumentation
Other instrumentation not part of the either the kulintang or agung ensembles including the kulintang a kayo , gandingan a kayo , kulintang a tiniok/sarunay, kubing , luntang , agung a tamlang, kagul , palendag, tumpong, suling , kutiyapi

Chapter 6: Kulintang Compositions:
detailed look into the kulintang/kulintangan compositions of the Maguindanao, the Maranao, and the Sulu Archipelago.

Chapter 7: Social Functions

Chapter 8: Gong Casting

Chapter 9: Kulintang History:

Discusses the possible origins of the music and its future .

Chapter 10: Kulintang Mythology

Chapter 11: Dances associated with Gong-Chime ensembles:

Focuses on the dances Singkil, Pangalay, and Sagayan .

Chapter 12: Learning Kulintang Music

Chapter 13: Kulintang Script/Cipher Notation:
Your source for the written notes of various pieces played by the Maguindanaon and Maranao on the kulintang.

Special Chapter I: About the Southern Philippines:
Both the groups living there and its history

Special Chapter II: "Bayanihan: Tradition and Truth in Dance"- by Ron Quesada and Philip Dominguez Mercurio. Learn about the discrepancies that exist in PCN/Bayanihan Dance.

Appendix Other pertinent information including a list of our bibliographic references, a citation for this own site, licensing information about the text and images on this site ,and pictures from former ETHS 545 classes. Also check out Shop Kulintang at Appendix V, where you could purchase your own agungs, gandingans, kulintangs, and sarunays and learn about kulintang lessons/tutoring that is available.

This online textbook has been created to provide those interested in kulintang music, the most up to date and comprehensive reference for such music on the net. We strive for excellence in what we do, constantly revising this resource to make it better and more presentable. If you have any suggestions, questions or simply a comment about this text, please place your comment’s on our message board (Click here). To have personal correspondence, our e-mails can be found where our names are located (above). To cite this text, please copy the citation found after the Bibliographic Reference section of this text.

___________________________________________back to top Kulintang is a term with various meanings, all related to the melody-playing gong row. Technically, the term kulintang is the Maguindanao word for eight gong kettles which are laid horizontally upon a rack creating an entire kulintang set called a pasangan. This idiophone functions as a lead/central melodic instrument for the entire ensemble.

Kulintang may also refer to the entire Maguindanao gong and drum ensemble with five to six musicians playing five different instruments, the main instrument being the melodic kulintang. Use of this term in this way is fairly recent - traditionally the Maguindanao term for the entire ensemble is basalen or palabunibuyan, the latter term meaning “an ensemble of loud instruments” or “music-making” or in this case “music-making using a kulintang.”

(above): The Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble performing at an event in Serramonte Shopping Center, Daly City.

(above): The Magui Moro Master Artists performing at an event in Skyline College, San Bruno, CA.

(above): The Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble performing at an event held by the Filipino Community Center on San Juan Ave., San Francisco, CA.

(above): San Francisco State students and Master Danongan Kalanduyan performing during ETHS 545 class in San Francisco, CA.

Finally, the term kulintang is a general term referring to the many types of traditional music ensembles found in the Southern Philippines (Mindanao, Sulu), Eastern Indonesia (Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Maluku), Eastern Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) and Brunei. Ensembles in these regions that use a row of small gongs that function melodically and are supported by suspended large gongs and drums supplying rhythmic variation and structural emphasis would be classified under the kulintang designation.

Kulintang belongs to the larger unit/stratum of “knobbed gong-chime culture” prevalent in Southeast Asia. It is considered one of the region’s three major gong ensembles (the other two being gamelan of western Indonesia and piphet of Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos) that uses gongs and not wind or string instruments to play the melodic part of the ensemble. Like the other two, kulintang music is primarily orchestral with several rhythmic parts orderly stacked one upon another. It is also based upon the pentatonic scale. However, kulintang music differs from gamelan music in that unlike gamelan music with melodies constructed within a framework of skeletal tones and prescribed time-interval of entry for each instruments, the framework of kulintang music is much more flexible and time-intervals are non-existent, allowing for such things as improvisations to be more prevalent.

Because kulintang-like ensembles extended over various groups with various languages, the term used for the horizontal-set of gongs varied widely. Along with it begin called kulintang, it is also called kolintang, kolintan, kulintangan, kwintangan, k’lintang, gong sembilan, gong duablas, momo, totobuang, nekara, engkromong, kromong/enkromong and recently kakula/kakula nuada. Kulintang-like instruments are played by the Maguindanao, Maranao, Iranun, Kalagan, Kalibugan and more recently the T’boli, B’lann and Subanao of Mindanao, the Tausug, Samal, Sama/Badjao, Yakan and the Sangir/Sangil of the Sulu, the Ambon, Banda, Seram, Ternate, Tidore, and Kei of Maluku, the Bajau, Suluk, Murut, Kadazan-Dusun, Kadayah and Paitanic Peoples of Sabah, the Malays of Brunei, the Bidayuh and Iban/Sea Dayak of Sarawak, the Bolaang Mongondow and Kailinese/Toli-Toli of Sulawesi and other groups in Banjermasin and Tanjung in Kalimantan and Timor.

The make-up of kulintang ensembles throughout the region can vary wildly from group to group. Generally, they consist of five to six instruments dominated of course by a melody-playing gong row.

The kulintang ensemble of the Maguindanao consists of a kulintang (8 gongs), agung (2 gongs), gandingan (4 gongs), dabakan (1 drum) and babendil (1 gong). In a wooden/bamboo kulintang ensembles, all these instruments could be substituted with bamboo/wooden varieties such as the kulintang a kayo/kulintang a tamlang, agung a tamlang, gandingan a kayo, kagul and takemba, respectively.

(above): The five gong and drum instruments that make-up the Maguindanao kulintang ensemble, at Manilatown, International Hotel, San Francisco, CA.

The kolintang ensemble of the Maranao has exactly the same instrumentation of the Maguindanao – kolintang, agong, dbakan/dadabuan and babndir - except they lack a gandingan. Historically though, kolintang ensembles did include a gandingan which consisted then of a kolintang, dbakan, babndir, either an agong or gandingan and two cymbals. The women would play the kolintang, babndir and cymbals and the men, the dbakan and agong/gandingan.

(above): The Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble performing with wooden kulintang instruments at the Filipino Community Center on San Juan Ave., San Francisco, CA.

In the Sulu Archipelago, ensembles with a kulintangan could be found. The kulintangan ensemble of the Tausug consists of a kulintangan (8 to 11 gongs), agung (3 gongs) and gandang (2 drums). The agung is made up of one tunggalan and two duahans (a pulakan and buahan/huhugan) and the gandang, a double-headed drum, is played upright using two hands. The kulintangan ensemble of the Samal has the same instrumentation as the Tausug expect with different names: tambul, tamuk and bua for the words gandang, tunggalan and buahan/huhugan respectively. The batitik ensemble of the Sama/Badjao have ensembles similar to the Tausug consisting of a kulintangan (7 to 9 gongs), gong besar (2 gongs) bandil (2 gongs) gandang (1 drum) while the kwintangan ensemble of the Yakan of Basilan consist of a kwintangan (5 to 7 gongs) and agungs (1 to 3 gongs)

Eastern parts of Malaysia and Indonesia also have various kulintang-type ensembles under a host of different names. The kolintang ensemble of the Bolaang Mongondow of Northern Sulawesi consist of a kolintang (5 gongs), banding (1 gong) and double-headed drums (2 drums).The kulintangan ensemble of the Malays of Brunei consists of a kulintangan, agong, tawak-tawak and gendang. The mojumbak ensemble of the Lotud of Sabah consist of a kulintangan, tawag-tawag (2 gongs), gandang (2 drums). The engkromong ensemble of the Iban/Sea Dayak of Sarawak consist of a engkromong (7 to 8 gongs), tetawak, bandai and dumbak. The kulintang or remoi sahi-sahi (remoi means “one voice” and sahi-sahi means “many voices”) ensemble of the Ternate and jalanpong ensemble of Tidore consist of a momo (8 gongs), saragi (1 vertical gong), baka-baka (1 double-headed drum), podo (4 small drums), besi tiga hoek (triangle), dabi-dabi or cik (cymbals). The totobuang ensemble of the Ambon of Central Maluku consists of a totobuang (9-12 gongs), tifus (drums) and drums.


Before an in-depth analysis of the inner workings of kulintang ensembles, there exist another type of ensemble prevalent in the eastern Malay archipelago - Agung ensembles. Agung orchestras are ensembles composed of large hanging, suspended or held, bossed/knobbed gongs which act as drone and unlike kulintang ensembles exist without any accompanying melodic instrument like a kulintang. Such orchestras are prevalent among Mindanao Lumad groups (the Atta, Bagobo, Bilaan, Bukidon, Hanunoo, Magsaka, Manabo, Mangyan, Palawan, Subanun, T’boli, Tagakaolu, Tagbanwa and the Tiruray) and regions in Kalimantan in Indonesia (Ibans, Modang, Murut) and Sabah and Sarawark in Malaysia (Iban, Kadazan-Dusan, Kajan, Kayan) - places where agung orchestras take precedence over kulintang-like orchestras. The composition and tuning of these orchestras vary widely from one group to another. For instance, the Hanunnoo of Mindoro have a small agung ensemble consisting of only two light gongs played by two players on the floor playing a simple duple rhythm while the Manobo have an ensemble consisting of 10 small agungs called an ahong, hung vertically on a frame in triangular formation played by three players: one standing playing the melody with the rest sitting. The ahong is divided by purpose: with the higher-pitched gongs that carry the melody the called the kaantuhan, three to four lower-pitched gongs melodic costinato called the gandingan and the lowest-pitched gong that sets the tempo called the bandil.

(left): The karatung ensemble, an agung ensemble composed of four gongs and a fifth one, called a segaron, used as the lead instrument, all made of bronze. (right): Here the karatung ensemble is being demonstrated by Master Danongan Kalanduyan and his students at San Francisco State University. Notice each gong of the karatung is handheld, with each player handling their own pattern.

The Tiruray called their agung ensemble a kelo-agung/kalatong/karatung ensemble made up of five shallow bossed gongs of graduated size, each played by one person with the smallest gong, segaron, used as the lead instrument providing a steady beat. The Manobo sagabong ensemble follows that same format, consisting of five small gongs, each one individually held by a player playing a particular interlocking pattern using rubber mallets. The T’boli and Palawan have a similar agung ensembles with the T’boli ensemble composed of three to four agungs with two to three of them collectively called semagi, providing permutations and the other agung, tang, providing a steady beat while the Palawan calling their bossed gong ensemble a basal, composed of four gongs: one to two large humped, low-sounding agungs and a pair of smaller humped, higher-pitched sanangs which produce a “metallic” sound. The Subanon also have an agung ensemble simliar to the Tiruray karatung. They call it gagung sua.

Both the Bagabo and the B’laan refer to their agung ensemble as tagunggo, a set of eight metal gongs hung/suspended on a harness, played by two, three or more people. Seven of the smaller-sized gongs produce a running melody with the eighth, largest gong playing syncopations to the rest gongs to produce a particular rhythm. The Manabo also have an agung ensemble similar to the tagunggo. They call it a tagungguan.

On the western coast of Sabah, the Kadazan-Dusan refer to their agung ensemble as tawag or bandil, consisting of 6 to 7 large gongs for groups along the shore and 7 to 8 large gongs for those residing in the interior valleys. In southwestern Sarawak, agung ensemble of Bidayah consist of nine large gongs divided into four groups (taway, puum, bandil and sanang), while among the Ibans of Sawarak, Brunei, Kalimantan, their agung ensembles are smaller in number in comparison.

Such ensembles can either be played alone by themselves or with one or two drums as accompaniment using either one’s hands or wooden sticks playing either homophonically on in an interlocking technique with the gongs. These agung orchestras could usually be found accompanying all types of social events, including agriculture rituals, weddings, community gatherings, victory celebrations, curing rites, rituals for the dead and entertainment of visitors.


The instrument called the “kulintang” (or its other derivative terms) consist of a row/set of 5 to 9 small, embossed, graduated, pot gongs, horizontally-laid upon a frame arranged in order of pitch from the lowest to the highest, hence from largest to smallest, with the lowest gong found on the players’ left. The gongs could weigh roughly from two pounds for the smallest variety to three and 1/8 pounds for the largest and have dimensions from 7-10 inches for their diameters and 4-5 inches for their height. Many of them are decorated with artistic designs around the rim with certain inlays, sometimes laced with silver.

(left): A set of bronze kulintang gongs. (right): A set of brass kulintang gongs.

The quality of the gongs is dependent on the alloy used to make them. Bronze is the preferred metal of choice because of the timan (solid closed sound) the gongs made from them would produce. Older sets were traditionally therefore made out of the alloy galang, a Maranao term for bronze, or darisai, an alloy comprised of bronze with a high-tin, low-zinc ratio, considered the best quality of them all. However, due to the shortage of bronze, brass gongs with unacceptable bonganga (deep open) type of sound quality with short decaying tones have become commonplace. They were first made from recycled brass of leftover gun-shell casings after World War II but now with that supply gone, they are now made from the brass of melted padlocks, faucets and broken gongs. Even more recently, galvanized iron sheets have been used to make the gongs with parts of the gong welded together and painted gold. The two latter types of alloys have become more popular since the gongs themselves are made for tourist to decorate one’s home, than to be used to play music.

(left): Kulintang gongs atop a wooden resonator called a antagan by the Maguindanao and langkonga by the Maranao painted with various okil/okir designs.

The gongs are usually placed in a simple through resonator in a frame about seven-eight feet long, 2 feet high about as high as a regular-sized dining chair, 10-11 inches in width (with approximate 6 feet of which is occupied by the instrument) which sometimes narrows following the diminishing size of the gongs. The gongs are laid in the instrument face side up stop two cords/strings running parallel to the entire length of the frame, with bamboo/wooden sticks/bars resting perpendicular across the frame to support and compartmentalize the frame to both keep the strings from sagging and to prevent the gongs from sliding into one another due to gravity.

The kulintang frame known as an antagan by the Maguindanao (means to “arrange”) and langkonga by the Maranao could have designs that vary depending on the emphasis. Some, particularly those form Sabah, could be particularly crude, made from only bamboo/wooden poles with little to no decoration; basically used for the purpose of holding the gongs. Other could be highly decorated, rich with artistic designs like the traditional okil/okir motifs or arabesque designs found among the Maranao. The most sophisticated stands could be highly artistic stands that resemble the shape of a Sarimanok (a mythical bird) or some could revolve around so the audience could see the players from all angles.

(left): A pair of basal/betay made of soft wood used for playing on the kulintang. (right): Notice the Styrofoam-type material used inside the hollow center of the wood, making the betays lighter for players handling them.

The kulintang is often played with a pair of two soft sticks. Called “basal” by the Maguindanao, the beaters are usually 12-17 inches in length and ¾ - 1 ½ in diameter; sometimes, particularly among the Maranao decorated with fancy strips of colorful cloth, except around the exposed ends used to hold and hit the instrument. Though any soft wood, from redwood to papaya would do, the Maranao find the local wood called wago, the ideal material for making the beater. The wood is particularly light, making ideal for swift movements, fibrous, making it long-lasting and finally soft to prevent the beaters from doing undue harm to the knob of the gongs. Those in Sabah find basal-like wood serving the very same purpose.

Each of the eight gongs has a name. For the Maranao, the name the gongs starting from the lowest gong begins with kundongan, mamals, mananggisa, sagorongan, lomalis, romapunut, romingkar and anonan respectively. The Maguindanao also have their own names for each of the gongs but sadly due to their disuse, those names have long been forgotten except for the lowest (pangandungan) and highest (panentekan) kulintang gongs.

(above): The difference in size between the largest kulintang gong on the left, kundongan /pangandungan and the smallest kulintang gong on the right, anonan /panentekan.

Though there are eight gongs that make up the kulintang, only two of them - the Maranao’s mananggisa and romapunut (pots 3 and 6 respectively) - are highly regarded among kulintang practitioners. These two gongs, are the leaders of the bunch since traditionally, the starting and finishing points for kulintang renditions ends on either of them (Pot 5 could also be used but it’s very rare). Pot 3 in particular is considered the base for all the traditional kulintang melodies and this could be seen during sinulog renditions, where it happens to be the gong most often struck. Both gongs also function as tonal centers of their respective ranges with pot 3 the tonal center of the lower group known for being cool and restful and pot 6 the same for the higher group known for being important, instance or climatic . Most of the playing activity occurs between the both of them with pots 4 and 5 acting as transitional links while registers higher than them are reserved for climaxes and registers lower than them are used for left-hand accompaniment figures.

Unlike westernized instrumentation, there is no set tuning for kulintang sets throughout the Philippines. Great variation exist between each set due to differences in make, size and shape, alloy used giving each kulintang set a unique pitch level, intervals and timbre. Though the tuning varies greatly, there does exist some uniformity to contour when same melody heard on different kulintang sets. This common counter results in similar interval relationships of more or less equidistant steps between each of the gongs. For instance, intervals between pots 2 and 3 and 5 and 6 are usually found to be wider and between pots 1 and 2 and 4 and 5 narrower if 1 is the largest gong respectively. Comparing the Tausug kulintangan, the Maranao kolintang and the Maguindanao kulintang, differences in half/narrow steps exist at different degrees but generally the common contour between them all remain intact. This tuning system, not based upon equal temperament or upon a system of standard pitches but on a similar/certain pattern of large and small intervals, could also be found among the gamelan orchestras of western Indonesia. In fact, though the Maguindanao, Maranao and Tausug artists technically have no concept of scale (because emphasis placed on the concept of “rhythmic modes”), the Pelog and Slendro scales of western Indonesia were found to be most satisfactory to their own varying pentatonic/heptatonic scales.

Tuning the gongs is done by ear, with players playing a sequence of gongs, looking for a melodic contour they are familiar to. If that particular contour is not found or a particular gong does not suit her, players would try avoiding playing that gong, limiting the number of tunes/pieces the player could perform.

Also unlike westernized music but akin to Indonesia gamelan, kulintang repertory was unfettered by an indigenous notation system. Compositions were passed down orally from generation to generation negating the need for notation for the pieces. Recent attempts have been made to transcribe the music using cipher notation, with gongs indicated by a numbering system for example, starting from 1 to 8 with the lowest gong starting at number 1 for an 8-gong kulintang set. Cipher notation was preferred over musical notes due to the great variation in tuning from one kulintang set to another. Various types of cipher notation have been developed, numbers boxed-in squares, columnar notation to horizontal format, particularly by the Maguindanao Lilang-Lilang ensemble, and due to its ever increasing use, hundreds of students and teachers have now become enthusiastic in learning about the kulintang.

The kulintang is played by striking the bosses of the gongs with two wooden beaters. Players could achieve either of two sounds: an open sound created when allowing the gong to ring and decay by itself or a closed sound, achieved by damping the gong using the end of the stick.

(left and right): Students demonstrating the proper technique for hitting the kulintang) gongs atop the boss using a pair of betay).

A more modern technique that has come of age accompanying simply just hitting the gongs is the addition of twirling the beaters in both hands (kapamatidaw) and sometimes even juggling them in midair (kabpinatuyan) while rendering a musical piece. Still other artists change the arrangement of the gongs (called kapadsalyu from the root word, edsalia) placing them either in reverse order where high is on the left and low is on the right or starting high then low then high again from left to right, either before or while playing. Others would cross hands during play or add very rapid fire strokes in a new style called pagkeger (meaning trembling) all in an effort to show off a player’s grace and virtuosity.

(left): Kulintang-type instruments can be played while seated or (right) simply on the floor.

When playing the kulintang, the Maguindanao and Maranao would always sit on chairs while for the Tausug/Suluk and other groups that who play the kulintangan, they would commonly sit on the floor. The Maranao would have a traditional sitting position with the female player having their right leg bent and propped up against her on the chair, while her left leg touched the floor, a malong covering her from her feet to above the navel.

When playing the kulintang, there generally is a typical sequence of melodic segments/patterns a player would follow that are relatively fixed. Sequences generally begin with a series of introductory beats, called ludsuan by the Maranao, single strokes either on the third or sixth kettle used to synchronize their beat with the accompanying instruments. Then depending what region they happen to be from, the established pattern would differentiate from there. For instance, the Maranao usually would have a sequence of two to five sections, including an initial section, main section, a second main section, final section, and an ending formula. The sequence for the Maguindanao would consist of an introduction, repeated sections, ascending and descending transitions and most importantly the conclusion. The final sequence of patterns is just as important as the initial patterns for they provide various signals to the accompanying instruments that either the conclusion is near or that a repetition of the whole melody is to follow.

Though the sequence of kulintang patterns generally has a relatively fixed format, the kulintang player’s ability to improvise the piece she performs is a must. Similar to gamelan orchestras, each kulintang piece has a kind of theme the kulintang player “dresses up” by variations of ornamentation, manipulating segments by inserting repetitions, extensions, insertions, suspensions, variations and transpositions. This occurs all at the discretion of the kulintang player. Therefore, the kulintang player functions not only as the one carrying the melody but also as the conductor of the entire ensemble - she determines the length of each rendition and could change the rhythm at anytime, speeding up or slowing down, accord to her personal taste and the composition she plays.

This emphasis on improvisation was essential due to what this music traditionally was used for - as entertainment for the entire community. Listeners in the audience expected players to surprise and astound them, playing pieces with their own unique playing style by using improvisations to make newer versions of the piece. If a player simply imitated a preceding player, playing patterns without any improvisation, the audience members would believe she/he to be repetitious and mundane.

Therefore, kulintang players would at times resort to drastic lengths to surprise the crowds and at times, even fool their own co-players. Usopay Cadar has recorded players who repeated each section simulating an ending but simply just repeated/varied the main section or even went back to the beginning of the piece. Other players have introduced an ornamenting pattern that seems to be headed for higher registers but suddenly heads back to the starting pattern. These diversions in the melody create tension within the group, sometimes confusing co-players to the point that they get offbeat. When this happens, he/she would become the recipient of good natured jokes from the crowd. Aging, this jovial fun was a part of the entertainment of the audience. She’ll improvise many of the passage, fool some of the players yet she is bound to maintain the temporal factor of the piece without destroying its unifying elements. This also explains why set performance pieces for musical productions are different in some respect - young men/women would be practicing before an event, therefore rarely relying on improvisations.

The kulintang is traditionally always considered a women’s instrument by all groups: the Maguindanao, Maranao, Tausug/ Sukul, Samal, Badjao/Sama, Illanum, Kadazan, Murut, Bidayuh and Iban. This is supported by information in the ancient Maranao Darangen epic where the princess of Bumbaran first takes up the kulintang.

(left and right): Kulintangs were traditionally considered feminine instruments.

Traditionally, the playing of the kulintang was associated with graceful, slow, frail and relaxed movements that showed elegance and decorum common among females who performed “loop-like rhythms,” (taking time to explore nuances of rubato and the like) and uncommon among males who were considered too expressive and stiff to play the melody part and instead were given the supportive instruments. This separation of the sexes through the instruments was particularly important in terms of relationships where couples have been able to start relationships with the musical exchanges. Unmarried young women therefore were usually sought after as kulintang players by either the male audience/coplayers who would be able to observe her graceful movements and dispositions attentively. These very satisfying memories with a beautiful girl were so enticing that it actually wasn’t uncommon, after an intense exchange of musical passages, for both a young man and woman to elope with one another. Nowadays, with both men and women playing all five instruments, the kulintang seen strictly as a woman’s instrument has waned, and in fact today, the most well-known players of the kulintang happen to be men.

For traditional societies, instruments such as the kulintang were seen as valuable heirlooms connoting one’s socio-economic status or family wealth. One could use the kulintang as part of a bridepiece, for a down on a mortgage, to settle a financial account or simply as someone’s gift (for instance, the kulintang set in the Ternate’s palace museum was said to have come from a wall sanga as a gift for the island’s twentieth Sultan, Zainan Abidin Shah). As a symbol of power and prestige, political leaders who didn’t possess them were considered poor. As such, it is believed the number of kulintang sets among the Maranao is great, with one out of three families owning a least a set. Rarely were their borrowed out for fear of not having one during the frequently occasions when kulintang music is needed. For some indigenous peoples, these bronze kettle gongs represented more than simply a symbol of wealth - they were also venerated as ancestral objects - as practiced by the people in southeastern Maluku who worshiped ancestors and various nature spirits. The agung is a Philippine set of two, wide-rimmed, vertically-suspended gongs used by the Maguindanao, Maranao and Tausug as supportive instrument in their kulintang orchestra. The agung is also ubiquitous among other groups found in Mindanao, Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan as an integral part of their agung orchestra.

Frequently described as a large, heavy, punctuating, bossed, wide-rimmed gong in the shape of a kettle gong, each gong of the agung gives out the bass sound in the kulintang orchestra. Each of the gongs normally weighs between 11 and 15 pounds but it is possible to find agungs weigh as low as 5 pounds and as high as 20 or 30 pounds each, depending on the metal (whether bronze, brass or iron) to produce them. Though their diameter (which consist of a pakaw (collar) and biyas (face)) are smaller than the gandingan’s at roughly 22 to 24 inches in length, they have a much deeper, turned-in takilidan (rim) than the latter, with a width of 12-13 inches including a tall, high busel/protusion/knob. They are hung vertically above the floor at a level either at or a little below the waist line (so a player could stand comfortably) suspended by ropes fastened to a high structure like a strong tree limb, beam of a house, ceiling or a wooden or metal frame gong stand.

The agung could either be made of brass (left) or for better quality agungs (those that are have a more antique nature) of bronze (right).

The larger, lower pitched gong of the two is called the pangandungan by the Maguindanao and the p’nanggisa-an/punangisa-an by the Maranao. Found on the right of the player, it provides the basic/main beat or part usually played predominantly on almost all the strong points of the rhythmic structure. Among the Maguindanao, the word pangandungan means “lower/basic/primary pitch/part” while among the Maranao, p’nanggisa-an means “simple rhythm.” (Usopay says the Maranao word is related to the third gong on the kulintang, mananggisa, derived from the word “isa,” meaning one or basic part played.)

(left): The pangandungan, the larger, lower pitched gong of the two, providing the basic beat. (right): The panentekan, the smaller, higher pitched gong of the two, playing the ornamenting part.

The smaller, higher pitched gong, the one thicker of the two, is called the panentekan by the Maguindanao and the p’malsan/pumalsan by the Maranao. Found on the player’s left, it ornaments the part of the pangandungan playing on all the weak points (usually using double and triple beats) of the rhythmic structure. The Maranao word, p’malsan is derived from the word p’mals meaning “to pronounce” (the word is related to the second gong on the kulintang, mamals, meaning gongs where the tightening/pronouncing part is played.) while the literally meaning of the word, panentekan also means to “pronounce” by the Maguindanao, as well as to “elaborate, ornament” and as having a “high pitch.”

(left): One of the teacher assistant’s, Kristine Cura, demonstrating the proper handling of one of the gongs of the agung. Notice how the flange is held using the left hand with the right hand striking the boss using a rubber-ended balu. (right): Proper handling of the agung, this time during a performance at Serramonte Shopping Center.

The agung is usually performed while standing beside the instrument, holding the upper edge of the instrument’ flange between the thumb and rest of the fingers with the left hand while striking the boss/knob/busel using a mallet with the right hand.

(left and right): Different pairs of balu used for playing the agung.

The mallets, called balu, are made from a short stick about half a foot in length and padded with soft but tough material such as rubber at one enc. Using these balus, which are larger and heavier than the balus used for the gandingan, players would handle the agung similar to the way a brass tom-tom is played.

A series of solid, fast decaying sounds are produced with the implementation of dampening techniques. The desired effect is produced after striking the busel, by leaving one’s hand on the flange or the mallets themselves on the busel. When one player is using two gongs, the assistant holding the lower-pitched gong would position it at an angle and dampen its surface using their hands.

Recently, new ways of handling the have agung emerged, including grasping a portion of the boss rather than the flange to achieve the dampening or using regular strokes upon the busel while striking the surrounding gong surface with the opposite, wooden end of the beater. The latter technique, called katinengka, is used by downriver musicians to produce metallic sounds during kulintang exhibitions.

(left): The agung being played by two players with each player being assigned their own gong. (right): The agung being played by only one player with an assistant holding the pangandungan for stability.

Different combinations of players, gongs and mallets could be used for playing the agung. The agung could be played by two players with each player assigned their own gong or just one player. When playing alone, the agung player could either play both gongs with the player holding the higher-pitched gongs face-to-face with the lower one held at an angle by an assistant for stability or just one gong. The latter style, common among those downriver Maguindanaos in Simuay, who consider this style an old one, uses only the higher-pitch gong for it, unlike the lower-pitched gong, is considered the lead gong, therefore having primary importance. An example of this is when single gong agungs are used during a tagunggo piece.

The number of mallets used by the player could also vary as well. For most occasions, only one mallet is used but for other techniques, the player could use two mallets, one in each hand. An even more interesting technique uses only one balu but requires the player to play the agung in reverse order of pitches. Called patuy, this technique and the one with two mallets are normally reserved only for competition and exhibition instances.

Even the way one stands when playing the agung has meaning. For instance, the Maranao would traditionally play with their feet placed close together, ala “attention position in the military,” says Usopay. Players are not supposed to sag their shoulders, stoop or swing the instrument away from the rope. If one did the performance in the latter, the audience would associate the player to a carabao trying to break away from its yolk. More contemporary stances have a different set of meanings. Advancing the right foot over his left, implies he is skill on the agung, advancing the left over the right implies humbleness and doing neither implies calmness and unpredictability.

(left): The agung being used during a kulintang performance at Serramonte Shopping Center. (right): Master Danongan Kalanduyan teaching audience members the proper handling of the agung, for use in the kulitnang ensemble at Manilatown inside the International Hotel.

The main use for the agung in Maguindanao and Maranao society is as a supportive/accompanying instrument of an orthodox kulintang ensemble. Using basic patterns and interlocking rhythms, a player would use the agung to complement the melody played by the kulintang. The patterns players use are normally considered freer than either the babendil or the dabakan; players could manipulate the patterns freely as long as they conform, reaffirm, reinforce and even generate the rhythmic mode of the piece. The length of the patterns themselves may vary depending on how they fit into the melodic improvisation. For the Maranao, Usopay Cadar says the short patterns are “good for fitting in a meaningful unit of melody,” useful for “coping with the out of balancing technique the kulintang employs,” while longer patterns are considered aggregates of “similar short patterns” or “phase-matched from certain predictable melodic phases.” Rapid style is useful especially during exhibition of playing skills.

Among both the Maguindanao and the Maranao, the agung embodies all that is masculine and thus the agung is traditionally considered a masculine instrument. To be considered a good player, one must posses strength stamina (playing extremely fast tempos with no mistakes) and endurance (playing for long time without tiring) - all characteristics that requires a masculine dexterity not befitting for women. Players to be considered as having quality musicianship - lest the audience considers those patterns repetitions and mundane.

(left and right): One of the Magui Moro Master Artist demonstrating the agung, exhibition style at Skyline College, San Bruno, CA.

Because of the highly skilled nature required for playing the agung, it’s not common to see agung players have friendly rivalries during a performance, using tricks in an attempt to throw others offbeat. For instance, if the p’nanggisa’s elaborations are so elusive that the p’mals has a hard time ornamenting or if the reversed happened and the p’mals ornaments to the point the p’nanggisa’s performance is engulfed, the player that can’t keep up is usually embarrassed and the brunt of jokes. Normally, agung players would switch off after each piece but during instances like this, where one player cannot handle the part being played, players would either remain at their same gongs or would switch during the performance. It’s also possible for agung players to switch places with the dabakan after two pieces. Even though the players compete, they still understand they are a single entity, closely accompanying the melody, employ different variations without destroying the music’s basic patterns.

(left and right): More pictures of a Magui Moro Master Artist demonstrating the agung, exhibition style at Skyline College, San Bruno, CA.

There was also a secondary motive for men, especially young males for learning the agung: the ability to interact with young, unmarried women. Both Maranao and Maguindanao cultures traditionally adhere to Islamic customs which prohibit dating or causal conversation between the opposite sexes (unless married to or related to by blood) and therefore performances such as kulintang music provided the opportunity for such a connection. Among the Maguindanao, the rhythmic modes of duyog and sinulog a kamamatuan allowed agung players to serenade the young, unmarried women on the kulintang. (On some styles, like sinulog a kangungudan, agungs were sometimes omitted since the melodic mode emphasized the kulintang’s and gandingan’s ability to emulate the Maguindanao language). Tidto, the other rhythmic mode, could also be used but players rarely use this for serenading since the kulintang player is usually an older woman. This latter mode actually is reserved specifically for solo agung contest (Read Chapter 7: Other Uses: Contest for information about agung contest.)

Other than its use in ensembles, the agung also had other non-ensemble uses among the Maguindanao and Maranao. The agung has been used to warn others of impending danger, announcing the time of day and other important occasions. For instance, long ago the sultan would beat the agung repeatedly to announce, the onset of a meeting or during the fasting month of Ramadhan, the agung would ring either at three in the morning to indicate the signal to eat (sawl) or at sunset, to mark the end for fasting that day. And supposedly due to the deep, loud sound the agung produces, people believed that it possessed supernatural powers. For instance, during an earthquake, local Maguindanao would strike the agung in a fast, loud rhythm called baru-baru, believing its vibrations would either lessen or even halt the jolt of an earthquake.

Scholars seem in agreement that the origins of the agung came from Indonesia, noting that the word agung/agong derived from the Malay word agong and Indonesian word ageng. Further evidence of this comes from a British explorer, Thomas Forrest, who wrote Filipinos were “fond of musical gongs which came from Cheribon on Java and have round knobs on them.”

In the Sulu Archipelago, the kulintang orchestra use not two but three low-sounding agungs serving as an accompaniment or drone in ensembles for the Tausug, Samal and the Yakan. For the Tausug, and Samal, the largest of the agungs with a wide turned-in rim is called the tunggalan/tamak respectively, which provides slow, regular beats akin to the function of the Maguindanaon pangandungan and Maranao p’nanggisa-an. Syncopations with the tunggalan/tamak is provided by the smaller pair of agungs, the duahan, which are separated into a wider-rimmed duahan, called a pulakan and a narrower one called a huhugan/buahan by the Tausug and a bua by the Samal. Agungs also play a major role in agung orchestras - ensembles composed of large hanging, suspended or held, bossed/knobbed gongs which act as drone without any accompanying melodic instrument like a kulintang (Read Chapter 4: Agung Ensembles for information about agung ensembles.).

___________________________________________back to top The babendil is a single, narrow-rimmed Philippine gong used primary as the “timekeeper” of the kulintang ensemble. Usually averaging about a foot in width, the diameter of the babendil is usually larger than the largest kulintang gong, more concaved at the rim and narrower at the flange than the former and could be comparable in width with the gandingan or the agung. However, Usopay Cader says unlike the gandingan or the agung, what makes the babendil unique is its sunken boss which makes the boss relatively non-functional and out of tune. Babendils are normally made out of bronze but due to the scarcity of this metal in Mindanao, most gongs, including the babendil are made out of more common metal such as brass, iron and even tin-can.

(left): San Francisco State student demonstrating the proper use of the babendil. (right): One of the Magui Moro Master Artist playing the babendil.

Because of their sunken boss, babendils are stuck using either a bamboo betay or a strip of rattan either at the flange or the rim, producing a sharp, distinctive metallic clang and are sometimes considered “false gongs.” In fact, according to Usopay Hamdag Cadar, this distinction makes the babendil classified as a bell in the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system (if it were struck at the boss, it would be considered a gong.)

Normally, the babendil is handheld when the player is standing but the babendil could also be hung half a foot from the floor when seated. Proper technique requires the player to hold the babendil vertically, angled away from the body, with the gong held at the rim between their thumb and four fingers. With their thumb parallel to the rim of the gong, the players strikes the rim of the gong using their betay.

As the "timekeeper" of the ensemble, the babendil provides the most fundamental pattern, keeping the tempo of the entire group of instruments in check and therefore making it the first instrument to begin a piece. Those fundamental patterns it could perform are usually closer to the drum pattern on the one of the hands of the dabakan or could resemble the beat of the lower-picthed agung.

The babendil traditionally could be played by either sexes. In wooden kulintang ensembles, the kagul is usually substituted for the dabakan part. Among the Tausug, the Samal and the Yakan, their babendil-type instrument generally has gone into disuse (Instead, tempo is kept in check using the highest gong on the kulintangan . Solembat is term used by the Samal for the ostinato beat while the Yakan call that same beat, nulanting.) while among the Tagbanua, the babandil is used not only to keep the rhythm of pieces but also as a song accompaniment as well.

The babendil traditionally could be played by either sexes. In wooden kulintang ensembles, the kagul is usually substituted for the babendil part. Among the Tausug, the Samal and the Yakan, their babendil-type instrument generally has gone into disuse (Instead, tempo is kept in check using the highest gong on the kulintangan . Solembat is term used by the Samal for the ostinato beat while the Yakan call that same beat, nulanting.) while among the Tagbanua, the babandil is used not only to keep the rhythm of pieces but also as a song accompaniment as well.

The origins of the babendil could either be traced from the Middle East or the Indian Subcontinent. Scholars suggest the name babendil is derived from the Arabic word, bandair, meaning, “circular-type, pan-Arabic, tambourine or frame drum.” Others suggests that since the babendil is closely related to the Javanese bebende or bende (a gong with similar characteristics and uses in the colotomic galeman ensemble), it perhaps has relations with an ancient Indian kettle drum, behri, where ancient Sanskrit indicated the bende was the bronze equivalent of the behri.

Also called: babendir, (Maguindanao) babndir (Maranao), bandil, babandil, babindil, bapindil, babandir (Tagbanua, Batak, Palaw’an), banendir, tungtung, (Tausug), salimbal (Samal) and the mapindil (Yakan).

___________________________________________back to top The dabakan is a single-headed Philippine drum, primarily used as a supportive instrument in the kulintang ensemble. Among the five main kulintang instruments, it is the only non-gong element of the ensemble.The dabakan is frequently described as either hour-glass, conical, tubular or goblet in shape. Normally, the dabakan is found having a length of more than two feet and a diameter of more than a foot about the widest part of the shell. The shell is craved from wood (pula) either out of the trunk of a coconut tree or the wood of a jackfruit tree which is then hollowed out throughout its body and stem. The drumhead that is stretched over the shell is made out of either goat-skin, carabao skin, deer rawhide or snake/lizard skin, with the latter consider by many dabakan practitioners as the best material to use. The drumhead is then fastened to the shell first via small metal wire and then using two hoops of rattan very tightly to allow the rattan sticks to bounce cleanly. Artists, especially the Maranao, would then carve the outside of the shell with elaborate and decorative okkil patterns.

(left): A Maranao dbakan with elaborate okkil designs along its shell. (right): Ron Quesada, TA of Master Kalanduyan, demonstrating proper use of the dabakan using two flexible rattan strips.

The dabakan is normally played while standing with the player holding two sticks made either out of rattan or bamboo but the player could also be sitting and knelling as well. The rattan strips are held parallel to the surface of the drumhead and are then pivoted between the thumb and forefinger using the wrist to activate them to strike the drumhead’s surface along the entire length of its diameter. The sounds produced are normally quick and muted and thanks to the flexibility of the strips, one could employ dampening, roll, or open stroke patterns upon its surface. Thanks to the exposure of many artists to westernized cultured, new styles of playing has emerged among the newer generation of players. These include playing rhythmic patterns for the dabakan not on the surface of the drumhead but on the sides of the shell and even at the edges of the drum’s mouth. These exhibition style pieces are used to shift focus away from the melody instrument, the kulintang, and onto the other supportive instruments such as the dabakan.

(left and right): One of the Magui Moro Master Artist demonstrating the dabakan, exhibition style at Skyline College, San Bruno, CA.

The main use for the dabakan in Maguindanao society is as a supportive instrument in the kulintang ensemble, keeping the tempo of the ensemble in check like the babendil. On most rhythmic modes, such as sinulog and duyog , the dabakan enters after babandil but in tidto, where the babendil is absent, the dabakan always starts the piece. The Maguindanao and the Maranao usually position the dabakan to the right of the kulintang player, near the end of its frame, during a traditional performance.

The dabakan could be used in other types of playing other than the ensemble. The dabakan could be used as the accompaniment for the kutiyapi, a type of Philippine boat-lute. The dabakan plays a major role in a type of playing known as Kasorondayong. In the Maranao version, which is in recognition of their prince hero, Prince Bantogen, two dbakan players face one another, standing behind their dbakans, striking them with two slender bamboo sticks while playing an interlocking rhythm.

(left): A student of San Francisco State University practicing the dabakan. (right): Close-up of the drumhead of the dabakan being hit with the rattan strips.

Traditionally, the dabakan is consider a masculine instrument by the Maranao and a feminine instrument by the Maguindanao but as a sign of the times, one could see both men and women handling the dabakan. In wooden kulintang ensembles, the takemba, a bamboo zither of the Manobo, is usually substituted for the dabakan part.

During older times, the bigger, longer double-headed dabakan, known as a dadabooan, would be hung horizontally in the mosque. An imam (spiritual leader) would hit the drum repeatedly announcing the beginning of prayer time throughout the outerlying areas. As a sign of the times, the dabakan in Mindanao have now been replaced by more modern equipment such as a speakerphone but the practice still continues in places like Sulawesi, where a mesigit, equivalent to the dabakan, would be used for the same purpose.

The origin of the name “dabakan,” is said to have been borrowed and adapted from the Middle East. Dabakan is derived from the word, dbak meaning to “hit, strike, or beat,” meaning that the dabakan is something upon which you hit. Scholars also suggest that another clue is that the dabakan may have been an adaptation and enlargement of a pan-Arabic drum, the dombak or tombak, another type of goblet drum.

Also called dbakan, debekan (Maguindanao), dadabuan, dadaboon (Maranao), libbit (Tausug), tibubu (Poso), tiwal (Kulawi and Minahasa).

___________________________________________back to top The gandingan is a Philippine set of four, large hanging gongs used specifically by the Maguindanao as part of their kulintang ensemble. Their ability to imitate tones of the Maguindanao language has given them the connotation: the “talking gongs.” The instrument is usually described as four, large, shallow bossed, thin-rimmed gongs, vertically hung, either from a strong support such as a tree limb or housed in a strong wooden framed stand. The gongs are arranged in graduated fashion in pairs with knobs of the lower-pitched gongs facing each other and the higher-pitched gongs doing the same. Normally, the lower-pitched gongs would be situated on the left side and the higher pitched gongs on the right side of the player if he/she were right-handed. This arrangement in fact is similar to the arrangement of gongs on the horizontally laid kulintang – so much so, in fact that master musicians say the duplicates the pattern of intervals used on the four lower-pitched gongs of the kulintang. Some master musicians, like Master Danongan Kalanduyan, would use the kulintang to exemplify pieces on the gandingan.

(left): The gandingan can be placed either in a wooden framed gong stand or (right): a metal framed one.

The gongs, themselves, although variable in pitch, are relatively similar in size. Diameters range from 1.8 to 2 feet and 5 to 8 inches (including the boss) in width for the smallest to largest gongs respectively. Because of their slight differences, smaller gongs could be placed into larger gongs, making transport of these gongs more portable than an agung’s, whose turned-in-rim eliminates that possibility.

(left): (left): Gandingan gongs made of tin-can material used at San Francisco State University. (right): Antique gandingan gongs of the Maguindanao made of brass.

Traditionally, the metal used for the gandingan was bronze but due to its scarcity, gandingans are more commonly made of less valuable metals such as brass and even iron. Recently, galvanized iron sheets have been used where different parts of the gong (the knob, body and rim) would be made from separate sheets and welded together, then grinded out to produce a finished product. Comparatively, these newer gongs have a higher pitch and are smaller in size than those made in older times.

(left): San Francisco State student demonstrating the proper use of the gandingan. (right): One of the Magui Moro Master Artist playing the gandingan during a kulintang performance at Skyline College.

The gandingan is usually played while standing behind the instrument with the gandingan player holding two wooden mallets. The mallets, called balu, are wrapped tightly with strips of rubber at one end and are considered lighter and smaller than those balu used for the agung. The rubber ends of the balu are held between the opposing knobs of the gandingan and the player would use them to strike the knobs to achieve a sound.

Gandingan players can demonstrate different techniques dependent on the occasion. In formal kulintang performances, players would use all four gongs, but during some informal occasions, such as a playing style called apad and kulndet, players would use only three of the highest pitched gongs of the gandingan. And in instances such as gandingan contest, gandingan players may be assisted by two mulits (kulintang assistants) who would hold the gongs steadily in place as players ferociously demonstrate their virtuosity on the instrument.

Traditionally among the Maguindanao, the main function of the gandingan was its use as a secondary melodic instrument after the kulintang in the kulintang ensemble. In olden style of play, strictly done by women, the patterns used function to feature/highlight/reinforce the rhythmic modes already established by the singular babendil and dabakan. Women players would use a limited number of patterns that were repeated to provide a sonorous foundation to the entire ensemble.

Newer styles of play have recently emerged, pushing the bounds of what the gandingan was traditionally used for. One type of play called kulndet requires players to perform highly dense, complicated rhythmic patterns upon the gandingan. This type of play unlike the olden (kamamatuan) style of gandingan playing requires assistants to hold the gongs to avoid long suspensions of sound. Because of the strenuous type of play, male musicians usually perform this style during contest held at weddings where players would demonstrate their virtuosity, considered a sign of masculinity, on the gandingan. During gandingan contest, two expert gandingan players (pagagandings) would play a particular piece (either in the rhythmic mode of the binalig or sinulog a kangungudan) several times in rotation with each other. This type of play is said to have evolved from the spread of virtousic style on the agung.

Another type of play, called apad, is used for conveying linguistic messages from one player to another. This ability to mimic the intonations of the Maguindanao language on the three highest-tuned gongs has dubbed the gandingan as the talking gongs.

Traditionally, because of strict rules forbidding direct conversational interactions between the sexes, the gandingan presented a means for teenagers to interact with one another. Using the gandingan, young men and women would spend hours teasing, flirting, gossiping, playing guessing games, trading friendly insults and simply conversing with one another. For instance, if friends were telling a boy that a girl liked him but the boy didn’t like her back, the boy wouldn’t resort to telling his friends literally he didn’t like her. Instead, he could use the gandingan to express his reasons and his friends would be able to pick up the message by translating his song.

In fact, during the 1950’s, many families would intentionally hang gandingans outside their houses so other neighbors could easily hear them play. Young men would gather around the gandingan and gossip about people they dislike, usually “chatting” with other gandingan players further away. Master Danongan Kalanduyan says much of this jovial talk even contained sexual innuendoes, where all kinds of dirty words could be heard penetrating the night air.

He also said gandingans were also used by a young man and woman who were having strong feelings for one another and if the feelings were just right, the couple would elope with one another. For instance, if the young man wanted to ask the young women “to come here,” the man would play on the gandingan, “Singkaden Ka Singkaden.” Another common message couples would play is, “Pagngapan ko soka,” literally meaning, “I am waiting for you.”

Along with those trivial messages, gandingans were also used in more seriously matters when signaling to others of imminent danger. Master Danongan Kalanduyan recalls a time during martial law when gandingans were used to warn villagers of incoming Marcos’ soldiers. Every time the villagers received the signal, they would disappear leaving the soldiers aloof until the soldiers themselves brought in a translator who told them, the gandingan was responsible for the scurry. So they arrested the gandingan player.

Another similar situation Master Danongan Kalanduyan recalls was when a brother of a man who stole someone’s carabao. In order to keep his brother from getting arrested, the brother setup a gandingan up in a tree and would clang it every time the police arrived to warn his brother to leave their house. But like Marcos’ soldiers, the police bought a translator and so they were finally able to arrest the theft for stealing and the brother on the gandingan for obstruction of justice.

The etymology of the term, “gandingan,” is unknown but it appears in many Maguindanao folk tales and epics. For instance, one folk tale states the Malailai Gandingan is a place known for a powerful sultan and his beautiful daughter while in another epic, Raja sa Madaya, Gandingan is the proper name of a place where hostile datus (who attempted to abduct a princess from the prince of Madaya) live. Perhaps the most significant mention of the gandingan in an epic tale is in the Maguindanao epic Diwatakasalipan, where word “gandingan” actually refers to the instrument itself. In the epic, a young princess, Tintingan na Bulawan, uses the gandingan to inform her sister, Initulon na Gambal, about a hero prince, Diwatakasalipan, who was looking for a wife. Thanks to that message, Initulon na Gambal was able to entertain the hero prince using a kulintang into her heart. This use of the gandingan in this epic exemplifies that its use as a form of communication was pre-Islamic in origin.

The origins of the gongs themselves are still disputed by scholars. It is likely, as observed by Thomas Forrest, a British explorer, that gongs without knobs on them (like the gandingan) came from China. However, other sources suggest the gandingan came to the Philippines via Indonesia or Malaysian Sarawak due to similar gandingan-type instruments found among the Tausug of Sulu.

(left): San Francisco State students demonstrating the use of the karatung for a Tiruray dance, the Ka’atung. (right): Master Danongan Kalanduyan substituting the karatung gongs with the larger Maguindanao gandingan gongs for the same dance.

The set of four, large hanging gongs is confined mainly to the Maguindanao. Master Danongan Kalanduayan says the Maranao used to use the gandingan but the instrument has disappeared from usage in Maranao ensembles of today. The Tausugs have a gandingan-type gong with a narrow-rim called a buahan or huhagan, one of the three agungs used in the Tausug kulintang ensemble. The Samal have something similar called a bua. Other gongs similar to the gandingan are the handheld gongs of the Subanun (gagung sua) and Tiruray (karatung) used in their agung ensembles, the latter group sometimes substituting Maguindanao gandingan gongs for their karatungs.

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The kulintang a kayo is a Maguindanaon xylophone, literally translated to mean, “wooden kulintang” or “kulintang made of wood.” Having eight slabs, usually ranging from a foot to two feet in length depending on the maker, the instrument is strung together via holes atop each of the slabs and laid along a wooden antangan (rack) in order of pitch, from lowest to highest. To make a sound, the player uses betay (beaters) usually made out of hardwood such as tamenag or bago (beaters are made by selecting the appropriate branch size on a tree for the width of the beater and using that branch in the making of the beater) to hit the edge of the slabs, creating a nice bouncy-type sound.

(left and right): Photographs of a Maguindanaon kulintang a kayo.

These wooden xylophones were prevalent back then and are still common among Maguindanaon households continuing their musical tradition where these instruments are a must have. Its widespread use among the Maguindanaons is due to the straightforward way of making it – so easy in fact, one with experience could make one within two to three hours. In Mindanao, they’re commonly made out of bayug but other soft woods such as bago (wood used for the ingkol, placed on kalabaws plowing the rice fields) and wood of the jackfruit tree can be used as well. After cutting out a slab, the maker could decrease the pitch of the slab by craving out the middle portion of the slab or increase the pitch by cutting the end of the slab until the desired pitch is reached. If one is interested in making them in America, Master Danongan Kalanduyan suggest using the lumber of the soft and light redwood tree found at the local hardware store.

Traditionally, they were used for self-entertainment purposes and practice for younglings and beginners to get acquainted with new pieces they’ve just started learning before taking on the kulintang. Therefore, there was no such thing as an ensemble of wooden instruments back then nor were they played along side gong-type instruments. Only recently though, with the newer generation of kulintang players influenced by more westernized ideals has there been an interest in wooden kulintang ensembles and instruments such as the gandingan a kayo have come into being to accompany the kulintang a kayo.

An ancient instrument, it is generally believed that the kulintang a kayo arrived in the Philippines before the introduction of gong-type instruments from China. There’s even a Maguindanao tale associated with the origin of the kulintang a kayo about a local princess bathing in pond in the forest. When the princess came to dry her hair up upon some rocks, she began hitting stones in front of her. A local hunter in the neighborhood witnessed her hitting the stones in series and brought the idea home, creating something similar out of wood, which we now know as the kulintang a kayo. The mythology of the Maranao follows a similar storyline where Radja Indarapatra (while going to bathe in a local river) comes upon Potri, the princess of the underwater, finishing up her own bathing. As she dried her long flowing hair, she began hitting a set of stones in front of her giving Indarapatra the idea of bringing the concept of a stone instrument back his kingdom. Later Maranao generations improved upon it, making a bamboo/wooden version (alotung), then an iron version (saronai) and finally arriving at the kolintang.

This type of instrument is found among the Maranao (the instrument is not as common as the Maguindanao) and the Tausug, the latter calling theirs a gabbang, usually having 14-21 keys sitting atop a resonating box. Those on the island of Sulawesi (south of the Mindanao) also have such a type of instrument called a kolintang kayu.

___________________________________________back to top The gandingan a kayo is a type of Maguindanaon xylophone, tuned in line with the Maguindanao gandingan. It has four wooden slabs (made of bayug) larger than those of the kulintang a kayo, strung together atop a smaller wooden antangan in order of pitch. Like the kulintang a kayo, players use betay (beaters) to hit the edge of the slabs to make a sound. They are made the same way as the kulintang a kayo where the pitch could be decreased by cutting out the middle portion of the slab or increased by cutting the end of the slab until the desired pitch is reached.

(left and right): Photographs of a Maguindanaon gandingan a kayo.

The gandingan a kayo is a fairly recent instrument coming into being with the creation of wooden kulintang ensembles. Gandingan a kayo were never used for communication purposes like the gandingan not only because they are too soft but because traditionally, it never existed among the Maguindanaon until the late 20th century.

___________________________________________back to top The kulintang a tiniok is a type of Philippine metallophone with eight tuned metal plates strung together via string atop a wooden antagan (rack) about two feet in length. Kulintang a tiniok literally means “kulintang with string” among the Maguindanaons but the instrument can also be called kulintang a putao (“kulintang of metal”). Players use betay (beaters) of tumenag/bago (a common hardwood) to strike the knobbed center of each of the instrument’s plates.

(left): Photograph of a Maguindanaon kulintang a tiniok (right): A San Francisco State University student demonstrating proper technique on the kulintang a tiniok.

The kulintang a tiniok is a relatively recent instrument (Master Danongan Kalanduyan doesn’t remember the existence of the kulintang a tiniok until he was an older child), coming into being in the nineteen-fifties. Not surprisingly then, the plates of the kulintang a tiniok are commonly made out of tin can (same material used to make those metallic air-tight containers) and the centers of each plate are hammered in the center (reminiscent of a woman’s nipple) to give the player a target to hit. Pitch of the plates can be lowered or increased by toggling with the end of the plates: mending the end of the plate upwards would increase the pitch, while flattening the end of the plate would lower the pitch.

(left and right): Both Master Danongan Kalanduyan and Teacher Assistant Ron Quesada teaching students how to play the kulintang a tiniok using a pair of betay.

Like the kulintang a kayo that preceded it, the kulintang a tiniok is used only for self-entertainment purposes such as practice for those at home. Finding it on stage is a recent phenomenon used only to educate the public of its existence.

(left and right): Student Angelee Orlanda and Teacher Assistant Jasmine Real practicing kulintang renditions on the kulintang a tiniok.

Also called a Kulintang a Putao (Maguindanaon) and Salunay, Salonay, Saronay, Sarunay, Saronai, Sarunai (Maranao)

___________________________________________back to top The kubing is a type of Philippine jew’s harp found among the Maguindanaon and other Muslim and non-Muslim tribes in the Philippines. To produce a sound, the kubing is placed between the tongue and the mouth and a flexible tongue attached to the frame is plucked with one’s fingers. Pitch is then controlled by how one player opens and closes their mouth.

The kubing is made out of old bamboo,(bamboo must be dried first for if not, the pitch of the instrument may change after a while) from which they are meticulously crafted using special carving knife. Coming in sizes about a half a foot in length, the Maguindanaon kubing rarely has fancy designs on it like those of the Maranao, where their designer kobings with serpent designs could have fancy ivory handles and grow up to a foot in length.

The kubing is traditionally considered an intimate instrument, usually used as communication between family or a love one in close quarters. Rarely would you find it played during community gatherings or festivals, then or even now with the invention of the microphone, the kubing rarely has an appearance. Both sexes can use the instrument, the females more infrequently than males who use it for short distance courtship. Kubing players usually compose their own pieces, usually following the spoken words of the Maguindanaon language and using the kubing to imitate them. An example Master Kalanduyan remembers is “tinumbok tinatub”, meaning to the ‘throw and poke.’

Also called a kobing (Maranao), kolibau (Tingguian), aru-ding (Tagbanua), aroding (Palawan), kulaing (Yakan). According to Mohammad Amin, similar instruments in Sulawesi are called the yori (Kailinese), karinta (Munanese), ore-ore mbondu or ore Ngkale (Butonese) and karombi (Toraja).

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The luntang is a type of Maguindanaon xylophone, strung vertically, with five horizontal logs hung in ascending order starting from the shortest at the bottom and end with the longest log at the top. Vertically, the luntang could be between two feet for the smallest luntangs to three in a half to four feet in length for the largest ones. Luntangs are commonly crafted out of soft woods such as bayug but someone making one in America should try wood such as the redwood from a local hardware store. Logs of the luntang are cylindrical in shape with one end a flattened stub and the other end a more conical, cone shape and the place where the player hits the instrument using betay (beaters) of tamenag/bago (a common hardwood). Though the pitch on those five horizontal logs is related to five notes found on the kulintang, the rhythms on the luntang resemble those on the Maguindanaon dabakan.

When playing the luntang, one can either play it solo or it can be played with two people, with one providing the ad drone on the stubbed edge and the other providing the melody on the sharper edge.

Though the instrument is able to play a melody, traditionally, the luntang was used only for self-entertainment purposes by the Maguindanaon and was never performed as part of an ensemble. For those in the rice paddies, the luntang had a double purpose: providing a nice respite from the mundane life of watching the fields (lest you be bored and fall asleep) and creating a sound that scared the marauding birds away from the growing rice stalks. Luntangs were also popularly played in the evening before one was about to go to sleep. Of course, these days the luntang has gone silent as an extinct tradition.

Both sexes could play the instrument but traditionally, the women were one’s who excelled at the luntang. Luntang players could use the instrument for long distance communication for luntangs were even louder than metallic kulintangs. The Yakan (who have a similar instrument, the kwintangan kayo, also with five horizontal logs drawn vertically) went one step further, using the instrument for serenading women after a day in the rice field, similar to the way the Maguindanaon have used the gandingan.

Also called a kwintangan kayo (Yakan)

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The agung a tamlang is a type of Maguindanaon slit drum literally translated meaning “bamboo agung” or “agung made of bamboo.” Made out of hollowed out bamboo (always dried out bamboo, using fresh bamboo would change the pitch later on), the agung a tamlang has a huge slit at one side of the instrument. Pitch is determined by how one carves out the slit: lengthening the slit would create a deeper drawn out sound while shorting the instrument, where the slit begins, would increase the pitch of the instrument. Though the instrument is called agung a tamlang, Master Kalanduyan likes to use a different species of bamboo called kling for kling is smaller in width (tamlang is a more common found bamboo but too big to make an agung).

Like the kulintang a kayo is to the kulintang or the gandingan a kayo is to the gandingan, the agung a tamlang is also used as practice for the real agung. Players would usually hold the agung a tamlang in the non-slit portion of the instrument and hit the agung using a betay (beater) of tamenag/bago (a common hardwood) to strike the opposite side of the bamboo where the slit portion of the instrument meets the non-slit portion. And like an agung, if one wanted to get a muted sound, one would strengthen their hold on the non-slit portion of the instrument and if one wanted to play two agungs, the player would take up a squatter over position, placing one agung a tamlang horizontally on the ground, held there with their foot while using their other free hand to hold the other agung a tamlang.

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The kagul is a Maguindanao bamboo scraper gong/slit drum with a jagged edge on one side. About a foot in length dependent on the size of bamboo from knob to knob, the kagul requires old bamboo that is dried first to be used before being hollowed out (new bamboo would crack). To play the kagul, one would use one’s foot to hold the instrument on the ground, then using their right hand one would scarp against the rough edge while their left hand makes a beat using another betay (beater) at the kagul’s edge. The kagul can also be used as an imitation dabakan where the kagul could be placed on a stand and the dabakan beat played atop it using two betays.

(left): Teacher Assistant Ron Quesada demonstrating use of the kagul. (right): Notice Ron using his left hand to make a beat using one betay and the other hand scarps the kagul with the other betay.

Traditionally, the kagul is played for self-entertainment purposes like for those who guarding the rice paddies and in need of something to do. In the rice fields, the kagul serves a double purpose: to keep the farmer awake and active while at the same time using the sound of the kagul to scare away voracious birds such as the red maya from devouring the entire rice crop during daylight hours. (Two large slabs of bamboo, known as a pagapak, which when snapped together make a loud sound also has a similar function to the kagul when placed in the middle of the field.) Maguindanaon actually don’t even consider this an instrument seeing its functionality more in line with a car alarm, used only to scare away intruders, than something with entertainment value.

Also called a tagutok (Maranao) , bantula or tagungtung (Bukidnon) and kuratung (Banuwaen).

___________________________________________back to top Three different types of bamboo flutes exist for the Maguindanaon, that differ in their size, number of finger holes, placing and shape of the blowing hole ends. The smallest bamboo flute is called the tumpong, about two feet in length made from bamboo and is classified as a lip-valley flute because of the curved shape of the end of the instrument. Air is passed through a bamboo reed (“takep” – covering) that sends air rushing parallel to a blowing hole found at the top of the instrument. Pitch is controlled via four finger holes on the top of the instrument and one found at the bottom.

(left): Photograph of a Maguindanaon tumpong (right): Master Datuan Kalanduyan demonstrating a piece on the tumpong using circular breathing technique.

The second smallest bamboo flute is the suling, classified as a ring-flute because of the rattan ring around the flatten-end of the mouthpiece which differs from the tumpong because the latter has a more angled mouthpiece. Also unlike the tumpong, air is passed through the suling via a blowing hole found at the bottom of the instrument and pitch is controlled via five finger holes on the top and one finger hole located on the bottom. The largest bamboo flute is the palendag and like the tumpong is also a lip-valley flute about twice the length of the tumpong, with the same amount of finger holes as the tumpong. The major difference between it and the tumpong is that basically the palendag is a bamboo tube with no reed or ring attached to it and therefore requires the player to have the large blowing hole placed against their lower lip so the player would create a hole between the two to make a sound by passing air parallel to it. Attempting to shape the blowhole with one’s lips makes playing the palendag significantly harder than the tumpong or the suling. Pitch on all these instruments can also be influenced by the use of bamboo extensions added to the end of each. Depending on whether the last finger hole is left open, the extension could result in either a lower pitch if the last finger hole is covered or is used as a fancy decoration if left open.

(left): Photograph of a Maguindanaon palendag (right): Master Danongan Kalanduyan demonstrating the placing of the palendag on one’s lower lip.

Traditionally the Maguindanao used these bamboo flutes for small family affairs, never for large gatherings or weddings, where parents play while children listened intently. It was seen as a masculine instrument but women were also adept in playing them. Players could either play pieces imitating the sounds of the kulintang like sinulog or binalig or play other pieces invented and named by the players themselves. Master Kalanduyan can recall pieces such as “mapadtadem” (to be remembered), or “kandalagat” (a voyage on the ocean). Much of the melodies, particularly on the palendag, are melancholy in nature, where when one listening would feel touched and could become emotional during the experience. In fact, palendag is derived from the word, “lendag,” translated to mean “crying or sobbing” or the “sound of crying.” According to Master Kalanduyan, listening to the palendag sound like someone is sobbing and therefore would make listeners feel lonely and usually think of people who are far away.

(left and right): Photographs of the Maguindanaon tumpong.

The palendag was the most popular instrument back then but Master Kalanduyan says only in recent times have instruments such as the tumpong and even more recently the suling come into use. Now, the palendag is the least commonly mastered instrument, perhaps attributed to the high difficultly involved in comparison to the other two. A recent phenomenon though can find Master palendag players (papapalendag), Master suling players (pasusuling) and Master tumpong players (patutumpong) at social events usually using a microphone to amplify the flutes soft sounds.

The palendag is also called a pulalu (Manabo and Mansaka), palandag (Bagobo), pulala (Bukidnon) and lumundeg (Banuwaen). There also exists a smaller type of palendag among the Bukidnon known as the hulakteb, about three-quauters the length of the palendag. The tumpong is also called a inci (Maranao). The term Suling is also common among Tausug, Yakan, B'laan and the Tiruray but it has other alternate names including the babarak (Palawan), lantey (Ata), kinsi (Bukidnon) and the dagoyong (Higanon).

___________________________________________back to top The kutiyapi is a two-stringed, fretted boat-lute and is the only stringed instrument among the Maguindanaon. (It could also be found among the Maranao and other non-Muslim Mindanao groups such as the Manobos, Tiruray, Bila’an and the T’boli but under different names. The Tausug don’t have a derivative of this instrument.)

Kutiyapis come in three different sizes (small, medium and large) and can run from four to six feet in length (Master Dutuan Kalanduyan is holding a five-foot medium-sized kutiyapi.). It is usually carved from solid soft wood, such as the langka (jackfruit) tree, but kutiyapi experts consider wood called “dangguiangas” as the best wood for the job. The body of the kutiyapi is larger than its neck (much of the neck is actually an elongation of the body) and one could find metal strings running from the middle of the body, passing nine frets located along the neck-body portion of the instrument, to the end of the neck where two pegs are located. The nine frets, all made of hardened beeswax, (Bees use beeswax to make the hive. The wax is found by setting fire to a live beehive and using the wax to make the fret, usually taking three hours until it dries. Recently, master artist like Dutuan Kalanduyan have been using more synthetic products as a substitute for the beeswax, such as black spalto found in local hardware stores) are used to create eight distinct sounds by holding their fingers between the beeswax frets. Sound is made by plucking both metal strings (one is placed against the frets to produce the melody, the other string used for the ad drone) with either one’s fingers or using a kebit (pick) made of rattan or more recently, plastic.

(left and right): Master Datuan Kalanduyan setting up the kutiyapi before a small presentation at Skyline College.

Among the Maguindanaon, those nine frets can be arranged into one of two patterns, resulting in two different tunings for the instrument. The higher pitched arrangement is called binalig and can be used to play the styles found on the kulintang, such as sinulog, binalig and older forms of binalig. The lower pitched arrangement is called dinaladay, a form of tuning not found in any kulintang gong instrument. Dinaladay is often used for teaching and have three pieces (patentek, minudal, and patundog) that have different degrees of difficulty attached to them (in this case, beginner, intermediate and advanced, respectively). The style patentek is derived from the phrase “tentek” which is the chirping sound a mother hen uses to call her chicks and following the high pitched sound a chicken made, the style patentek is also a higher pitched style.

(left): Master Datuan Kalanduyan demonstrating the kutiyapi using an amplifier. (right): Master Datuan Kalanduyan playing the kutiyapi accompanied by a dabakan played by Master Danongan Kalanduyan

The Maguindanao use the kutiyapi for social events from birthdays to weddings and is reserved for communication between young couples (Usually with the man using the instrument to serenade the woman. This is why the kutiyapi is generally not known as a woman’s instrument.) Its intimate nature is due to its meditative qualities; listening to the kutiyapi requires one to close their eyes; not surprising then, it’s the kutiyapi and not the kulintang that is more likely to be poetically charged. The instrument can be played either solo or with an accompanying dabakan. There exist contest for these instruments as well with expert kutiyapi players known as pakukutiyapi but they are not commonly held during weddings like some of the other instruments.

It is believed the origin of the boat-like shape of the kutiyapi came from the wide use of boats by the Maguindanaon (Note that the Maguindanaon are mostly concentrated along the river bank and therefore use the boats as their general transportation) and that when they made the kutiyapi, they imitated the form of their boats. Elegant carvings on the kutiyapi are more emphasized by the Maranao than the Maguindanao, where the ends of their kutiyapi can be carved to resemble the mythical naga, their fierce dragon/crocodile. Recently, the kutiyapi has started being replaced by the guitar as more Maguindanaon dayunday singers find the guitar produces louder sounds than the kutiyapi.

Also acceptable is Kutyapi, Kutiapi (Maguindanaon), Kotyapi (Maranao), Kotapi (Subanon), Fegereng (Tiruray), Faglong, Fuglung (B’laan), Kudyapi (Bukidnon and Tagbanua), Hegelong (T’boli) and Kuglong, Kadlong, Kudlung or Kudlong (Manobo and Central Mindanao), Kusyapi (Palawan)

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Emphasis is not placed on scales, but on the concept of rhythmic modes. A rhythmic mode (or designation or genre or pattern) is defined as a musical unit that binds together the entire five instrument ensemble. This concept could be understood by seeing first that every instrument that is part of the ensemble is considered to have its own rhythm. By adding together those various rhythms, one could create music and by changing one of the rhythms, one could create different music. This is the basis of the rhythmic mode.

Though allowing such a variety of rhythms would lead to an innumerable amount of patterns, generally one could categorize these rhythmic modes on the basis on various criteria such as the number of beats in a recurring musical phrase, differences in the melodic and rhythmic groups with the musical phrase, differences in the rhythmic emphasis, and differences in the opening formulas and cadential patterns. For the Maguindanao, three to five typical genres can be distinguished: Duyug, Sinulog, Tidtu, Binalig and Tagonggo. The first four are considered recreational performances; the latter is reserved for ritualistic purposes. The Maranao on the other hand have only three typical genres - Kapromayas/Romayas, Kapagonor/Onor, and Katitik Pandai/Kapaginandang – all of them used for recreational performances.

These general genres could be further grouped among each other into styles/subcategories/stylistic modifiers, which are differentiated from one another based on instrumentation, playing techniques, function and the average age and gender of the musicians as well. Generally, these styles are differentiated by what is considered traditional or “old,” and more contemporary or “new.” Old styles are considered slow, well-pronounced and dignified like the Maguindanao’s kamamatuan and the Maranao’s andung while new styles such as the Maguindanao’s kagungudan and the Maranao’s bago, are considered fast, rhythmic and showy.

Before describing each style and mode in detail, it should be noted that the kulintang repertoire has no fixed labels because the music itself is not considered a fixed entity. Due to the fact it is orally transmitted, the repertoire itself is considered something always in a state of flux due to two primary reasons. First off is the fact having standardized titles weren’t considered a priority. Though to the musicians themselves the melodies would sound similar, the labels they would place on a particular rhythmic mode or style could vary from village to village, even from household to household within that same village. For the musicians, the emphasis is on the excitement and pleasure of playing the music without much regard to what the piece was referred to as. Secondly, because musicians improvised their pieces regularly, modes and styles were continually revised and changed as they were passed on to a newer generation of musicians, making the pieces and therefore the labels attached to them relevant only during a certain frame of time.

Such issues made attempts to codify the compositions in a uniform manner impossible. An example of this could be found among the Maguindanao where the word binalig is used by contemporary musicians as a name for one of the rhythmic modes associated with kangungudan but it has also been used as a term designating a “new” style. Another example concerns the discrepancy among “old” and “new” genres. With “new pieces” continuously proliferating even up till now, pieces only created decades ago are now considered “old” even though this is considered a tradition spanning many centuries. These differences could sometimes make discussing this repertoire and the modes and styles within it a bit confounding.

For the Maguindanao, kamamatuan (also called minuna or danden) is the older, traditional, sedate style, derived from the word, “matua” meaning “old.” Genres classified under this style have moderate tempos, are rhythmically-oriented and balanced and lack many improvisations (the permutations are considered more stereotyped, less bold in developing non-traditional gong combinations). This is a group-oriented style using the full complement of instruments. Found at both formal and informal gatherings, kamamatuan style is usually played by the older folks and it is because of this, this style is always played first, to give due respect to the older generation.

There are three designations/genres/rhythmic modes under the Kamamatuan style. One is called duyog, meaning to “chase”, “catch up,” or “accompany.” The reason this genre has been connotated “to chase” is because the babendil player could speed up the tempo at her whim, to see whether or not the other players could catch up or not. This genre is normally shorter than sinulog and it usually identified with the emotions of love, anger and joy. Downriver musicians about Cotabato City term this genre differently: they call it Sirong, meaning “shade” or “shelter.”

The next genre is called sinulog or kamamatuan na sinulog. Sinulog is derived from the word, “sulug”, meaning “people of the Sulu” or “in the style of the Sulu people.” Sinulog a kamamatuan pieces are normally play at slow to moderate tempo, usually expressing loneliness or sadness and it has been said that listening to them could make one crying, making them the best piece to play either at night or early dawn. Both this and duyog use a common metric structure in the meter of four. The agung sometimes could be omitted from this piece.

Finally, the last genre is called kamamatuan na tidto. It is derived from the word, “matidto” meaning “straight” or the word “tinidtu”, meaning “made straight.” Pieces under this genre generally have certain and unwavering direction that always moves forward and is used to express one’s virtuosity. This is considered the shortest of all the three rhythmic modes and is also considered the oldest of them as well. The piece usually uses only one agung gong, a kulintang and a dabakan.

Kangungudan (also called bago or binalig) is the newer, contemporary style derived from the word, “manguda” meaning “young” or “new.” Though there was no specific date when this style was truly distinguishable from kamamatuan style (Danongan Kalanduyan concludes that the division likely occurred in the 1950’s when a musician, Zankala, started playing a style unfamiliar to most), generally genres under this classification have faster tempos with an emphasis on power and speed, are highly rhythmic and pulsating, and are highly improvised with musicians employing different rhythmic/melodic formulae not used with old patterns. “Young” musicians, specifically young men, gravitate toward this style because of its emphasis on virtuosity and one’s individualism. This style allows musicians a freedom in arrangement, permutations and the choice of gongs where the kulintang, agung and gandingan in particular are the featured instrument (with the agung and gandingan considered mutually exclusive - when one is featured, other is not played.) Found in both formal and informal gatherings, kangungudan is generally played after all kamamatuan pieces have been played to give younger musicians the opportunity to participate.

There are also three rhythmic modes associated with kangungudan style. The first is called binalig, derived from the word, “balig,” meaning either “slang,” “with a foreign accent,” “the stage of life from early to late adolescence” or “made different.” This is most improvised and rhythmically complicated genre of them all and it is for this reason that it is often used for solo kulintang contest and as an accompanying genre during gandingan contest. It is believed to have arisen as an offshoot from the duyog genre of upriver musicians during the 1950s. Tidto a kangungudan is another kangungudan genre considered a “new style of playing the tidto piece. It is the played fast, is considered the fastest of all the modes and is always used to accompany agung contest, accompanied by the kulintang, agung, dabakan and babendil. Finally, the last kangungudan genre is called sinulog a kangungudan also consider a newer style of playing sinulog. It often has a more melodic, is considered sentimental and is played at a more moderate tempo than binalig but like binalig, is also played for kulintang contest for its melodic style could feature the kulintang and gandingan because of their ability to emulate the language.

Tagunggo is not classified under one of these styles, being more ritualistic than recreational in nature. Tagunggo is a rhythmic mode often used to accompany trance and dance rituals such as sagayan. During the playing of these pieces, a ritual specialist would dance in rhythm with the music calling on the help of ancestral spirits (tunong). This genre, often associated with older people, has two types: one with two-beat musical phrases and another with four-beat musical phrases. The former is associated with male spirits (datu) and the latter, called “said-siad,” is associated with female spirits (bai), where the ritual specialist would dance gracefully using a malong.

As stated earlier, the Maranao have three types of rhythmic modes - Kapromayas/Romayas, Kapagonor/Onor, and Katitik Pandai/Kapaginandang – which are divided among two styles – andung and bago. Andung is analogous to the Maguidanao style kamamatuan where pieces are slow, subtle, balanced and well-pronounced and stem back prior to the mid 20th century. An example of an andung piece is kapaginandung which is traditionally considered a slow piece with a dignified character. Bago or onor is analogous to the Maguindanao style of kangungudan. Like kangundugan, bago pieces are continually being created, and are defined as expressive, fancy, obvious and radical pieces. An example of a bago piece is kapagonor a piece considered exciting and competitive with various parts exhibiting feverish intensity characterized by maximum flexibility of patterns and deceptive manipulation. A third style is called muraget but may very well be classified as a sub-style under andung because is deals with old pieces. Muraget pieces are identified as having a foreign connotation, exhibit jerky and fast rhythms akin to those found among the Maguindanao in Cotabato. Newer renditions of kapiginandung could be classified here since they are being played at breakneck speed by the younger generation.

Though the major stylistic division among both the Maguindanao and Maranao is based upon the relative age and speed of the pieces, there exist other criteria that have caused differences in style. For instance, economic and geographic differences could play a great role in influencing certain people’s styles. For instance, among the Maranao, the center of creativity for kulintang music is in the Basak region. Their compositions are considered more virtuosic, innovative and competitive than those in the highland region which have been labeled conservative and idiosyncratic. The suspected reason is due to the fact those in the lowlands and Basak have longer periods to wait between planting and harvesting, allowing the locals to invest more time creating new compositions than their highland counterparts, who’s more evenly working schedule eliminated that possibility and allowed for them to retain older types of compositions. The Maguindanao have geographic differences similar to the Maranao where one’s style is dependent on whether you are upriver or downriver along the Pulangi (the largest river in Mindanao). For instance those upriver play “Dulawan” style where there is single-note enunciations for binalig performances, while those downriver would play double-noted strokes (using the bouncing effect of the stick) in binalig performances in accordance with “Nuling” style. For players of “Nuling” style, their intervals are much shorter, making them go much faster from phrase to phrase than those playing “Dulawan” style. Even newer downriver styles are developed. One is called barikata, an assertive style that is described as being “complicated” and difficult to understand and the other is called taraburutan (meaning a “binalig piece made different”) believed to be an offshoot of binalig that imitates the rapid prolonged firing of a machine gun on the kulintang.

Differences in a people’s contact with the outside world could also be decisive as seen among the Maguindanao, where those with a higher educational attainment, who are usually exposed to more Westernized culture, are more likely to play kangungudan style than their less educated peers. This reasoning could also be extended to the differences between the Maranao and Maguindanao repertoire where the Maguindanao proximity to the seas has allowed for their repertoire to have more contact with the outside world, allowing for their kulintang performances to be more modernized than their inland counterparts.

Sulu-type compositions on the kulintangan are found among the Tausug, Samal, Yakan, Sama/Badjao, and Kadazan-Dusan. Though there exist no identifiable rhythmic or melodic differences between patterns with names such as the Maguindanao, each group has their own music compositions. For instance, the Tausug have three identifiable compositions - kuriri, sinug, and lubak-lubak - the Yakan have two - tini-id and kuriri - and the Dusan have three - ayas, kudidi and tidung. Though these melodies vary even within groups like the Maguindanao and Maranao, one theme which characterizes the sulu-type is the exchange of short melodic phrases between the kulintangan and the agungs, where both instruments imitate and duplicate each others rhythms very quickly. This is clearly seen in the Tausug’s sinug and Yakan’s tini-id and kuriri compositions where this sort of jousting becomes a game of skill and virtuoso playing.


The main purpose for kulintang music in the community is to function as social entertainment at a non-professional, folk level. These events where kulintangs are present (called kalilang by the Maranao) are used as an arena for singing, dancing, recitation of lyric and poetic discourse, and even a fashion show. What makes this music unique is that it is considered a public music in the sense everyone is allowed to participate. Not only do the players play, but the audience members, consisting of neighbors and guests who come to the event, are also expected to participate in either formal performances hosting hundreds of people or simple informal performances at one’s home. These performances are important in that they bring people in the community and adjacent regions together, helping unify people who otherwise may not have interacted with one another. Prior to performances, no invitations are handed out concerning the coming event. Instead of relying on public announcements before the event, players rely on the sound of the ensembles as the invitation for people to come, believing it was loud enough for all in the village to hear. So, like television did for America the nineteen-fifties, the kulintang represented their gathering point for the entire community.

Traditionally, when performers play kulintang music, their participation is completely voluntary. Musicians see performing kulintang music for their peers as an opportunity to receive recognition, prestige and respect from the community and nothing more. Societies with kulintang music have never grasped the financial aspect of playing it - making a livelihood from this music for any of the musicians was simply out of the question. This is the reason why in Mindanao, the populace has generally strayed away from the commercializing it, either by set concert performances or broadcasting it through media formats such as the radio.

Generally, performances could be classified as either formal ones or informal ones. During formal performances (called kapmasa-ala ko lima-ka-daradiat. “ a formal gathering of five instruments or players” by the Maranao) adherents follow a traditional set of rules that would govern playing and it usually involved people from outside the home. Informal performances are quite the opposite. The strict rules that normally govern play are often ignored and the performers are usually between people well acquainted with one another, usually close family members. There performances (called kap’pakaradian-an (merry-making)) usually were times when amateurs practiced on the instruments, young boys and girls gathered the instruments, substituting the kulintang with the saronay and inubab. Ensembles didn’t necessary have to have five instruments: they could be composed of only four instruments (three gandingan gongs, a kulintang, an agung, and a dabakan), three instruments (a kulintang, a dabakan, and either an agung or three gandingan gongs) or simply just one instrument (kulintang solo).

(left): A formal kulintang performance consisting of five players at Skyline College, San Bruno. (right): A informal performance with a solo kulintang player being accompanied only by the dabakan at San Francisco State University.

Formal performances follow a very traditional format. Using the Maranao as an example, at the opening of the performance, a female kulintang player would leave the women section, doing a traditional elegant gant as she heads towards the kulintang. While her right arm would freely and gracefully swing, she would hold in her left arm a malong/sarong (loose tubular skirt) in a special way, changing its position every now and then, showing the various ways it was traditionally worn. She, if she was willing, would even sing and song-dance called kaganat-sa-darang’n. Once she was seated, she would give an oration and poetic recitation, exalting everyone involved including important people, the ensemble, individual parts and players finally ending with a hope that they all play harmoniously. Prior to the start of playing pieces, she would play a Ka-unon, a short pattern in free rhythm used to check whether or not the gongs had not been reversed. After the performance, she leaves in the same leisurely way she came.

During formal performances, a set sequence of compositions is usually called for. For the Maguindanao, the compositions must be played in order starting with Duyog, Sinulog and ending with Tidtu. Duyog and Sinulog pieces should be playing at least three times each with each rendition significantly different from the next one. Afterwards, Tidtu could be played as many times afterwards. For other groups, there is no set order that compositions must be played. The Maranao only require that at least one of the rhythmic modes be used during kolintang performances, while the Tausug would play one composition a varying number of times before moving onto the next composition.

The kulintang is usually not the first instrument to begin playing during these performances. Depending on the composition it may vary. For instance, for the Maguindanao, both the compositions of Duyog and Sinulog a Kamamatuan would have the babendil begin the piece, followed by the dabakan, then the kulintang, the gandingan and finally ending with the agung. However, for Tidto a Kamamatuan, it is the dabakan then the babendil (if it is played at all - it could be substituted for the highest gong on the kulitnang) followed by the kulintang, gandingan and finally the agung.

During these formal performances, the audience also can get involved, expressing their sentiments through various means. Shouting, not clapping, is a means for expressing to a group that they have done well. For instance, common expressions cheered would be like, “Namba, Namba” by the Maguindanao or “Mata-an aki ka miagayan-ayon siran” meaning “There is no doubt that they were in harmony” by the Maranao. Quantities that audience members look for included either an excellent performance or a nearly perfect rendition as long as the unanimity of the group as one unit heading for the same goal was evident. Lack those qualities, the Maguindanao would give you only silence. The Maranao also refrain from expressing their disapproval but if the same errors are committed by the same musician, criticism and ridicule is likely.

Kulintang music generally could be found as the social entertainment at a host of different occasions. Along with its use as a form of family entertainment played in private homes almost every night after dinner, it is also used during large feasts, festive/harvest gatherings, for entertainment of visiting friends and relatives, and at parades. A famous parade in particular is the Maranao flaviad parade on Lake Lanao where large boats are tied together, side by side, forming a gakit onto which kulintang ensembles can play atop of. These types to processional music could also be found in the Maluku atop the sultun’s boats (kora-kora or tiva tipa balang) from Ternate and Tidore (This tradition is rare now in central and southeastern Maluku.) Kulintang music also accompanies ceremonies marking significant life events, such as first birthday of sons, water baptisms (paigo sa raget), weddings and all the different stages of the marriage ceremony including the formal marriage proposal, transactions of dowry by both parties after the wedding and finally annual pilgrimages returning to and from Mecca (the latter is accompanied by kandoli, preparations of different foods which are offered to panditas (priests) who would pray to Alathala (God) for the traveler’s safe journey). These events are so significant; most pilgrims never forget these events in their honor. For the Toli-Toli and Kailinese of Central Sulawesi, their kakula music is also played for other significant life events such as posuna (circumcision) and nokeso (growing up rituals).

Kulintang music also plays a significant role during state functions, used during official celebrations, entertaining of foreign dignitaries and important visitors of distant lands, court ceremonies of either the sultanate or village chieftains, enthroning/coronations of a new leader and the transferal of a sultanate from one family to another. This could be seen in North Maluku at the Ternate and Tidore palaces where bronze kulintang gong-ensemble are played only during Sultun precessions to palace mosque on the occasions of the Idul’fitri and Idul’adha festivals. Recently, kulintang music could also be hear during election campaigns where local politicians would organize musical contest to encourage people to vote in their favor (for their troubles, politicians would give musicians cast or clothing in return).

Kulintang music isn’t welcomed at all occasions though. For the Muslim Maguindanao and Maranao, kulintang music is prohibited from being played inside mosques and during Islamic rites/observances/holidays, such as the fasting month (Ramadhan), where playing is only allowed at night during the time when they are allowed to eat. They also prohibit it during the mourning period of the death of important person, during funerals, and during the peak times of the planting and harvest season. Of course, these are exceptions for among the Bolaang Mongondow of North Sulawesi, kulintang music has been used during the funerals of noble families and among the Tidore and Ternate of Maluku played during holy days.

Kulintang music has uses other than public performances. It also is used to accompany healing ceremonies/rituals (pagipat) / animistic religious ceremonies. Though this practice has died out among the Maranao due to its non-Islamic nature, some areas in Mindanao, Sabah and Maluku still practice this ancient tradition. For the Maguindanao, these healing ceremonies are accompanied by the piece Taggungo and are divided into two types - dependent on the mission the healing ceremony is to accomplish. Prior to either ceremony, the folks of the afflicted one would consult a pagagamot, a ‘medicine man,’ who would tell them what should be done next.

Kapagubad is performed when difficult child labor is predicted. During Kapagubad, a male/female shaman (preferably the specialty of an old woman) would perform a trance dance which would last for one day (food is offered to the spirits during the ceremony in the form of an alligator which is a symbol of the spirit of the river). Kapagipat is the another healing ceremony, usually performed when someone is seriously ill for the appeasement of malignant spirits either from saitan (satan) or aluwak (spirits of ancestors) believed to be cursing them. During this ceremony, two male/female shaman’s (preferably those in their fifties or sixties, for those who are younger are considered not strong enough to handle the spirits) would perform trance dances for seven days - mainly during evening and night hours except the last day which only during the afternoon.

For the Lotud and Dusun of Tuaran, kulintangan music is also used for various healings rites such as the seven-day Rumaha rites used to honour the spirits of the scared skulls and the five-day Mangahau rites used to honour possessed jars. Also, the Tuaran Dusand use kulintangan music for welcoming spirits.

Kulintang music can be used for communicating long-distance messages from one village or longhouse to another. Called apad, these renditions could be used to mimic the Maguindanao language, creating a private language or a form of social commentary that only those who know the music would understand. Instruments with a melodic ability such as the kutiyapi and the kubing could be used for apad but for the Maguindanao, generally such renditions are reversed for the gandingan for it’s the loudest of all the melodic instruments (See Chapter 2: Instrumentation: Gandingan on how apad is accomplished upon the gandingan.).

Apad also could be played upon the kulintang since it’s also a melodic instrument, albiet at a smaller scale than the gandingan’s. Musicians have been known to breakaway from compositions and go into apad style. For instance if a farmer were practicing alone on the kulintang when his wife was at home and he wanted to have cooked rice when he got back, the man could send her a message using the kulintang, cutting off the song he was playing and play, “Please cook rice because I am ready to work in the farm” upon the gongs. Close friends also could use apad style upon the kulintang to gossip about girls they like or don’t like or to simply mimic beggars on the streets, playing a rendition that said, “20 cents, 25 cents.” Only those who understand the music will get the joke while others will be obvious to it all. Informal renditions upon the kulintang sometimes elicits spontaneous bouts of laughter or giggling since it so happens the messages being played are unusual or naughty circumstances of apad wordplay.

However, apad is coming to disuse due to the fact, times are changing - those once close-knit communities are now becoming bustling towns. Apad with its once special meanings are no longer relevant in larger, mixed populations where most of the population has no idea such renditions encodes a language in and of itself. Instead, anun, music without a message used to express one’s sentiments/feelings, has come more and more into use due to the fact it feels well with the musical elaborations and idiosyncratic styles of the times.

Kulintang music was also crucial in relation to courtships due to the very nature of Islamic custom, which did not allow for unmarried men and women to intermingle. Traditionally, unmarried daughter were kept in a special chamber in the attic called a lamin, off-limit to visitors and suitors. It was only when she was allowed to play during kulintang performances were suitors allowed to examine her: her face, refinement and appearance. Men who had fallen head-over-heels for a certain player during these performances may attempt to entice her by serenading her with an apad rendition outside her home using an instrument like the kutiyapi. Master Kalanduyan claims that couples have even been known to elope thanks to the soothing sounds of such music (Couples usually eloped if the man wouldn’t be able to afford the dowry. The couple would need to leave their village and enter another so they would not be penalized.). It’s because of this kulintang music was traditionally seen as one of the rare socially approved vehicles for interaction among the sexes.

Musical contest (called kadsigi), particularly among the Maguindanao, have become a unique feature of these kulintang performances. They occur at almost all the formal occasions mentioned above, particularly weddings. What has made the Maguindanao stand out from the other groups is that they practice solo gong contest – with individual players showcasing their skill on the various ensemble instruments – the agung, gandingan and the kulintang – as opposed to only group contest, where performers from one town and another town are pitted against each other. These contests are known to last long into the night, starting usually at 7 or 8 in the evening and ending, if all contestants feel up to it, at 6 the next morning.

Certain steps are normally taken, prior to the beginning of contest. A week prior to the gathering, the hosts inform barrio captains of each of the village that a gathering is to take place. These barrio captains in turn would disseminate this information to the musicians in each of their village so they may gain practice time. On the day of the contest, expert agung, kulintang and gandingan players (papagagungs, pakukulintangs and pagagandings respectively),would first be fed along with their mulits, (assistants). Afterwards, beginners and mulits would play, so all musicians can have a chance to participate. And right before the contest begins, the names of the papagagungs, pakukulintangs and pagagandings would be read.

Maguindanao contest follow a certain sequence with matches on the agung beginning the contest, followed by matches on the gandingan and finally matches on the kulintang. The agung contest begins with audience members selecting the accompanying kulintang and dabakan players. They could be either male or female, but if they happen to be an unmarried female, her friends would accompany her and watch the other members play. These types of contest help in the interactions among the sexes.

(left): One of the Magui Moro Master Artist playing in an agung contest at Skyline College using a technique called katinengka, hitting the agung using the wooden end of the balu along with the rubber end.(right): Another Magui Moro Master Artist playing in agung contest, this time using two balus, stablizing the higher gong using his leg.

Agung contest requires the playing of only one type of song, tidto a kangungudan. This is played several times, so players could alternate and this would last up for about an hour. Gandingan contest do not use tidto but instead have binalig playing on the kulintang, again played several times so players would alternate. Finally, kulintang contest, accompanied by the dabakan, would use either binalig or sinulog a kangungudan during the competition.

Competition during these events is at times so intense - musicians have been known to take drastic measures to influence the very outcome of the contest. There have been numerous accounts of practitioners using black magic and ancient spells to harm fellow rivals. Master Kalanduyan recalls one incident, during a wedding when he had been playing the gandingan, someone blew into his ear, causing his arm to freeze and drop his beaters. A riot ensued. To counter such hexes, musicians would resort to wearing amulets, such as a black armband around their shoulder, to protect themselves from such attacks. Of course, such measures wouldn’t protect against physical attacks from foreign objects, such as knifes, which also have occurred in the past.

Such intensity during such competitions is major factor in why women have gradually been pushed out of the realm of the kulintang world. Another contributing factor is the fact musicians were required to travel to compete in contest – something women in this culture were not accustomed to do.

Kulintang gongs are made using the cire perdue method, a type of lost-wax process used for casting the individual gongs. The first phase, traditionally done by women, is the creation of replicas of the gongs out of either beeswax (talo) or candlewax (kandila). Parts of the gong - the boss, the face, the rim and the filigree lines (which are used to decorate the face of the gong with geometric figures) - are carved out from the wax, then joined together to make a complete wax mold (limbaga) of a gong. Next, the wax mold is covered with a special mixture of finely-powdered coal/mud that is gathered, sieved, refined and diluted with water finally becoming a thick liquid which is then applied upon the wax‘s surface generously and evenly using a brush. Atop this layer, another coating of powdered-dry clay is added until it thickens reaching 2-3 millimeters. Once the layers have dried significantly under the sun, the entire mold is heated in a furnace, melting away the wax and hardening the coal/mud mixture, creating a hollowed shell. With this hardened mold, molten bronze would be poured down the mold’s mouth cavity, cooled to a certain degree, then the coal/mud is broken apart, revealing a new gong, albeit in its raw and crude form. The gong is then refined, cleaned, using an iron file and sandpaper, then properly identified by the panday (gong-maker) using a tumbuk (a metal stamper) via trademark designs spanning around the outer edge of the gong’s surface (This is still being done by two active gong-makers – Zacaria and Ustadz Maliga – up to now).

(left and right): Master Kalanduyan demonstrating the tongkol process of tuning a kulintang gong gently using a metal hammer.

Finally, the finished product is improved upon by using the tongkol process, tuning the gongs either by hammering the boss from the inside (pounding on its face) slightly raising its pitch or hammering the boss from the outside (pounding it inside under the face) from the outside slightly lowering its pitch. This process is easier to do on brass gongs due to the fact their surfaces are thinner than bronze gongs (this is contradicted by Master Kalanduyan, who uses the tongkol process regularly, who says bronze gongs are easier to tune since the alloy is softer than brass.)

Stemming from the fact gong casting was done long before the influences of either Islam or Christianity to the region, pandays adhere to certain ancient traditions that must be followed upon casting these gongs. For instance, the pandays require complete silence during the entire process of producing the gong for it is believed that the gongs partake in the spirit world and therefore as a sign of respect toward those spirits, silence is required. The pandays also should not be informed about anyone’s death when making the gongs for doing would lead to gongs that either defective or sound unsatisfactory. If either those rules are broken, the panday would immediately stop what they are doing and wait until the next day at 6 in the morning to start where they left off. The same holds true when pouring the molten bronze into the harden mold – it must be done either at dawn or on a cool day, lest the gongs become defective. Pandays also believed gongs should be cast only certain days of the month for some were lucky than others.

Historically, gong-casting and therefore the kulintang and other kettle-type instruments were not that accessible to the general populace. For instance, among the Maguindanao, casting was the exclusive domain of ruling sultans and datus and those gongs that came from afar were imported from afar, from gong-making centers like Brunei and places like Indonesia, mainland Southeast Asia, and even China. By the time of European exploration, the source of these gongs were either from Boronai, either present-day Brunei or Borneo, China or even Indonesia. Archeological evidence of the designs of gongs points to Borneo due to Chinese dragon decorations having a Bornean influence while historical accounts point to China, due to gongs, believed to have been brought by Chinese junks, were referred to at the time as sangleis or “Chinese gongs.” A historical account by Legaspi upon capturing Moros proves both Boronai and China were sources: the account stating that the Moros “carried iron and tin from Borney and from China porcelain, bells made of copper.” Indonesia may still have been a source as well as indicated by Thomas Forrest, who recored that the “gongs were brought in through Sulu source from Cheribon on Java for gongs with well-rounded bosses.”

With the coming of American rule, changes in the Maguindanao socio-political structure occurred allowing for brass-casting became available through local gong manufactures. Centers for gong-making developed among the Maguindanao in the village of Lugay-Lugay and Maranao in Togaya/Tugaya and following WWII, in Kapimpiran near Cotabato City and Kitango, where a new process for making gongs is used. Kulintang soon was accessible to many more Maguindanao and to this day, gong-manufactures continue to sell their wares on the streets of Cotabato City, Davao, Manila and even in the eastern reaches of Malaysia in Sabah where apparently, there has been no attempt made to produce bronze gongs instead relying of imports directly from Mindanao.


Kulintang music is considered an ancient tradition that predates the influences of Islam, Christianity, and the West. In the Philippines, it represents the highest from of gong music ever attained by Filipinos and in North Maluku, it is said to have existed for centuries.

As ancient as this music is however, there has never been substantial data recorded regarding the kulintang’s origins. Even the Maguindanao themselves are unclear about its origins. The earliest of mention of instruments resembling those of the present-day kulintang in historical accounts are in the writings of various European explorers starting in the 16th century who would normally see such instruments used in passing. Francisco Combes mentioned in 1667 that a “culintangan” was used in Mindanao for religious sacrifices while Ling Henry Roth mentioned seeing a certain single row gongs in Borneo in 1866. In 1724, Valentjin referred to a set of five or six small different-pitched gongs in a frame from North Maluku, Ternate as totobuang, “copper bowls,” played with two hammers or sticks and accompanied by gongs and a big drum on a cora-cora (wide boat of the sultans of Tidore and Ternate). In his travels, William Dampier, an British adventurer, noted seeing, “A row of kind of bells without clappers sixteen in number,” that were set in a row and struck with wooden sticks for seven to eight days before circumcision day. He said that, “the gongs were laid on the table and were struck each with a little stick for the biggest part of the day making a great noise and they ceased that morning.” Another British explorer, Thomas Forrest, took note of musical gongs called “kulintang” saying, “these instruments had little or no variety is was always one, two, three, four common time; all notes being of the same length and the gongs were horribly out of tune.” Spaniards also noted in 1851 that upon sailing up the Pulangi on the Royal Armada to pay the Sultan of Cotabato a visit, they were welcomed by “the agong and kulintan [which] filled the space with their vibrating sound.”

Because of limited data concerning gong music prior to European exploration, theories abound as to when the prototypes of what is now the present-day kulintang came to be. One theory suggest that the bronze gong had a very ancient history in Southeast Asia, arriving in the Malay archipelago two or even three thousand years ago making its way to the Philippines from China in the 3rd century AD. This theory, based on archeological evidence, is due to the fact the Bronze Age began in the region before 1000 BC. By the 9th or 10th centuries, knobbed gongs like the kulintang were believed to have proliferated throughout both mainland and island areas of Southeast Asia. Another theory lays doubt to the former claim, suggesting that the kulintang wasn’t as ancient as previously thought. It suggests that the kulintang could not have existed prior to 15th century due to the belief Javanese gong tradition, which is what the kulintang was believed to be derived from, developed only by the 15th century. It suggests that claims stating the kulintang had developed by the 3rd century were based more on myths than facts.

Though different theories abound as to the exact centuries the kulintang was finally realized, there is a consensus that kulintang music developed from a foreign musical tradition which was borrowed and adapted to the indigenous music tradition already present in the area. It’s likely the earliest gongs used among the indigenous populace had no recreational value but were simply used for making signals and sending messages. Javanese think gamelan music originated in similar manner. Examples of these are seen by the gongs used by marine vessels in the 15th century, such as the Padanan, where gongs and bells were used for signaling, calling people, telling the time and coordinating maritime maneuvers of large fleets. Historical accounts record a slave-raiding expedition organized by Rajah Sirungan of Buayan and Datu Salikala of Maguindanao who sounded bells and tifas in sorrow and grief as they retreated in defeat. This type of “gong signaling” still exists among the Higaonon, Mansaka, Ubo, T’boli and even the Maguindanao, using the gandingan as a long distance communicator.

Kulintang music likely evolved from this simple signaling tradition, transitioning into a period consisting of one player, one-gong type ensembles (like those found among the Ifugao of Luzon or Tiruray of Mindanao), developing into a multi-gong, multiplayer ensemble with the incorporation of concepts originating from Sunda and finally transforming into the present-day kulintang ensemble, with the addition of the d’bakan, babndir and musical concepts of Islam via Islam traders. Some proof of this transition could be seen with the Iban or Sea Dayak of Sarawak who have an eight gong-in-a-row instrument, the engkromong but use it more like a suspended gong with a two-note, two-gong pattern of permutations and syncopations more akin to the gongs in agung ensembles in Palawan, Boreno, Sulu and Mindanao than kulintangs in kulintang ensembles.

It is not clear whether their original indigenous tradition was similar enough to the “borrowed” elements to allow for assimilation or that those “borrowed” elements were related enough to the indigenous tradition for assimilation to have occurred. What is clear is that, kulintang music, even though having incorporated other foreign musical elements, retained its own idiom, clearly distinct from and independent of any outside culture/influence.

The kulintang gong itself is believed to be have been one of those foreign musical elements incorporated into kulintang music, derived from the Sundanese kolenang due to its striking similarities. Along with the fact that they play important roles in their respectively ensembles (for the Sundanese kolenang called gamelan degung), both the kulintang and kolenang show striking homogeneity in tapered rims (as opposed to pronouncedly tapered Javanese bonang and non-tapered Laotian khong vong gongs). Even the word kulintang is believed to be just an altered form of the Sundanese word kolenang.

It was these similarities that lead theorists to conclude the kulintang was originally imported to the Philippines as the result of migration of the kolenang through the Malay Archipelago. Based on the etymology, two routes have been proposed as the route for the kulintang to Mindanao: One from Sunda, thru Banjermasin, Brunei and the Sulu Archipelago, a route where the word “kulintangan” is commonly used for the horizontal-row of gongs; The other from Sunda, thru, Timor, Sulewasi, Moluccas and Mindanao where the word kolintang/kulintang is commonly seen.

The tradition of kulintang music has been waning throughout the Eastern Malay Archipelago and in many places where it may have once played a greater role it has already gone extinct. The extent of kulintang tradition in the Philippines, particularly in the Northern and Central islands of the Luzon and Visayas will never be fully known due to the harsh realities of Spanish colonization for 300 years. Sets of five bronze gong-chimes and a gong making up the totobuang ensembles of Buru island in Central Maluku have also come to disuse. Kolintang sets of bossed kettle gongs were once played in Gorontalo, North Sulawesi long ago but that has all but disappeared, replaced by what locals are presently familiar with - a slab-key instrument known as a kolintang. In fact, the word kolintang in Sulawesi is now more associated with the Minahasanese xylophone ensembles than an ancient gong tradition and other groups close to the Minahasanese needed to rename the gong tradition, kakula or kakula nuada, just to keep it identifiably different. The fact that there were still areas that were able to keep kulintang tradition alive during European colonization has made some aptly termed this music, “the music of resistance.”

Today, kulintang music faces its biggest challenge yet that dwarfs the threat presented by colonization. Globalization and the introduction of Western and foreign ideals are threatening the very peoples who have held this music so dear. The younger generation would rather listen to American music or bike in the streets with other children than spend time practicing and imitating on the traditional instruments of their parents. Many of the traditions long passed down from generation to generation such as courtship and healing dances have gone by the wayside. Things such healing rituals are performed very rarely now because of the pervalence of modern medicine and its association with old pagan beliefs. In fact in some parts of Mindanao, such rituals have even been banned by the strict followers of Islam and those who’ve attempted to break it, have been shot at and killed.

But there is a glimmer of hope to this story and it originates in America. Master Musicains such as Master Danongan Kalanduyan and Usopay Cadar, have begun bringing this music tradition to the shores of the United States during the late 20th century in an attempt to use the music to help connect contemporary Filipino American culture with ancient tribal traditions. They were impressed by the fact those who were not of Maguindanao or Maranao background and some who were not even Filipino were not only willing but were enthusastic in picking up an alien tradition from a foreign land. When either of them brought their own students, from universities such as University of Washington or San Francisco State University, to Mindanao to play the kulintang in front of their own people, a renaissance of sorts occurs. Many of their own younger generation were encouraged to play their traditional music by the sight of outsiders beating the kulintangs with undeterred jubilation. Such appreciation on the part of the Filipino Americans of a music that exist halfway around the world is now giving a jolt of life to a dying tradition and had become a a symbol of pan-Filipino unity. “Kulintang music in many parts of the Philippines has long since died off and through [Master Kalanduyan’s] single-handed efforts, he has introduced it to this country, he has trained accomplished musicians in this art form who in turn have passed it on in their respective ways, through their ensembles, through their teachings,” said Mr. Begonia. “And so, what we’re talking about is this music’s overall cultural continuity, cultural maintenance and simply cultural survival.”

Though historical accounts and data leave the origin of the kulintang clouded in mystery, the kulintang’s legacy could be found well preserved in a host of tales and lore spoken about throughout the region. For the Maranao, the kulintang was believed to have been created during the time of Radja Indarapatra. One day Radja Indarapatra went to the mouth of a river to bathe and it was there he saw the princess of underwater kingdom, Potri Rainalot from a distance. She had just finished bathing and while drying her long hair, she was beating on a set of stones in front of her, making different sounds. When Radja returned to his kingdom, he imitated what Potri had done and began introducing the stone musical instrument to all the people. As time went on, generations improved upon what Radja had discovered: the stone keys first used by Radja were replaced by bamboo/wooden keys making the alotang, then those keys were replaced by iron keys creating the saronai and finally those keys were displaced by the kolintang, said to have come from Boronai (either Brunei or Borneo).

The Maguindanao also have their own tales concerning the kulintang’s beginnings. One tale is very similar to the Maranao tale, except it involves simply a hunter and a girl as opposed to a prince and a princess. Another tale from the Maguindanao Daragen epic also deals with a kulintang of stone. It’s been said that one could find it at the cave’s entrance on a small, hilly island off the coast of Cotabato City called Timaku. It is believed from this island, one could still hear the kulintang music and chants of the female entourage of the wife of the brave hero Bantugan.

How it came to be that way was narrated by Abraham, in Filipino, in December 2003:

“Long time ago, it was told that people borrowed kulintang from the cave in Timaku. They were then made of bronze (galang) which one could play. So many people borrowed them before. However, there was a rule needed to be followed to return the gongs after their use. All the people in the neighborhood borrowed the gongs whenever there were special occasions like festive celebrations (kalilang) or a ritual (pagipat). But one time, somebody borrowed the instruments with the intention not to return the kulintang, agung, gandingan and all the items of bronze stored in the cave. As one day passed and he had not returned the gongs, he felt his stomach and head aching. By late afternoon, he vomited and defecated blood because he didn’t return the kulintang. When his relatives returned the instruments to the cave, it was too late to do anything because the person died due to the lost of blood. The next day, somebody wanted to borrow the instruments. He was surprised because all the bronze gongs disappeared and had become stones. That is the story of the kulintang in the cave in Timaku.”

The supernatural tale suggests ultimately that, to the Maguindanao, the spirits are the ultimate owners of these bronze instruments.


The Tiruray dance Ka'atung

Numerous dances in the region use kulintang music as an accompaniment. The dances normally refer to scenes of royalty, grace and combat and we note a few of them here. A famous dance (thanks to its popularization by the Bayanihan Dance Troupe), is called Kasingkil, also known as the Princess Dance or the Royal Maranao Fan Dance used by both the Maguindanao and Maranao. It’s an escape dance referring to the art of moving one’s feet, swaying one’s hips, manipulating fans and weaving their feet in and out of two clicking bamboo poles (poles usually come in multiples of four). Fans are said to be a new traditions, perhaps imported from Japan or China… originally dancers would use bare hands or colorful handkerchiefs. The dance is usually performed by a girl of royal blood intend on advertising herself to would-be-suitors for her future marriage.

(left and right): Students of the Spring ETHS 545 Class of 2006 practicing the Maguindanao/Maranao dance Kasingkil upon two pairs of bamboo poles.

Kasingkil is said to have been named after the singuel or singkil, the leg bracelets or anklets of either silver, nickel or brass with chiming bells used by the pagan tribes of Mindanao (The Maranao do not use them in their daily lives). Singkil also refer to voluntarily or accidentally entangling one’s feet in either vines or tall grass.

Though Kasingkil was popularized by residents of the Basak region for celebrations and festival proposes, Kasingkil is said to have roots that go way back into the realm of legend. According to a Darangen epic, in the land of Bembaran, there was a brave hero-prince, Paramata Bantogan, who was visiting others domains looking for beautiful princesses to pick up. The diwatas (gods of Bembaran) objected to his gallivanting, believing his departure left the security of Bembaran at risk to invasion. The diwatas therefore thought of a plan for keeping him in the region by using magic and a beautiful local princess to keep him in town. They kidnapped Princess Gandingan, placing her in a forest in the path of the wandering prince. As he passed on his way to his ladies, the gods began an earthquake underneath the princess’ feet. The princess, fearful for her life, ran but not in an awkward way, but in a graceful manner, avoiding the obstacles of tumbling rocks and falling tress in her path, causing the dear prince to chase after her. And it is in this dance, Kasingkil, that imitates this graceful mannerisms with the clapping bamboo as substitutes for the trembling rocks (recently, men holding the bamboo sticks would have war shields (klongs) to represent the shaking of the trees).

For the Tausug, their princess dance is called Dayang-Dayang.

(left and right): The Tausug dance Pangalay performed by Caroline Cabading-Isidro.

Perhaps the most famous of all Tausug dances (thanks to the works of the Bayanihan Dance Troupe) in this dance called, Pangalay. Performed mainly during weddings or other festive events, Pangalay has been considered one of the most distinctively Asian of all their dances because dancers must possess dexterity and flexibility of their shoulders, elbows, and wrist joints (a plasticity considered attractive to the male sex). This slow dance, where dancers are perceived to be in an almost trance-like state, can either be danced by a couple or atop two bamboo poles carried on the shoulders of four men (known as Pangalay Ha Pattong). Scholars believe this dance which imitates of the movements of the birds and fishes in the Tausug world, either originated from the neighboring Samal or was a legacy of the Balinese. The Samal also have the Pangalay dance, called Umaral or Igal and they could use bamboo castanets as substitutes for long fingernails.

(left and right): The Maguindanao version of the dance, Kapamalongmalong, performed by Caroline Cabading-Isidro.

There are a host of other dances depicting one’s gracefulness and decorum throughout the region. For the Maranao, Kapamalongmalong is a dance depicting the different way of wearing a malong. Kasadoratan is a dance depicting a royal and graceful walking along with the swaying of hands (known as kakikin-kain) usually for girls in-waiting. Kasanduayan is a dance for a group of girls who carry a fan in their left hand and a scarf in their right. Maglanka is a noble women dance found among the Tausug and the Samal/Bajau, where a girl would act coy and shy while dancing with a fan in each hand, making this known among the Samal/Bajau as a flirtation dance as well.

Sagayan is both a Maguindanao and Maranao war dance, depicting in dramatic fashion the steps their hero, Prince Bantugan took upon wearing his armaments, the war he fought in and his subsequent victory afterwards. Sagayan comes from the Tausug word of sagay, meaning head-hunter, someone used by mothers to scare their children into good behavior.

(left and right): The Maranao dance Sagayan performed by Master Kalanduyan and Mitchell Yangson.

Another Maranao dance involving warriors, in particular Bantugan, is Karatong, dance which depicts him, fighting evil spirits who he can only hear, but not see. During the dance, the dancer would be caught in a trance trying to hear the voice of the spirits in the sounds of a gaddang that is held by one man and hit by another. This dance is becoming a rarity due to increased adherence to Islamic teachings. The Karatong also has been interpreted as a preparation dance for holy war, jihad.

The Tausug also have two warrior dances which are differentiated by the meaning of each dance. In Bojjak, (in Tausug dialect can be translated to mean spear, sword or war) a dancer expresses his sentiments and feelings before engaging in battle. In Silat/Kuntaw, the dancer expresses his prowess as a warrior, first showing off his hand-to-hand combat skills then his ability to use the kris, in an effort to drum up the spirit of his fellow warriors while at the same time, placing fear in their enemies. Silat (an Indonesian term for their martial arts) has been noted as akin to Thai boxing or Japanese judo or karate and it has been suggested the ancient Malay-dance-form was a legacy of the Balinese’s presence in the Sulu. A similar dance is called pagkuntaw found among the Samal/Bajau that is focused on a youngsters training in the art of self defense and is equivalent to Silat.

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(left and right): The Tiruray dance Ka'atung performed by Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble members and SFSU students.

Agung ensembles are also used to accompany various dances where horizontal-row gongs are absent like among the Tiruray. Sayaw Mant’ag Kanogan is known as the Tiruray courtship dance in which a man would secure a young woman. In the dance, a man and woman would dance about a turban on the ground and only until the girl picks up the turban who she have finally accepted him. Sayaw sa Kailawan is known as the Tiruray war dance, a dance where two men armed with sword and shield in hand would act out a skirmish while posing with one of them dying in the end. Sayaw sa Bulawi is known as a rivalry dance, which is identical to the Kailawan Dance except that a lady would move evasively between the two men until one finally wins her over. All these dances require music featuring four karatungs in the background, two being played by women and the other two by men. The dance that doesn’t require the four background karatungs is their bird dance, where the karatungs imitate birdcalls while the dancers portray the bird’s graceful movements.

Traditionally, kulintang music was never thought by a teacher. Generally, children learned by exposure to the music, observing adults playing the compositions during performances and imitating them by rote on the instruments they would pick up afterwards. This was the most common way for learning the pieces but not the only traditional way. Another way requires a learning apprentice to memorize a pattern of mnemonic (kamblala), then articulate it on the instrument while singing the pattern. The final way was simply have someone hold/guides one’s hands over the gongs, thereby imparting correct physical coordination as well (Some teachers like Gionda, have done both, singing patterns while guiding hands of students). Maranao women would often refuse to do the latter for men perhaps because they were either uncomfortable being close to a man due to Islamic customs or believed that they considered the kulintang not suitable for a male member of their family.

For most players, the amount repertoire they knew was normally on the average player of five to six songs. Some women though, who were interested in using the kulintang as a aspect of marriage-ability would know upwards of 20 pieces and those really gifted would know upwards of 50 pieces. Generally, the attribute one uses to judge if one is a good player was if they are able to play a pieces without looking at the gongs while they are struck. One was considered an expert kulintang player once they have achieved a high degree of fluency in kagkulintang (the musical language of kulintang ensemble music), using that fluency to fool other coplayers in the ensemble.


This is a small selection of Maguindanaon and Maranao pieces for the Kulintang. back to top

HOW TO USE We use an unconventional numbering system for notating the pieces with the largest gong labeled "1" and ascending in order to the smallest gong labeled "8." The right hand plays the "R" part of the stanza and the left hand plays the "L" part of the stanza. Players are suggested to sit with the lowest gong (1) situated to the left of them and the highest gong (8) situated to the right of them (If you are left handed, it is possible to play the instrument the other way around). Stanzas are usually repeated twice (three times for practice) while introductions, transitions and endings are never repeated. Use the "Sequence of Stanzas" to help navigate what stanza comes next in the piece.

PLEASE NOTE Since kulitang music is an oral tradition, we emphasize that one should only use these scripts to help in the memorization process. Only when one can play a piece using only their memory on the kulintang (or sarunay), is one considered able to play the piece.


To understand the influences kulintang music endured in order to become the established musical instrument of the region, a look into the groups and the history of the Southern Philippines is necessary.

(short list of the groups involved in kulintang music)

The Maguindanao presently occupy the provinces situated about basin of the largest river in Mindanao - the Pulangi. Their association with the river basin has given them their name - Maguindanao, literally meaning “the people of the flood plain.” Out of all the groups’ adherent to Islam in the Philippines, the Maguindanao are the largest.

The Maranao presently occupy provinces near Lake Lanao (Lanao del Sur). Not surprisingly, it is due their proximity to this lake that they have been called the “people of the lake.” The Maranao are dedicated Muslims, known for their flamboyance and their the most identifiable symbol - the sarimanok - considered by the Maranao as a sultan-standard, a charm indentured with special powers against evil spirits.

The Tausug mainly are settled on Jolo, an island on the Sulu Archipelago, a mountainous chain of islands stretching from Mindanao to Sabah. It’s because of their proximity to the sea that they have been called the tao-sug (translated meaning the “People of the Sea” or “Men of the Current”) which is where their name was derived from. Like the Maguindanao and Maranao, they are also dedicated Muslims, known for their Okkil art and fearlessness - in the early 1900’s, the Americans found it necessary to invent the Colt 45 for the Colt 38 was found not to be potent enough to subdue them.

The Samal and the Bajau are mainly concentrated on the central islands of the Sulu Archipelago, from the Siasi island group to the island of Tawi-Tawi, living mainly on the sea in houses on stilts creating floating villages. They’re connotation as “sea-gypsies” has made them known as great sea-farers, fisherman and pearl divers. The biggest distinction between them stemming from their beliefs; the Bajau generally had not converted over to Islam while the Samal have.

The Tiruray live in the northern part of the Cotabato Cordillera, a range of mountains situated along the southwestern coast of Mindanao. Unlike the Maguindanao, they have not converted to Islam and legend has it that the Tiruray have a common ancestry with the lower-lying Maguindanao. According to the legend, there were two brothers, Mamalu and Tambonaoway. Mamalu, the older brother, unwilling to convert to Islam agreed with the younger brother to escape into the hills. And so, that’s where Mamalu’s descendents remained, in the mountains while the descendents of Tambonaoway submitted to Islam became the present day Maguindanao.

Generally, Philippine history has been separated into three sections: starting with the arrival of Magellan to the shores of the Philippines. Because kulintang music pre-dates the fossil prints of that European explorer, it would be unwise to use his landing as a logical starting point for history of the Southern Philippines. Instead, its history would be separated into five different periods, starting with the Philippines ancestral history.

1. Southern Philippines Pre-Islamic History (>14th century)

The history of the Southern Philippines could start with the Indonesians who migrated to the islands around 3000 to 500 years BC. A second migration of Malays sailing from the Sulewasi began around 300 to 200 years BC, bringing with them the precursors to what will finally become kulintang music. This period of migration, where much of the populace believed in environmental spirits ended with the arrival of Sharif Makdum, a Muslim missionary to the Sulu, in the year 1380.

2. The Islamization of the Southern Philippines (1380-1578)

As Muslim missionaries spread Islam throughout the Southern Philippines, Islam’s importance became threefold. It created the first political districts in the regions (sultanates) headed by a slew of datus (leaders), brought art, knowledge and communication with the outside world and provided a cohesiveness between peoples, via their religion, to unite against foreign invaders.

Though Sharif Makdum arrived in the Sulu, the influence of Islam in Maguindanao only intensified with the arrival of Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan, a century later in 1475. Known as an Arab-Malay preacher from the royal house of Malacca, his immigration to this island made him known as the greatest Mohamamedan adventurer to ever trot on Maguindanao soil. He founded the city of Cotabato, (translated to mean “fort made of stone”) Maguindanao’s capital city and became the datu of Maguindanao. The son of Sharif Abidin, a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed who emigrated to the Malay Peninsula, he and his brothers became the founders of great Sultanates throughout the region. His oldest brother established the sultanate of Brunei, the second oldest the sultanate of Sulu and him, the youngest (the meaning of the word “Kabungsuan”) the sultanate of Maguindanao. By the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan to the islands in 1521, the 16th of March, the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao by then had already been flourishing.

3. Struggle against European Colonization - The “Moro Wars” (1579 - 1898)

With the arrival of the Spanish, the Islamization of the central and northern Philippines was effectively halted. The Spanish began Christianizing those in the north and soon after sent expeditionary forces south to conquer the Muslims, starting with Governor Francisco de Sande in 1579 to conquer Maguindanao, beginning what is now referred to as the “Moro Wars.” The expeditions failed culminating in 1596 with the death of Captain Rodriguez de Figueroa who was given sole right to colonize Mindanao. In response to these continued invasions, Muslim groups including the Maguindanao, Tausug and Maranao formed an alliance under the guidance of Sultan Kudarat to fend off the Spanish threat. During the early 1600’s, the alliance held, fending off Spanish assaults and raiding Visayan towns who collaborated with their enemy but by 1638, the armies and fleets of Kudarat suffered major losses ending with the capture of Jolo in 1638. Though they had won, the Spanish were forced to withdraw due to more urgent matters at home so for another 80 years, Kudarat was able to consolidate his forces. It was only after 1730 the sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao began falling under the sphere of Spanish influence, with Sultan Kudarat II finally ceding Maguindanao to the Spanish in 1860 and the Tausug doing the same 33 years later.

4. Integration into the American protectorate (1899-1945)

Spain’s influence upon the Muslims was short lived once Dewey made his “daring” attack on the capital of Manila, seizing the Philippine colony for the Americans. At first, the Muslims in the South didn’t believed they were part of the Philippines and signed the Bates Agreement in 1899 (between Brigadier General Bates and Sultan Kiram II of Jolo), a mutual non-aggression pact where the Americans would recognize the authority of the sultans in exchange for security for Christian Filipinos. They weren’t aware that at the conclusion of the Spanish American War, the Philippines, including all the Muslim territories, were included in package deal worth $20 million dollar between Spain and American under the Treaty of Paris. Filipinos tried desperately to remove these new colonizers, even declaring independence on the wonderfully bright day of June the 12th, 1898 but the struggle for independence (known as the Philippine American War), which cost hundreds of thousands of Filipinos lives, waned after 10 years beginning a period of the Philippines as the stewards of America.

Unlike the Spanish, the Americans were the first to have direct rule of the south and their influence over Muslim life was indeed profound. Changes included the introduction of public school systems, creation of head tax, the abolition of slavery and the increased migration of Christian Filipinos to Muslim lands. Muslim dissatisfaction grew during the early to mid 1900’s as more power was transferred to Christian Filipinos, polygamy was deemed illegal and Muslim inherited property law were invalidated.

5. Internal Strife of a Independent Country (1946-Present)

After World War II, the Philippines was finally given independence but Muslims continued to feel that same disconnect during the American period between themselves and the newly created government in Manila, 600 miles away. Things finally unraveled in 1965 between the Government and the Moros when Muslim soldiers were eliminated because of their refusal to invade Sabah in an incident known as the Jabidah Massacre. The incident lead to formation of separatist movements such as the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), founded in 1969 by the TaoSug and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) founded by the Maguindanao a few years later. Civil War ensued throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Peace settlements were forged such as the Tripoli Agreement in 1976 in the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM for short) but those talks were short lived. It was only until 1989, did the Organic Act of Mindanao finally established the ARMM (consisting of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) but fighting continues on and off over disagreement over these policies until this day.

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Velasco, Zonia Elvas. "Kulintangan." Palabunibuniyan Gongs. 04 June 1997. Filipino Folk Arts Theatre. 26 Aug 2006 http://members.aol.com/TaraCelest/kulintang_instruments.html.

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This is the lastest citation for "Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines" textbook. Use when retaining information for this site.

Mercurio, Philip Dominguez. "ETHS 545: Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines." PnoyAndTheCity: A center for Kulintang - A home for Pasikings. 2. Ed. Master Danongan Sibay Kalanduyan. San Francisco: 2006. http://www.pnoyandthecity.blogspot.com

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The ETHS 545 Class of Spring 2006

The ETHS 545 Class of Fall 2005

The ETHS 545 Class of Fall 2005

The ETHS 545 Class of Spring 2005

Good place to check out instruments for sale and information about lesson/tutoring opportunities for the kulintang.

(left): Antique Bronze Gandingan (4 pieces) formerly used by the Kalanduyan Clan. For price and availability contact Dana Nunez for more information. (right): Brass Gandingan Set(4 pieces) available for 500 USD. Comes without a stand: contact Danongan S. Kalanduyan for more information.

(left): Antique Kulintang Set (8 pieces) formerly used by the Kalanduyan Clan. For price and availability contact Dana Nunez for more information. (right): Brass Kulintang Set (8 pieces) available for 500 USD. Comes without a stand: contact Danongan S. Kalanduyan for more information.

(left): Brass Gandingan Set (4 pieces) available for 500 USD: contact Alleluia Panis for more information. (right): Brass Agung Set (2 pieces) available for 500 USD: contact Alleluia Panis for more information.

(left): Brass sarunays painted gold (8 pieces) available for 80 USD: contact Alleluia Panis for more information. (right): Brass sarunays painted gold (8 pieces) available for 65 USD. Comes without a stand: contact Danongan S. Kalanduyan for more information.

(left): Antique Gandingan Set (4 pieces) available for 1200 USD. This is a small bronze gandingan set, originally used by the Kalanduyan Clan with a history of tours in Europe, Singapore and the United States: contact Alleluia Panis for more information. (right): Various sized brass kulintangs (8 pieces) available for 300 USD and up. Comes without a stand: contact Danongan S. Kalanduyan for more information.

Interested in learning pieces on the kulintang and are within the San Francisco Bay Area? You're in luck. Master Danongan Kalanduyan,is currently offering private kulintang lessons in the Greater Bay Area. Space is limited so sign up now. Fees are negotiable. If you are interested in this once in a lifetime experience, contact Danongan S. Kalanduyan personally.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

More than 7,000 ways to define Filipino

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

After my article, “A ‘proud, fake’ Filipino’s open letter to Arnold Clavio,” came out, I received a ton of feedback via email and Twitter – some in support and some in defense of his comments.

What really struck me was that everyone came with their own definition of what a Filipino meant to them – whether it was based on ancestry/blood, birthplace, duration in the Philippines, knowledge of the language, appreciation of the culture or some combination of the above. Many were adamant about being either too inclusive or too exclusive; the result was a standoff between local and foreign Filipinos that was nowhere near getting resolved.

So I thought maybe this was approached all wrong. Maybe the debate shouldn’t have been about What but revolved around Why. Why does it even matter? Why is it necessary to define the term “Filipino” so rigorously in the first place?

Take the case of Tim Tebow as presented by The FilAm writer A. Mabini. In it, Mr. Mabini suggests that Tebow may qualify as an American Filipino based on his birthplace and love for his birth country which he mentions numerous times in his press conferences. But by the definition of others, Tebow would fail on many levels. As I see it, why does it matter?

How does he threaten the ideal Filipino that it is necessary to exclude him? What harm would be done?
Some Filipino foreigners have immediately suggested a theory related to certain crustacean for this attitude of exclusion but I will refrain from going there. Attitudes against foreign brethren aren’t without precedent. Going back to the 19th century, the Japanese who left Japan were considered castoffs, seen as tainted and were not allowed to return home due to the Sakoku policy of isolationism.

During the fall of Sukarno, Indonesians of Chinese ancestry who were forced to leave Indonesia and repatriate themselves to China were also never accepted as “true” Chinese back in China. Many were forced to toil the desolate interior of the country as second-class citizens and were labeled as “foreign devils” and “half-breeds.” Could current attitudes be inklings of these former ways of thinking? Perhaps…

I only ask because there remains many — and I mean many — Filipinos in America who continue to naively believe they are “real” Filipinos, some driving around with Philippine stickers on their cars, when in fact, many wouldn’t even be considered “real” at all. Just imagine the Matrix Moment when someone, say a Filipino Morpheus, tells them the truth by pulling them over and handing them that red pill.

Knock, knock! A short man in dark trench coat waited along a busy stretch of I-880 as the driver rolled down his window. Then the short man spoke:

“Excuse me sir,” Filipino Morpheus said. “I noticed you have questionable stickers and tags.”

“Huh?” the driver, Neo, said a bit perplexed. “No. I just renewed my registration at the DMW on the…”

“No, No. I’m referring to the sticker with eight rays of the sun and another sticker of what seems to be a map of the Philippines tagged to your rear window.”

Neo looked back. “Oh those?” He turned back then smiled proudly. “Why, it’s ‘cause I’m a Filipino, sir.”

“Filipino?” Morpheus hesitated then stared at Neo through his darken shades. Then he sternly replied, “Proof of Filipino-ness please?”

“Proof of what? Filipino-ness? Well look at me,” Neo said. “Aren’t I…”

“Were you born here?” Morpheus said cutting him off.


“And you were raised here?”


“Yea, sorry sir. No exposure to the Philippines.”

“Wait a minute, just wait,” Neo said, hoping to explain himself. “My parents were from the provinces of…”

“Irrelevant, sir. You were never exposed to the culture of which you speak of.”

“But I could understand a little Ilocano and Panga…”

“Again irrelevant, sir. Knowing one or two of the languages from afar doesn’t replace the fact you haven’t had the camaraderie with fellow Filipinos back in the Philippines.”

“But I watched Wowowee many times with my lola before,” Neo pleaded.

“Wowowee?” Morpheus smirked. “What? The variety show with all those ‘fake’ Filipinos holding signs that read, “Carson, CA” or “Jersey City, NJ”? That was just a ploy specifically designed to skew the minds of Filipino foreigners into believing they were accepted as one of the locals. If only they knew.”

“But… but.” Neo was at a loss for words.

“But what?” Morpheus said a bit irritated as he watched Neo’s head slump helplessly onto the steering wheel. “I’m sorry sir. You have no proof of Filipino-ness. You have two weeks from today to remove your stickers.”

Morpheus then turned and proceeded to walk away.

“But why?” muttered the downtrodden Neo.

Morpheus stopped upon hearing Neo and returned to the driver’s window.

“I know how you feel,” Morpheus said. “But unfortunately, being a Filipino is like having a credit score. It’s always searched for and it shadows you for the rest of your life. As of now Neo, your Filipino credit score is based on certain qualifying factors and unfortunately, having not long enough of a history in the Philippines is a major setback on your Filipino ‘worthiness.’”

“But I eat ‘sinigang’ twice a week,” Neo mumbled.

Morpheus grinned. “As I said before, Neo, you could stuff yourself with tamarind packs all you want, but minor improvements like that would do little to improve your score and as such some Filipinos will continue to decline you as one of their own.”

“But Morpheus,” Neo said. “Why do we even need a system like this?”

Morpheus stopped and turned. “Why? Even I don’t know why Neo? Perhaps you’ll need to ask a ‘real’ Filipino that one.”

See this article,"More than 7,000 ways to define Filipino," in The FilAM. Click here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A ‘proud, fake’ Filipino’s open letter to Arnold Clavio

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio
Dear Arnold Clavio,

A dear colleague of mine recently made me aware of comments you made about Filipino players on the Philippine National Football Team playing at the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal. You claimed those on the team are not Filipino due to the fact some have not lived in the Philippines.

Though I will not debate you on whether or not these players are qualified to play for the Philippine National Team based on citizenship, I was quite curious by your comments concerning Filipinos. You say (paraphrasing of course) that if Filipinos by blood have not grown up in the Philippines, they are not Filipino “culturally” since it’s neither in their “heart” or “head.” Basically, you are calling them fake Filipinos.

Well, on behalf of all these lost “Filipino” souls unable to experience the Philippines themselves, I would like to personally apologize to you, Mr. Clavio, for insulting your culture and insinuating they had any relation to it. It seems because of their absence, they were unable to savor the morsels of ‘kwek-kwek’ in the morning from a pot of questionable frying oil, get hustled, smashed, squeezed into a steel box of transportation you call a jeepney, to jump from rock to rock on a makeshift walkway to get over a river of rapids that you once called a street, to get snubbed by a cab driver after telling them you wanted the meter on or to be attacked by a flying cockroach at 3 a.m. in front of a triage of dying tuberculosis patients.

I have experienced all of this, Mr. Clavio. I spent four years going to medical school at MCU (Manila Central University). Perhaps you have seen it while using the Yellow LRT line extension and for some odd reason, believe it or not, I actually enjoyed it. But of course, since I was not born in the Philippines and only retained my citizenship dually in 2007, I was unfortunately born into a culture much different than yours and therefore I am not qualified to be Filipino.

Being born in the Bay Area placed many setbacks on me being what you would call a “true” Filipino. As a small boy, my parents always shopped at SM Daly City (aka. SerraMonte SC) where I saw all these short flat-nosed people and we would buy food from this place called Goldilocks where they sold ‘lumpia,’ ‘pancit,’ ‘lechon,’ ‘nilaga’ and ‘kare-kare,’ my favorite.

I know, Mr. Clavio. Such a strange culture we have here in America where a white girl with yellow locks can be seen selling chocolate meat (‘dinuguan’) in Styrofoam. Then I go to my relatives’ homes and see them cooking ‘pinakbet,’ ‘kilawin’ and ‘pinapaitan’ while calling out to please open the windows for the sake of the clothes! I know that this is all so foreign to you. But breathe, just breathe!
Some of the kids I grew up with learned this strange dance called ‘tinikling,’ where you jump through slapping bamboo sticks. Here in America, we have masters teaching a strange martial art called ‘kali/eskrima ‘and a strange musical art known as ‘kulintang’?

‘Kulintang,’ Mr. Clavio? Do you even know what that is? It’s a musical instrument made up of eight gongs; it’s from an island called Mindanao. I apologize immensely because not only can I play it, I’m writing the first book about ‘kulintang’ music. I know, I mean, what culture have I dived into, right?

I apologize immensely, Mr. Clavio, for being one of these “fake” Filipinos. My forefathers come from a strip of a desert called Ilocos, a hard environment whose people are strangely clannish, unabashedly frugal and supposedly hardworking people. Because of this harsh environment, many left in droves becoming what was called the Manong Generation, the first Filipinos to come to America to pick the pineapples in Hawaii and lettuce in California in the 1930s.
They generally struggled alone with no family until Family Reunification in 1965 allowed them to petition their families — entire barrios even — to the United States. Now with the arrival of medical professions, mainly nurses from the other provinces of the Philippines, the number of these “fake” Filipinos now reaches 4 million (more than the entire province of Pangasinan at 3 million.)

It is no wonder many of these millions would try to connect with those in the Philippines through programming like TFC and GMA Pinoy TV and by sending enormous balikbayan boxes. Have you ever received a balikbayan box, Mr. Clavio? It’s filled with something totally foreign, called corned beef and SPAM! Yuck!

Alas, that doesn’t mean much to you, since obviously none of those who struggled before me and those like me is truly Filipino since this all happened 7,700 miles away from islands which you call home.

Since I am obviously just a “fake” Filipino being born in San Francisco, California and NOT San Francisco Del Monte, Quezon City, I guess you would like to experience how to live as one.

Fine. Get your a** over to your local Victory bus station (there is one near Araneta and another in Caloocan in the Victory Mall complex) and buy a ticket towards a place called Baguio. Before you reach Baguio though, wake the heck up and get off in a province called Pangasinan. There, I will personally greet you with a pot of boiling water and say, “Welcome to the United States. Would you like ‘ampalaya’ leaves or ‘saluyot’ in your ‘dinengdeng’”?

See this article,"A ‘proud, fake’ Filipino’s open letter to Arnold Clavio," in The FilAM. Click here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Art of Trickling

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Peeing. Don’t be ashamed to admit it. For ages, this unique art form has been passed on from generation to generation. Its golden arches of high-octane rich urea, springing fruitfully from between the loins of countless millions like the geysers found in Yellowstone, eliciting the minds of hundreds of dreamers seeking that elusive feeling of total emancipation only felt thru the arduous release of bodily fluids.

Though many of you are familiar with the poignant background sounds of rushing water accompanying your release of contents, technically, the idea of squandering your unique yellowness onto some dejected puddle of water is still a relatively new phenomenon only commonly found in advanced states of toiletrism, like the United States.

Now, let’s say you took out your DeLorean and time warp yourself back to the Philippines in the 50s. After enough time has passed, you might have the urge to pee and you’ll naturally scurry for the nearest toilet but what you may find yourself aiming your yellow rainbow of goodness at is nothing but bare ground.

Well, what happen to the toilet?

Well, unfortunately for you, you didn’t end up in the Philippines. But as my daddy recollected to me on his trips with my grandma to Pampanga, the Philippines found along the roads leading towards the provinces roads notoriously known for their habit of turning their travelers legally blonde.

Apparently, unlike those cheesy rest stops along Interstate 5 where you pretend to buy the whooper with cheese but instead hastily sneak into the lavatory unnoticed, in the Philippines, the idea of sneaking into your roadside Burger King for a little trickle was unheard of. This is because, not only was plumbing nonexistent in such places but there also wasn’t any Burger Kings along the way to Pampanga.

But don’t let the nonexistence of Burger Kings fool you. Filipinos even then still had rest stops. Just without the toilet bowls.

If you don’t know, apparently old women in really long skirts were known to halt the bus completely in its tracks, get off in a timely manner, pick a nice spot of tick-infested grass adjacent to the bus, spread their legs to the wind and well… just go, instantly fertilizing the landscape beneath them, giving new meaning to the term “organically grown.”

Whenever I hear stories about the Philippines like this, I’ve always thought that would be a strange thing to experience, the sight of a number of old women all of a sudden peeing next to a bus, the idea of which could tickle and frightened the imagination all at the same time. Wouldn’t it be funny to have had that same experience?

I guess. But always be careful what you wish for. It may come true.

“O good lord,” I thought.

I switched the headlights of the car off. Thank goodness for the creation of darkness, or this would have been too blinding to see.

Me, my Grandma Uding, and my Auntie Rosing were waiting patiently in the car for my Uncle Milo to arrive from our trip from the farmlands of Stockton.

Apparently, the combination of my speediness over the ranges of Livermore and my uncle’s more conservative speed at the limit, created a space-time continuum long enough for boredom to set in. In accordance with the laws of physics, after a certain amount of time, such as a 70-minute trip from the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, there is so much a senior could do to hold off the urge to pee.

With the choice of actually holding it, applying those laws led one to a simple solution. Go pee now.

And that’s exactly what my grandma did, peeing away in full view of the emblem of my car, sending the liquid mess flowing beneath the hum of my car engine.

I guess she didn’t realize that peeing in front a vehicle with its headlights blaring at dusk, would definitely expose some inappropriate goods to any innocent travelers driving by. Whatever the case, I definitely wasn’t going to touch my tires for a while.

My auntie couldn’t wait any longer either, sneaking around to the front of the house where it was dimmer to do the same deed. Come to think of it, no wonder why the grass is so green in the front yard of my Uncle Milo’s house. They used a specially formulated fertilizer filled with all the required nutrients coming straight from the Philippines.

To tell you the truth, the whole of my family seems to have a fascination with the urinal side of things. My mommy loves peeing anywhere that’s feasible.

Even when there are clean, well-maintained bathrooms available for the sitting, like in rest stops scattered along Virginia Highways, the thought of actually having to walk there is quite intimidating; intimidating enough that she’ll rather resort to simply squatting next to the car and taking a leak, even with the presence of numerous big rigs lined up nearby.

I guess, the idea of someone catching them in their very private act, makes the peeing an even more exciting escapade than it already is. And if opening the door of the car and lifting her worn buttocks from the grips of the car seat risked too much physical effort, she was more than likely to take out from underneath one of the front seats her handy ‘pee-pee’ bowl, that she usually ‘borrows’ from her work, and do this deed indoors.

Apparently, nothing beats the thrill of peeing while lodged inside a car going at 60 mph while large SUVs zoom by.

As unhygienic as you may think they are, their sensible, go-with-the-flow behavior does bring home one positive feature with it.

In their ingenuity to find other means other than the neoclassic water bowl procedure Americans are used to, my relatives have not only been able to avoid the stresses that holding ‘it’ requires but also were able to manifest exactly what their foremothers have been practicing next to buses years before.

Now, kids who’ve never been able to venture to their homeland could, in very strange way, still experience how it feels to be in the Philippines by way of the habits many of their relatives continue to still practice.

So if ever you see any of your relatives marking their territory in a national park somewhere, just be happy and smile.

They’re not being unsanitary.

They’re just practicing their culture in unison. - PDM

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Feelin’ the Manongs

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

COOKEVILE, TN — The smell of freshly cut grass. The purr of a humming engine. The utter release of pollen and other known allergens into the placid air.

These are the sights and sound that accompany the tonic, which is lawn mowing. Mention this concept to anyone living beneath the clouds in Daly City and bewilderment ensues.

“Lawn mowing?... What the h**l is a lawn?”

Here, in a city of paved driveways and close-knit houses, the idea of cutting
grass is lost to most. Kids rarely consider it as a chore and most households rarely have the time or the patience to practice it. And I should know… I grew up here.

But my mommy doesn’t live in this D.C. She decided to pursue occupation closer to the other D.C., Washington D.C. Just drive west and south for a few hours and you’ll find us.

This is the South, an area where lawns happen to be much more commonplace.
Here, land is easier to come by and rain is much more frequent in occurrence.

Combine both factors and you easily get a recipe for really big, green, strong lawns.

And my mommy should know. Recently, she decided to buy a ranch, which in layman’s terms equals a house with a large front yard and a larger backyard.

In order to mow such a large yard, a new lawn mower should definitely be in order, and boy did we buy a beaut. Given such a machine with such voracious power and brute force, you’d think you be able to take on the world. Or at lest your yard.

That’s what I had thought anyways… when about to take on my mommy’s front yard. I presumed that there’s no way a bunch of tiny, thin grass stalks, even with their numbers, would be able to stop a steel blade toiling at who knows how many rpm.

There was just no way. Of course, this was ignorance from the sweet city of Daly City talking. Like I knew what I’m talking about.

From the get go, a sense of invincibility filled the air. With a crank of the stringy thingy, a black cloud of exhaust emerged from within its bowels, and after ten seconds, the rumblings of a grass-killing machine were finally attained.

Just by holding the shaky handle, the incredible power of the rotating blade could be felt, producing shivers within communities of grass stalks that lay nearby.

I sent the machine on its way, like a pirate on a mission, hacking everything and anything in my way. Grinding through root stubs and the like, nothing seemed to be able to stop the inevitable melee that was about to occur.

The resultant carnage of shivered up grass and weeds thrown to the side, could have made for another environmentalist’s worst nightmare. But I wasn’t an environmentalist. I could have cared less.

For the time being, that sense of invincibility beckoned me to believe I was on top of the world. But that was short lived.

Entering a jungle of grass at knee-high length, the engine started choking.
Invincibility waning? O, I hoped not.

The coughing continued; the lawn mower acting as if struck by some grassy form of pneumonia. It was now spitting out grassy lumps; its days of unyieldingly hacking up grass into fine pieces now behind it.

It seems that trying to chop a highly dense amount grass was jamming the outlet where cut grass was supposed to spew out. O well, I thought.

Then it happened. In a somewhat momentous but expected climax, the engine finally cut out, dying helpless in sea of grass.

The power of steel was finally put to shame; the lawn mower’s blade, once a force to be reckoned with, now became just a lowly piece of hardware brought down by a torrent of steadfast grass stubs.

I felt like I was suddenly placed in a junkyard; expect in this junkyard there was only one piece of junk: a used to be new Troy-built mower.

The struggle with the lawn soon became nauseating. Piles of hay, once at the mercy of the twirling blade, now avenged themselves, accumulating around the lawn mower, becoming so daunting that its very thickness became an obstacle to the small tires that plied over it.

Not only was the tires effected by this gross amount of hay, but the blade as well. Hay sneaked themselves within corners and crevasses inside the machine, immobilizing the blade by jamming it with a harden mass of slush grass.

And the sun’s presence didn’t help ease the situation either. Its constant roasting effect added with an influx of moisture, created an atmosphere of sticky humidity that seemed to arouse an army of mosquitoes that swirled around in a dizzying performance that could either make one crazy or one’s arms bloated, all at the same time.

By the time two hours had passed, only a tenth of front yard had been cut. I rested my arms on the lawn mower’s handle and realized then that this was going to be a very long day.

Now, I could complain and whine all I want. I mean, spending all day pivoting a lawn mower so it could breathe just to realize that within four days, that same grass would have overgrown itself, seemed futile at best.

But if any good came out of this, other than a nice well-maintained lawn, perhaps it was the fact that this experience made me think about the Manongs of the San Joaquin Valley.

Unlike me, this was something which they faced everyday. There was no turning back to get a Pepsi or go to an air conditioner like I did to rest for 30 minutes to regain strength. Through hours of backbreaking work, tirelessly fighting both exhaustion and the excruciating heat, they toiled onward, unfazed by the situation which seemed more hellish than good.

And it may never mean anything to someone reading a sentence of it or two in a history book, but obviously this was an experience impossible to fathom by just reading.

Words would never beat the real experience of actually trying it out, working in the fields, feeling pure exhaustion take over. Just the fact that they were able to endure through it all, made them special in their own rite.

And, as beads of sweat flowed from my forehead, all I’m left to say about their very experience could be summarized into two words.

Simply amazing. – PDM

Monday, April 23, 2012


By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

AN IDLE computer. Two months later, it remains in its stagnant state,
disappointed to find its mouse never yet being used to click on icons, its keyboard never yet being able to hear the riddle of fingertips along its keys and its plush screen never yet having contact with pupils for a sustainable period of time.

Technically, you’d think that if somebody was given such a computer, one that was brand new and highly advanced, filled with all the features one could ask for, that person would instantly be on it, using it to all its capabilities to further their work ethic.

Yeah, but this happens to be my mommy. There’s always an exception to those fundamental rules.

For someone who’s used to typing using only her pointer finger, the expectation that her company had that she’d being able to input progress notes directly into the network in a timely manner, was pure lunacy.

But the company tried to be inventive, trying a voice–recognition system that would make it possible for her to do dictations directly into the computer, without the need to type at all. The idea seems flawless except for the fact that her company forgot to account for one tiny factor that could make or break this wonderfully made marriage of Filipino and computer.

“Peer-pressure. Peer-pressure,” my mommy recited into the microphone.
The electronic message on the screen disagreed though, differing by just a tad:

Beer-pressure. Beer-Pressure.

“PeeRRRRRR,” my mommy said, this time with more clarity.
BeeRRRRRR, the computer insisted.

Well, what do you know? I guess that tiny factor wasn’t tiny after all.
Say hello to the Filipino accent, capable of causing one to incrementally curse out voice-recognition technology for its inability to distinguish the various combinations of consonants the Filipino tongue may throw at it.

For the Filipino, newly acquainted to the American shores, such an accent presented an obstacle that must be overcome, a hurdle into the society known as America, an apparent ‘original sin’ that those from back home were uniquely endowed with that must be cleansed though some form of ‘baptism’ of corrected pronunciation in order to be understood by the regular Joes of Americana.

Fear of the ‘accent’ rested solely on the belief that it was supposedly less advantageous for the one blessed with it, causing one to lose favor immediately when sent into an already fierce American job market where first impressions almost always made the difference.

So in fear was my mommy of its unpleasantness that she maintained a strict policy of never speaking to me in any Filipino tongue, whether Tagalog or Ilocano, to purge whatever effects her inflicted tongue would have on me, a consequence which has lead to the unfortunate disabling of my ability to speak Tagalog to this very day.

With so much hype over a mere difference between a few consonant pronunciations, it does make me wonder whether or not Filipinos have forgotten that their accent isn’t the only one out there. Widen your perspective, you’ll find that the ‘Filipino’ accent is apparently just another accent in a spectrum of accents, from Jamaican to Japanese, each of them filled with their own unique expressions, their own styles and mannerisms, even their own faults.

But even with this much diversity, the sad part about all of this is that Filipinos continue to look down upon their own accent negatively while all those other accents are slowly being accepted by the American culture in which they come in contact with.

The British accent has been embraced by Americans with reverence and homage, while the Aussie way of talking seems to have become a fancy way to spark interest in a bunch of crocodiles with bad tempers. Even the Indian accent, although in a more stereotypical fashion, has gotten some limelight in the American media forever locked in the archives of the Simpsons or found in cabbies on games like Grand Theft Auto III.

As much as all the negative publicity, Filipinos continually surround their own infamous accent with, chastising it as one of the most decrepit of them all.

Let me tell you from experience that I’ve heard much worst. If you’d only take a trip to the city known for its chessesteaks and hoagies, Philadelphia, you’ll find an accent that may make you want to carry earplugs handy.

I had a Puerto Rican classmate who had the hots supposedly for one of the girls in a region of Philadelphia known as South Philly. As great as she looked and as everything, she had that really prominent Philadelphian/Italian mice-like accent that once she spoke up, let’s just say my classmate wanted to do something that would pipe her down for the English she produced was unbearable.
In reality though, it really doesn’t matter whose accent is supposedly better or worst.

For the British person, who moved to America for some reason or another, the last thing their intent on doing is rubbing out their accent, replacing with the more placid American one.

For them, their accent is what makes him or her British in nature, just as British the Union Jack is or the Beatles are.

And Filipinos should do the same. I’m not saying you can’t correct your pronunciation when need be but you also must realize that ‘unique’ accent of yours is part of your culture, one of the things that makes you Filipino, just like your flat nose or your appetite for vinegar.

If you could make that connection, then perhaps finally the Filipino accent can also be accepted just like any other accent that must be dealt with as opposed to being one that must be hidden away and annihilated for hearing’s sake.

I know. So, some of you sound like Tony the Tiger when saying ‘girl,’ and maybe your kids like playing tricks on you by asking you to say words like “hippopotamus” or “beach,” knowing full well you’ll never get it right but when it comes down to it…

It’s your accent. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just be proud of it.

You’ll TANK me later. – PDM

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Expedition into Filipino 101

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Now, I’ve gone to SF State for three semesters now but (surprisingly) I haven’t really divulged myself into the Filipino scene yet.

I mean, the Asian American History class I took had a good rise on the make-up of the Filipino-American community and how we came about, but that was basically a history lesson. Nothing really self-involving there.

So, here I went, adding a class with Daniel P. Gonzales at the helm. Our first assignment basically was, as he said himself, “Look up origin explanations (of Filipinos)… historical or mythical.”

I thought to myself, ‘What… historical or mythical?’

I mean, I’ve never heard anything from my parents or grandparents, telling me
of the mythical stories from back home that related to our ‘origin’. The mythical was usually biblically-enhanced, consisting of Adam and Eve getting created by the Almighty and after their glorious big bang, little brown people washed ashore in Manila Bay from some ark, two by two, and tada… the society known as Filipino was born.

Basically, you created your own ‘history’; let your imagination run wild, because obviously, there was no mention of Filipinos in the Bible.

Of course, there does exist to my surprise ‘our’ very own mythical stories. But, at least from my perspective, nobody explained anything to me, either because no one in my family cares about them or they were only spoken about on a need to know basis. And, apparently since I didn’t need to know, I just never knew. So, I have an excuse.

So, researching I went and no… I didn’t do the new trick, which is to simply go googling like many have. Instead, I went for the classic way of researching… wet-thumbing my way through pages of dusty information in a library somewhere.
Unfortunately though, the Filipino history section at my school happens to be hella small.

It consisted of only six rows of books, or technically less than a bookcase full. In comparison, Vietnam, a country with roughly the same number of people as us, has four bookcases full of historical information, many of them much more recent looking as well.

Of course, much of their book collection seems on the more graphic end with titles mostly attuned to the hum of “Home to War” to “The Killing Zone.” But I don’t care about that… no matter what, the bottom line is, they still got more books!

As I dusted though book after book, I realized that looking for the mythical part of our history was tough to find, especially since most of the collection divulges more into the historical context of our origins.

According to Wernstedt in The Philippine Island World, basically the first Filipinos were wanderers of some sort; kinda like the people you met who first get off the plane at SFO and are confused as to where to go next.

Who knows what made them settle in this lowland? Perhaps it was fate or maybe it was the smell of a pig struck by lightening that drove them here by the droves and in doing so, created the first Filipino barbeque. You never know. We could only speculate.

The first wanderers, according to Keesing in The Philippines, were a group called the ‘Austroliods.’ This race, noted to have the same racial strain as “the white peoples of Europe”, simply passed through; not very interested in the tocino and longanisa to follow. They missed out… terribly.

Next came the Negritos, noted in text as “dark-skinned frizzy-haired pygmies.” According to Alip’s text, Political and Cultural History of the Philippines, these little people were the first wanderers to have actually settled down, hunting and fishing as they went.

Wendsredt states that much of them, after crossing the lowland of Sundarland, were subsequently pushed into mountainous places thanks to later immigration.

The last of the wanderers, were the proto-Malays, who like the Negritos, were also ancestors of the Aetes, according to Agoncillo in the History of the Filipino People.

Keesing suggest these folks with straighter hair and having a more Mongoloid affinity were also hella short as well. He suggests that the only importance of these groups is that thanks to the mixing of blood, much of the Filipino race is short.

Great observation! Of course, it’s not like I couldn’t have realized that myself every now and then.

Alas, the ice age ended sending the Philippines into the archipelago state we all know and love. Proto-type kayaks soon raced for the newly formed islands for they were the new means to this water-bound land.

Indonesians were the first to immigrate here nearly 5,000 years ago, and according to Alip, came to the Philippines in two waves that were labeled just like blood type: A and B.

Type A were a tall, slender, well-built people, lighter in skin, who according to Keesing, were farmers, fisherman and ‘great’ warriors. So great was this group, that these ‘warriors’ set off to further lands and are now known as the Polynesians. Perhaps an image of the ‘Rock’ could be used as reference.

Type B, on the other hand, were physically opposite of their predecessors. As stated by Agoncillo, they were stocky, darker and blessed with a pair of thick lips and their infusion into the society has lead to the descendants of those who built the first rice terraces in the Philippines, which in turn has lead to Filipino’s never-ending addiction to rice.

The Malays or Malayans followed in their tracks, cruising in with their fancy sailboats from the seas of Celebes. As described by Agoncillo, the first migration had people who were influenced by the Indian culture which proliferated present-day Malaysia and surrounding territories at the time.

The second migration lasted for more than a millennium, starting in the 1st Century, as mentioned by Alip and their migration ultimately has lead up to the formation of the present-day ‘Christian’ Filipinos, like the Tagalog, Visayan, Bicolano, Pampango, Ilocano etc.

The last and final migration before the era of Spanish Colonization was the Mohammedan Filipino or Moros, who laid the foundations of Islam in Mindanao and Sulu which has lasted to this day.

It’s interesting to note, that while reading such history books, there seems to be an unwavering bias toward those people depicted with more European-like characteristics.

Case in point: When describing the two types of ‘Indonesians’, Agoncillo refers to type A as having a “sharp, thin face,” while type B were “stocky… with thick lips and large noses.”

Alip goes further, referring to the type A as having “aquiline noses, not paralleled among Mongoloid” and type B with a “thick, large nose.” As you can see, as with anything Filipino, apparently it’s all about the nose.

But minding the nose, notice how the depiction of the type A, who are “very tall, with European-like features” is given more ‘positive’ connotation to those more ‘inferior’ type B. This same bias seems to apply to depictions of the Negritos and Aetas as well.

Is this a case of subtle racism of the part of historians or just an instance of a horrible misunderstanding? You decide.

Anyways, that rounds off the historical look at our origin. And what about the mythological part?

Well… you’ll just have to wait and see. -PDM

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Those Silly Photographs

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO - Going through an old picture album is fun. Many times, I can’t help but laugh when finding pictures of my mommy and her brothers lined up together in front of some fountain somewhere in the city, all with jerry curls and sunglasses, making them look like an Asian version of the Jackson 5.

Then there are my cousins, all double-parked in front them in their strollers, usually crying, sad, complacent or completely clueless as to all the commotion about them.

In pictures where there are 40 or more people crammed into one 3 X 5, sometimes I’ll spend time trying to figure out where I am in a picture in a sort of “Where’s Waldo” but browner series, only to have my mommy come up to me and say “Oh, you weren’t born yet.” What a waste of a good 15 minutes, don’t you think?

I remember one time, while perusing through some abysmal stack of photographs, I came across one which seemed to stand out from the rest. There was my mommy relaxing on the bed with my cousin Vena and my Grandma Feliza in the background, sitting and enjoying their poses. They seemed so happy.

It’s then I started thinking... “Gee, I don’t recollect any relative of ours owning this house.”

Going through more of the stack, I realized that this was just one of a bunch of pictures from this unrecognizable house. The room, with its yellow and blue striped bed covers and wood furnishing, didn’t ring a bell in my little head.

But judging by their behavior though, one in which they were found opening and closing the blinds and showing off one of the teddy bears to the camera like Vanna White, you’d think that this house obviously belonged to somebody close to us or at least related to us. So, I couldn’t help but be a bit inquisitive...

“Mommy… whose house is this?”

She thought a little; her expression showing signs of confusion as well. But after a simple sigh, she figured it out.

“Oh, I know… that’s a model home,” she said with a guilty smile. “We were just
trying it out.”

“Trying it out?” I thought.

“You know... So we could send the pictures back home to the Philippines.”
Ah yes. The old gimmick returns. Go to model homes. Take a horrid amount of pictures. Develop them.

And soon, after a few days in air-mail, relatives in the provinces would think you have succeeded, considering the fact that your house is now lined with dry wall and your bedroom is all fancy-fancy.

Talk about the best deception ever thought of till the age of computer graphics came into full view. But, even in the twenty-first century, this type of balikbayan photography still works amazingly well, usually working its magic within both camps on either side of the ocean.

Now, realize that, this doesn’t just apply only to houses. Obviously, Filipinos knew all too well, there was more in America that could be exploited than just a bunch of pa class cushions on some bed.

“Wow. Look at your uncle’s truck,” my mommy said, pointing to one of the pictures. The truck, a Guamanian contraption capable of traversing the Himalayas without a hitch, was practically twice my uncle’s height and had tires to match.

My Uncle Joseph stood in front of it, his arms crossed in such a way as to suggest he owned the d**n thing. And if you didn’t clue in, the writing behind the photo (written by him, of course!) surely would have.

Of course, that wasn’t the only car in his collection. Flip though more Kodaks, and you’ll find this uncle of mine next to a blue car. Then a red one. Then a white one.

Was he a Superstar?

Nope. Not even close.

But of course, with all those ‘cars’ in his arsenal of photographs, you would have thought he was.

Now, you may believe this is just another example of a bunch of Filipinos doing their best to be as mayabang as possible with as many photos as can be humanly taken. And you could be right by presuming that.

But perhaps you’ll be surprised to find out that this picture-taking forma-forma isn’t just a recent phenomena created in response to the introduction of color photos.

According to the Filipino American Experience Research Project complied by Danilo T. Begonia and Daniel P. Gonzales, even before the War, Filipinos living in America, were already taking black-and-whites by the boatload, sending them back to the home country with the hope their fellow countrymen will see them thousands of miles away in all their glory.

Such pictures of foreign lands during the nineteen-twenties and thirties, where the sun was always shining and everyone seemed to have a shiny automobile, played a major factor in compelling hundreds if not thousands of the Filipinos to seek that ‘golden’ opportunity held within those little photographs.

Of course, such false advertising, shrouded much of the reality most Filipinos in America were really facing, which was much more on the dim side than the lighten situation the pictures that circulated from barrio to barrio seemed to portray.

And as such, many youthful Filipino adventurers were sucked into what they thought was their journey of a lifetime, only to find their dreams full of milk and lechon evaporate before their adventurous eyes once they reached the opposite shore.

Fast forward 80 years and apparently, we still find ourselves in a similar predicament. If one were to put a positive spin on all of this, one could easily say that such photographs are helping to encourage many back home to strive for more, knowing that they too can attain the fancy woodwork and the cuddly teddy bear if they just tried hard enough.


But, just like a boomerang, the negative spin of this always comes back to slap you and admittedly, in this case, it comes down to a simple story of the supposed ‘haves’ trying to impress the ‘have-nots’; making those without green cards envious because they’re not here enjoying the ‘homes’ of California living as well.

I wonder if those positives outweigh the negatives in such a situation. I mean, is encouraging jealousy within others so they could better their lives, justifiable?

Could someone rationalize a vice and turn it into a virtuous thing? Look, I dunno. You tell me.

Perhaps, Begonia said it best when saying that it just “depends” on many factors, like whether or not it’s economically safe to come here or not.

What’s sensible during times of economic boom may not be so once a recession beings. It’s a tough question that may not ever have a clear cut, toothy-fruity answer attached to it. Not everything is perfect, I guess.

As I grabbed my keys to head out the door, my little cousin Sean Melvin sped by me from the open doorway. I was about to close it but soon realized that my aunties we’re all outside in the front yard. My curiosity soon begged me to ask them of their doings.

“What are you guys doing?” my question stated; a question which obviously wondered what all the fuss was about.

My Grandma went to the door and stood next to me and soon, we both watched as my Auntie Norma, Auntie Isabel and Auntie Wilma stood around my koche for another round of pictures.

“They’re taking pictures with your car,” my Grandma Uding said blatantly.

“Your Auntie Norma is going to send them back to London to show to everybody.”

Yea. This will never end. - PDM

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pass the Apron

Pass the Apron
By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Another cold December night and I am with only pot and pan.
Or maybe just pot, this time around.

Into it, the cold tap waters from the dams of Tennessee were aptly applied, nearly rounding up to the pot’s very rim, as a coiled furnace gleaming hot red was added from below. Moments later, the dried noodles were thrown in; its soaked self sinking into the very waters that it bathe in.

Along with that, came the packaged seasoning, adding a dash of color and an aroma only those familiar with this operation would know only to well.

Alas, two eggs were suffice enough for the finishing touch; cracked and opened over the bubbling waters below. With frequent stirring, enough time would have elapsed and the words, Tapos na would be raved with outward glee.

My mommy came to the kitchen for a look see. Noting the simmering broth boil, her face had neither the hint of interest nor the look of hungry anticipation stemming from it. Rather, she hugged me and ended with a simple if not logical statement: “Let’s go to IHOP.”

Hmmm… I guess Top Ramen isn’t good enough these days.

In the void which spans between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, one is left with only one choice once the Christmas leftovers you brought home from that last party have been wasted: cooking yourself.

Of course, if that only recourse doesn’t work out, then one has to resort to other emergency choices like going to places like IHOP at eleven thirty in the evening for a late night rendezvous with a couple of pancakes and some aging syrup.

As we enter the 21st century, Asian kids with a knack for the oven have waned enough that folks like me have even felt its effects.

Take this fact into account for example: Almost all my girl friends either have no experience in the kitchen or even worst, refuse to ply into one.

When posed with the very question of cooking for oneself, one of them instinctively exclaimed, “I refuse to cook!”; her steadfast gaze resembling that of Lucy Liu making her refusal sound more like an ultimatum than anything else.

Another girl just giggled at the thought, as if the idea never crossed her mind. I even explained to another one who happens to be a chemistry major, that cooking is just like doing chemistry, in that it requires mixing of certain substances under similar contraptions like a Bunsen burner for a certain amount of minutes.

She didn’t buy the argument though; rather contented with being the one just washing the dishes instead. O well… chemistry majors can be so dull.

Now for my Chinese and Vietnamese friends, taking a step back from the furnace of life doesn’t necessary mean the end to their culturally enhanced eating habits. I mean for years, Chinese restaurants, from mere buffets to high-class dim sum shacks have abounded so much so that you could smell the MSG from miles away.

And every Vietnamese restaurant you come across from those on Clement to here in Nashville seems to be carbon copies of each other from the store names to the very menus they handily use.

Unfortunately, for Filipinos like me, globalization hasn’t resulted in the acquisition of Filipino restaurants at almost every corner in the continental United States.

You’d be lucky to stumble upon one and sometimes you may find a Thai or even Mongolian bistro faster than some place holding our own food, which is sad considering the fact that I’ve never met a Mongolian before, even in a city as diverse as San Francisco.

For Filipino America, much of the new generation has now become dependent on those who have immigrated here recently for the best Filipino cuisine the Philippines has to offer. Go to Jolibee all you want but let me tell you, nothing beats the freshly made home cooking that your parents may come up with. No wonder why I’m actually happy when being at the airport for the flight back home to Nashville... I’m thinking about all the kare kare and nilaga and other specialized Filipino food my daddy is about to cook for me.

With that said, it shouldn’t surprise you then what importance Filipino food has on our very culture. Its very integration into our culture is as such that you can’t possibly talk about our culture without at least hinting at some aspect of our cuisine.

Cooking it has become something not only for the sake of our general consumption but also functions as a point of socialization for all Filipinos, where one could sit back, relax and pass around a 50 pack of lumpias and a bag of chicharon while gleefully talking about the latest tsismis that goes around.

Such integration could also be seen in many of Filipino jokes which seem to always encompass some aspect of our food, however vile or stinky the joke may be. Hey look, if I’m not mistaken, every one of my column pieces has dealt with Filipino food on some level.

So if Filipino food, in all its greasy glory, is somehow taken away, what are we left with? No more high blood-pressure perhaps but along with that no more socialization and most of the happy-go-lucky jokes.

Therefore, one could conclude that the very preservation of our culture rest on if we, the new generation, continue to cook our traditional food in the kitchen. Dependence on those from home could only go so far for once newer generations emerge into a Filipino-food less home; it’s more likely that these kids would grow up attaching lechon and balut to the realm of folklore and superstition or see it as something more likely to appear on Fear Factor than on their very own dining table.

How would you expect your kids to be running around the house, opening all the windows and closing all the doors frantically, if you are either unwilling or have no ability to cook the very tuyo that would have made that all possible.

That and many other wonderful experiences would have been sadly missed by our future progeny.

Fortunately, some of us have tried to pick up the apron when given the chance. For example, in my case, it’s actually not the time consuming part which hinders me from picking up the wok and stir frying a sweet plate of ginisa; it’s more or less just plain laziness which beckons me away from it. Perhaps I should reconsider putting away the Double Dash Super Mario Kart and picking up the spatula more often. It’d do me some good.

It was another day, another place and I was heading for the kitchen where another bubbling pot awaited me.

This time, Michelle Leary (who could quite possibly be the finest hostess ever since Monica of Friends) was the cook extraordinaire that day and was logically using her talent to entertain her guests, who at that time, consisted of only me. When she went by my side, I couldn’t help but congratulate her on her accomplishment.

Of course, being the sweet girl she is, she bashfully declined my praise believing that being this accommodating was to be expected of her.
Maybe next time, I’d advise her to add some cut up hot dogs to make her spaghetti more Filipino … but why spoil an already good thing.

The point is … we’re learning … and soon, kids from the Philippines won’t be the only ones closing all the doors in their homes. - PDM

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Road to Rosales

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO — A pile of fallen leaves meekly lay along the roadside.

They didn’t remain there for long for they were soon gathered up and thrown into the air, twisting and twirling as a car wistfully rolled by. As they spun round and round, its tornadic form started to subside as it drifted towards the dust-ridden sidewalk.

As the leaves commenced to rest, my mommy and I trotted passed them, again stirring those same leaves up and parting them in harmony in accordance with our very steps.

Naaalala ko nga nung six-years-old ako, me and my mommy would walk sa tahimik part of Golden Gate Park. From 9th Avenue we would walk; pass the Lake, pass the Tea Garden, usually underneath the cover of large cypress trees which at times, cut the sunlight into dazzlingly rays upon the park’s floor.

And it’s during these times of unique tranquility through the vast underbelly of the park, that my mommy found the time to bring up those ‘stories’ of hers.
You know those ‘stories’.

These are the stories about how life was back then: the hardships, the trials and tribulations, all packaged into an interesting but detailed tale which almost always involved one of the most universal facets that immigrants have used ubiquitously time and again to get their point across: their intriguing trip to school.

“You know, before…” my mommy would start, “… we had no electricity. We had no transportation. We had to walk miles and miles, many miles just to get to school. Me and your brothers… only had chinelas on and the road wasn’t paved… it was dirt road, dirt road.”

Simply put, this was the Filipino version of Little Red, Riding Hood, except instead of a little girl in with a hood, it was a girl with pair of chinelas and instead of going through the woods, it was going through all fields filled with bigas; a flat plain of bigas as far as the eyes could see.

She went on. “And when it rained… the road turned all muddy-muddy… and it’ll take longer just to get to school.”

And not only were these stories laden with dramatic audio, much of the tale was also graphic; the graphic usually being as surreal as they come.

“O... see that... see that therrrre… look... right there… see that…,” my mommy would say while pointing at her unshaven lower leg.

I’d look obviously at the imprint of a large gash the size of a quarter on her ankle that could still be seen to this day.

“See that… that’s from crossing those wire fences, and sometimes you’d get your skin stuck in the wiring and so it’ll scratch and scratch you… so that’s why there’s a gash there.”

EEeee... I don’t wanna see that. A nasty, ugly wound it would have been back when it was still nice and fresh that if I’m not mistaken, grew even larger, thanks to the maggots and stuff growing within the infected wound after enough time had passed of insufficient amounts of cleaning. Now I completely understand the importance of peroxide.

But apparently, just like everything else, all this is part of the whole story. Just like a horror flick, there won’t be any thrill if you closed your eyes.
“See that… that’s what I went through, eh,” she’d say.

“See now why you’re so lucky,” as her eyebrows moved upward in tandem, agreeing with her statement.

And that’s basically the gist of why she and many others like her go through these grueling and sometimes even awkward stories; to get to that simple if not irrefutable point: You’re luckier than we are.

And of course, the contrast of that with what I was literally exposed to, that being the vast beauty of Golden Gate Park, was drastic enough for even a little six-year-old like me to notice. Muddy roads that could swallow your foot, usually don’t happen in Golden Gate Park. Maybe during an El Niño season… but even that only happens every seven years.

And if that wasn’t enough to make their point as clear as day, there is a resounding belief that a little exaggeration never hurt anyone either.

My Uncle Rosalino, the younger brother of my mommy, seemed to have even more ridiculous stories about his trips to school that bears a closer examination for its truthfulness.

According to my close cousins, Tiffany and Pearla, they would recount stories that their dad told them of how he had jumped over cobras and other poisonous rattlers along the roads in our province of Pangasinan just to get to school.

Now who the hell jumps over snakes to get to school? Really now? Snakes.
I had to ask my mommy for verification of such stories but my mommy could only scamper out, “I don’t know what your uncle is talking about.” Hmmm…

To tell you the truth, I really don’t know where the truth lies within any of these stories. Most of the time, you’re pretty much stuck fishing out the truth from the sea of falsity which could take awhile.

But when you were a kid, you were never inclined to do such a thing.

You believed everything that was told to you,was the truth.

Just like the idea of Santa Claus.

It just made sense, even though years later, the idea of a guy going around in a red jumpsuit in less then 24 hours giving gifts to two billion children may seem a little absurd.

But this type of embellishment of the truth, where they are perceived to do ‘amazing’ things, has a strange but effective purpose. This was their own way of making kids like us look up to them, perhaps in demagogical way so that we’d idealize their lives as sort of magical in that even in such dismal conditions, their superhuman and enduring abilities were able to supersede it all. And so, since we didn’t have to suffer though what they had gone though, we, as “lucky” American-raised children, logically have to be thankful and achieve better than they have since we didn’t have to worry about cobras biting our ankles when we went to school.

Pretty much, it’s the old “shock and awe” idea in action. Just ask the Bush Administration. They know exactly how this idea works.

*** ***

We soon reached 19th Avenue which basically is a large imposing residential freeway that sliced this beautiful park basically in half. As we stood there, cars raced pass; many at 50 mph which was definitely over what the little signs that shivered along the roadside were claiming the real speed limit was. The light turned yellow then red… and after enough cars had crossed the red light, there was a cessation of activity along the roadway.
With the blink of the green, we started our own crossing; all the while as cars to the left of us, started fighting for space to take a left onto Park Presidio. This was the days before the timers, where one would know exactly how many seconds they had left before they’d get killed. So basically, there was just one rule: RUN.
As we got to the median, the lights turned to a shade of yellow. We continued to hurry across like a bunch of ducks on the run while the sounds of the cars were revving in anticipation of their green light of life.
And it’s during these times, I do wonder… “Are you sure we’re lucky… because as far as I was considered, you never had to cross 6 lanes of killer traffic to get to Rosales, now did you, mommy?” - PDM

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Boxed In

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

ANOTHER presidential season has come and gone, and hopefully everyone who could have voted in their own special way, did this November.

Delegates of all forms sprang into action en masse, enticing “newbies” to fill out those all too wonderful voter registration forms.

Now, I could never understand these registration forms.

They seem straight forward. Just fill out your full name, your address or describe where you live if you don‘t have a roof over your head, Social Security number and California ID. Then answer a couple of residency questions and you are all set.

Then there’s that optional ethnicity question, placed there for the purposes of figuring out later which ethnicities voted more one way or the other on a particular candidate, party or issue.

Two months ago, I happened to be filling out registration forms for my girlfriend and her mother, who both happen to be Indonesian. Approaching the optional ethnicity question would have been a snap had it not been for the way the ethnic boxes were strewn. There was an Asian box which would have easily classified me and her, a Pacific Islander box and another box for … Filipinos.

Apparently, by California standards, what was once the singular API (Asian Pacific Islander) community has split into three classifications.

Now, I just could never understand why Filipinos have become the lonely one out of this. I guess if you are the very nationalistic type, perhaps you’d be inclined to be joyous about the end result of all this and say “Hey, We’re not Asian. We’re not Pacific Islander… We’re Filipino!”

Well, hooray. We can now identify ourselves from the pack, and Filipinos who have always been confused on either checking the Asian box or the Pacific Islander box could now have one sure, definite bet. No more confusion. But I’d like to know what criteria were used to exclude Filipinos from the relative designation of Asian.

Geographically-speaking, Filipinos should be considered Asian since the Philippines is considered part of the continent known as Asia. At times our country appears in some geography books as a separate insert with the English-speaking countries of Australia and New Zealand, but generally speaking, the Philippines along with countries along the Malay peninsula and archipelago like Brunei and East Timor are collectively known as Southeast Asia.

There are some people though, Asians in particular, who argue that because we are so far off the coast, hanging completely off the South China Sea, we’re not part of the continent of Asia.

In fact, the name, Philippine “Islands” already affirms that we are “islands” in the Pacific, and therefore we should be considered part of the Pacific Islands like Palau and Guam directly to our west.

They totally have the wrong idea though because we are not the only islands in the Far East. Japan, China Taipei and the thousands of islands of Indonesia should also be reclassified as Pacific Islands since they are also islands in the Pacific.

Not only that, but the Philippines is relatively close to the southern tip of Taiwan by tens of miles and it’s just a motorboat ride away from the northern islands of Sulawesi. In fact, those from Sulawesi and islands further south are even further away from the Asian mainland than Manila itself. But apparently, those from Sulawesi would be easily classified as Asian.

In terms of ethnicity, the classification of Filipinos has been hotly contested even before the recognized independence of the Philippines in 1946. Records show that a debate was raging about where Filipinos lie along the ethnic spectrum all the way back to the infancy of the Filipino American community in the early-mid 20th century.

The importance of the Filipino classification during this time was in reference to the prevailing anti-miscegenation laws that were in place to restrict non-white races from marrying into the white majority.

As researched by Henry Empeno, at the turn of the century, laws in many states were already in place prohibiting the issuance of marriage licenses for interracial unions between whites and those who were either classified as “Negroes and Mongolians.” Though the white ethological definition of Mongoloid was clearly applied to the Chinese and then the Japanese who followed them, it was not clearly defined for the third Asian immigrant group: the Filipinos.

By anthropological definitions, Filipinos were not classified as Mongolians but Malayans and therefore were not specified within the certain civil codes at the time. Different interpretation of what Malayans were in respect to Mongolians caused considerable confusion in the courts, especially during the decade before 1931.

In the state of California alone, there was a decade or so of conflicting cases where Filipinos were either issued or denied marriage licenses based solely on how the courts defined the racial classification of Filipinos.

In 1921, the Los Angeles County Assistant General, Edward T. Bishop, ruled that Filipinos/Malayans were not classified as Mongolians and some other court cases that followed concluded with similar decisions. But within that same span of time, the Los Angeles State Superior Court and the State Attorney General Office gave decisions that denied Filipinos’ marriage licenses, asserts that Filipinos were Mongolian.

It wasn’t until January 1933, in the case of Rolden v Los Angeles County the California Court of Appeals came to a final decision, concluding that Filipinos were Malayans, not Mongolians and therefore not prohibited from marrying whites. Two months later, legislation was passed swiftly through the California assembly adding Malayans to the list of ineligible races allowed to marry those of the white race.

Today, though those anti-miscegenation laws have been discarded by 1948, the race known as Malayan or its more politically correct term, Malay is still being used.

Those considered Malay do not only encompass the Philippines but also extend below through the islands of Indonesia, East Timor, the Sultanate of Brunei, city-state of Singapore, Malaysia and all the way to the recently troubled provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani in southern Thailand.

Now here lies the peculiarity that could be just as confusing as the classification of Filipinos 70 years earlier… are the Malays from those countries considered Asian or Filipino by the California 2004 election form?
Geographically, Asian would be the prime choice.

But ethnically, there definitely could be some debate. Just remember, by California’s classifications, because Filipinos are Malays, the Malays from those countries should also be considered Filipino since Filipinos are now classified as their own stand-out race apart from the general “Asian” context.

If we could consider Filipino as representative of the “brown” race so to speak, other “brown” races, even if they are not from the Philippines, should fall under that category as well. Geography be damned!

Now, if the box was not based on any geographic or ethnic considerations, then what could possibly be the reason behind the segregated box? Perhaps the Spanish and American colonization of the Philippines has so impacted the country’s cultural society to the point where Filipinos literally have been ripped from the contextual definition of “Asian” where neither its geographic or ethnic relations to its neighbors hold anymore relevance.

Or perhaps being the only country subjected to 333 years under the cross then another 50 some years under the stars and stripes, has caused the over 7,000 or so islands to hang in limbo, lost somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, even more isolated than the Hawaiian islands which made it pertinent that it and its people had to be classified alone – on their own – no matter what.

Hmmm. But perhaps the very reason Filipinos have been separated could be easily explained by just reading the title of Emil Guillermo’s last column in AsianWeek: “Asians for Kerry, but Filipinos for Bush.”

Emil found Filipinos at odds with the greater Asian community, backing Mr. Bush with 56 percent of the vote on the grounds of moral and veteran rights compared to the Asian vote of 74 percent for Mr. Kerry. As our voting record stands, perhaps we rightly deserved our own check box.

Now, I’m sure the Filipino box had good intentions, perhaps placed there so Filipinos could indeed find their own voice within the pan-Asian coalition, bolstering new life in our own political participation which at present, according to Professor Daniel Gonzales of San Francisco State University, could be described as abysmal at best.

But invigorating the Filipino political base by this means has undue detrimental effects. Confining us to our own box would not only alienate us from the broad pan-Asian community, but also confuse our own identity as Asians and would legitimize the notion that Filipinos indeed have no connection to any of its Asian neighbors whatsoever.

The Philippines may straddle the American-Spanish-Chinese divide incorporating a European religion and Western customs but the fundamentals, which the country was rooted upon, have more in common with Indonesia than any of the other foreign influences. With that said, it is essential to refocus where Filipinos indeed belong… with Asians.

Enough of the systematic isolation. As the saying goes, “Texans are Americans but not all Americans are Texans.”

So too should Filipinos be in relation to Asians. However culturally-separated or politically-disenfranchised we are from other Asian Americans, it is essential we remain united with them as a solid Asian block, ready to present all our issues to the broad American public who many mute us out.

There is no need for a separate box. -PDM

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Historical Look at Leche Flan

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO – THIS one week, I was watching the movie “Envy” with my girlfriend and her close friend. We went to the Sony Metreon after a wonderful day of shopping and succumbed to the realization that we needed a break from all the walking and escalating we did around Union Square – specifically in the seven-story mammoth of a store, Macy’s.

It was concluded therefore that sitting in the cushion chair for two hours in front of a huge screen would be a perfect solution to relieve our tired, worn-out feet.

“Envy,” a movie starring Ben Stiller and Jack Black, is about two working-class neighbors – one who is a dreamer and the other one who doesn’t believe a word the dreamer says.

Nick Vanderpack, the dreamer played by Jack Black, constantly envisions inventions that have the possibility of changing the world and ends up stepping upon a gold mine by inventing a spray that apparently zaps dog poop and other turds miraculously into thin air.

Tim, played by Ben Stiller, can’t help but feel envious in the midst of his new neighbor’s found wealth and lambaste in contemplation about how his life would have been had he helped invest in his friend’s endeavor from the beginning.
Now, while watching this movie (which if you’d ask me wasn’t as funny as I thought it’d be), I was taken aback by one of the scenes that took place in the exquisite dining room of Nick Vanderpack.

In this scene, Nick tells his whole family to join him at the dining table to eat the dessert that the servants have prepared.

His family, in robotic-like fashion, rush downstairs in happy anticipation, screaming the dessert’s name: flan!

Now as a Filipino, my first instinct was to go, “Hey! Isn’t that a Filipino dish?”

I’m referring to leche flan, a time-honored dish in the Philippines. As I looked upon the glowing screen, I couldn’t help but notice that the flan they were eat was almost akin to our own leche flan.

It instantly brought back memories of my daddy cooking leche flan in the oven and watching him turn over the metal mold revealing the yellow custard with caramel-looking sauce on the top. For a moment, I started to believe that Filipino food was finally being accepted by the American masses. It was indeed, a dream come true!

By the end of the movie, I told my girlfriend that what they were eating was a Filipino dessert, but she didn’t buy it one bit, stating, “Are you sure you didn’t steal it from some other cultures?”

Now, as much as I wanted to defend myself and my cuisine from that statement, she brings up a good point. For example, our lumpia, which may resemble a Chinese egg roll or more likely a Vietnamese imperial roll, was once thought by me to be solely one of our national recipes, unique only to us and no one else.

Say “lumpia” to someone else and instantly you have the epitome of Filipino cuisine. If we wanted, Filipinos could have made it our national flag representing our adherence to our tummies; this may have been the case, if it were not for the fact our flag is already beautiful in and of itself.

Of course, the belief that the lumpia was solely ours was short lived once I met my girlfriend who happens to be Indonesian. She works at an Indonesian restaurant downtown, appropriately named “Indonesia Restaurant” and to my dismay, I found them selling lumpias on their menu.

Now, it’s not as if they were stealing it from the volumes of wonderful recipes from our country. Apparently, our neighbors to the south have been eating and wrapping these rolls for centuries and they’ve always called them lumpias.

Maybe we could have fought for the lumpia label but since for every one Filipino on this planet, there are three Indonesians, I really don’t think we’d have a chance to claim it as our own. But no matter who gets to claim the rights to being the original creator of lumpia, let’s just say that it definitely throws out my idea for a lumpia flag.

Of course, this gets me back to the flan and finding out conclusively, whether or not this is a Filipino dish, which I’ve always believed it was.

Searching on Google for an hour, I found that flan is a custard, which could be found in many countries across the world from Spain and Portugal, all the way to Mexico and Cuba.

Though one could argue that flan is really a “Spanish Custard” since Spain considers it its national dessert, the flan’s roots could be traced way back to the Ancient Roman period. The word, flan, was derived from the Latin word flado, meaning “custard.” Apparently, this egg-enhanced super dessert was believed to have many health benefits, thanks to the egg yolks, from alleviating chest pains to decreasing urinary tract problems. So technically, we could thank the Spanish for importing this dish to our shores.

There is no striking difference between our leche flan and the Spanish flan. Eggs, condensed and evaporated milk and vanilla extract are standard. Some sites suggest that the Filipino version should use duck’s eggs but these are usually hard to come by except in balut form.

I’d say I’d be interested if someone did try making it really from balut eggs though. Because I’m sure it’ll resemble something straight out of Rex Navarrete’s imagination.

At any rate, whether duck or chicken yolk or even balut, I find myself disappointed again with another recipe technically not really being “ours” per se. Maybe our culture, instead of making our own dishes, is better at taking other dishes and improving upon them. Just like the jeepneys have proven – we as Filipinos can’t help but reformat and modify things that would otherwise be plain to begin with.

You could think of, I guess, spaghetti with cut-up hot dogs. In our own special way that will always be uniquely Filipino. – PDM

Monday, April 16, 2012


By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO – IF EVER you wandered into the Sunset district in the late ‘80s – assuming you either wanted some good Chinese food from Irving or were just plain lost – you may have witnessed a little kid pedaling away along one of the sidewalks. With colorful noise makers attached to axle of his wheels and a Cookie Monster bell for a horn, approaching him would have sounded like entering a junkyard hard at work. You couldn’t miss him.

That little kid was me. Back and forth along the same strip of block I went, never crossing the perimeter of asphalt. My mommy never allowed it – believing that kidnapping was rampant in the area. So I never did cross the line.
On this particular day though, an errand befell me.

While running up and down the side of the hill, one of our old next door neighbors, Olga, opened her door and called to me in need of some assistance. Approaching her at the door, she kindly asked if I would get her a half-gallon of milk from the corner store. The corner store was across the rails. The opportunity for me to expand my horizons had arrived.

Eagerly with petty cash in hand, I flew down the sloped street, jumping off the concrete curbs which divided each of the driveways while being yelled at by second-floor irate neighbors for daring to roll over their un-manicured lawns without permission.

Reaching the end of the block, I witnessed the expanse of Judah St. The street seemed relatively quiet, with no Muni trains in sight. I peddled across the street without getting run over.

Apparently, elementary school taught me well.

Once inside, the purchase of the lipid substance was executed with childish enthusiasm and now delivery was at hand. Speeding out of the store, I crossed the street once more. A bit unbalanced this time, thanks to the weight of the milk on one of the handle bars, I steadily progressed my way to the top of the hill.

Back at her doorway, Olga greeted me with her wrinkled smile, perhaps a product of both the sight of the milk and years of vodka binging. As she chatted away about how happy she was with receiving her milk, I got a full glimpse of the inner workings of her home. As I peeked inside, I saw a full living room equipped with your standard sofa and loveseat.

Now, this would have all gone unnoticed had it not been for one unnerving fact: one of the walls in the living room was really a garage door. This may seem strange anywhere else, but not in this part of town.

Sitting along the western edge of the San Francisco peninsula, this area commonly referred to by locals as the “Avenues” has more than one family per house. The little two-story homes, once the domain of a large Italian and Irish population, now are prominently- owned by the Chinese community, and an influx of Russians and Filipinos who convert these homes.

Homes once devoted to just one family, have catered to much more, with the houses usually turning into duplexes – with one unit above and one below. Sometimes the owner would live on the second floor or, on the first floor, renting out the second floor for a much pricier rent. Even more ingenious owners would convert their would-be-garage into livable space, retrofitting them with extra bathrooms and such, turning the house into a triplex.

Such audacious undertakings have made for some interesting entrance ways for would-be renters. To get to where I live, one must knock on the garage door first. After that level of security had been breached then the unacquainted visitor would finally reach the entrance to our home which was located in the interior of the house.

Other entrance ways required folks to ply through an elaborate maze of hallways or bizarre paths outside the house which requires a renter to strangely go to your landlord’s flowered backyard to get to your front door.

Even with such strange arrangements, rarely are there complaints. Tenants find this as a good alternative to living farther from the city where traffic is usually a residual nightmare, and landlords find this a particularly good way to make some extra cash. Much of this activity isn’t official with much of the transactions occurring away from the ire of government accountants. Shared bills for electricity are common; more so for the water; and mail must be sorted via a semi mailroom-like manner between tenant and landlord.

Such a mutual arrangement has been made possible thanks in part to the particular way tenants are acquired. For Filipinos, our culture has helped make landlord/tenant relationships possible with relative ease.

The talkative nature that Filipinos fancy with one another has made the talk-about-a-friend-about-such-and-such-place-for-rent-at-such-and-such-price, a reality. This friendly exchange has made it possible for newly-immigrated Filipinos to settle down quickly into the city and not become totally dependent upon relatives for a place to stay.

In the end, expenses are minimized, hours stuck in traffic are saved, and savings or at least, extra money is created from a situation that otherwise would not have been. But this is interesting when placed into facts and figures. Number crunching reveals that Filipinos, as a whole, are particularly wealthy in comparison to other ethnic backgrounds residing in the U.S.

Thanks to good portions of Filipino jobs shifted to the white collar/medical fields, the general consensus is that Filipinos have become a successful ethnicity.

These figures, while particularly outstanding for our community, unfortunately doesn’t account for many factors that often go unnoticed. Not accounted for is the fact that many of those white collar jobs are located in high expense areas where prices are sometimes higher than the national average, particularly in the Bay Area.

For instance, when real estate prices come to mind, they are considered so astronomical that the San Francisco Chronicle regularly quotes them as “surreal.”

Underemployment, particularly among the newly-immigrant population continues to hound many, forcing them to work in jobs that they were not actually trained in. So although Filipinos in the Bay Area may bring in heftier paychecks, many remain in jobs below their full potential while at the same time, paying gasoline prices which are 40 percent more than those in the state of Tennessee.

Faced with all this, Filipinos have resorted to many ingenious solutions to get by. At times, some Filipinos would aggregate like some globular fat atop some cooling adobo leftover, staying in households with more than the normal amount of people in them. And some Filipinos would resort to in-lawing.

While all these measures are cost-effective, they all translate to a misguided picture of the Filipino American community. On face value, the numbers show a vibrant, cash-wielding people but upon intense analysis, this masks a still struggling community.

Filipinos may have the buying power but at what cost? They may be driving the “fancy-fancy” car but continue to turn off the air-conditioner indefinitely so electricity bills won’t gobble up much of their paycheck.

Now, I’m not saying in any way that it’s a bad thing to participate in such things as in-lawing. From personal experience, I found living in the “garage” as having a profound impact upon myself in the future, a learning experience which influenced me to overcome challenges and hardships while being below what’s considered “average.”

Filipinos must realize that we haven’t exactly “made it,” so to speak. It still takes a lot of hard work and many sacrifices to achieve what we’ve gotten, lest we get caught up in the belief that everything’s alright. The numbers may be telling but they conceal many important facets, particular to Filipinos, that run contrary to our ultimate success as a community.

What is for certain, as our present situation plays out, is things such as in-lawing will continue to survive as a Filipino American subculture which will only persist due to the continuing stream of immigrants from the land of jeepneys and spam into the foggy quarters of Daly City.

The idea of in-lawing has a purpose, functioning as a needed transitional point from life in the Philippines to an American way of living. Where one has one foot in the American doorway, while still living in compact quarters which have a resemblance of home.

Without this harbor, new immigrants may find it much harder to get accustomed to this new fast-paced way of life. – PDM

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The New Generation of American Filipino

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO - “WHAT do you think Matthew?”
John John stood sa corridor flanked by doorways; his question still reverberating back to his cousin, Matthew, who at the time was still making his way up the coiled stairwell.

Matthew, still a little lost from the new environment he was in, couldn’t help but nod in agreement with his older cousin.

Soon the two scurried into one of the rooms, then returned from another insane direction less than a minute later. Not contented, they headed in another direction; another bunch of rooms and corridors awaiting their sights.

Soon, comments could be heard in the distance.

“I ... I don’t have a feel for this one,” one said.
“Estoria is better.”
“No, NO ... Hidden Brook is still the best.”
Oh, just remember ... this is coming from kids who haven’t even graduated from elementary yet. Imagine my surprise.

Now, if names like Estoria, Hidden Brook or Victoria don’t immediately ring a bell, then you haven’t been doing what apparently my little nephews and I were seemingly enjoying at the time: That is... house-perusing.

Today, it seems we were tackling the houses of the Victoria complex, a gigantic spread of semi-mansional houses on the western edge of Hercules that in some ways seemed to complement the Amtrak and the surrounding ‘view’.

Manong Rick Crisostomo, the educated realtor he is, functioned as our guide that day, explaining to us the use of the two-tone along the interior walls and how the ability of certain plant ornamentations could create a sense of decorative feel without the hassle of looking for some unique combination of traditional furniture in some far-off antique shop somewhere.

As Rick and company went about their tour, their kids took little time to worry about any of the shading the paint created. Jam-Jami (or as I’ve nicknamed her, Jam-Jammer) and her younger cousin, Joshua raced across the elegant floor patterns in the kitchen, to retain some of the free bottled waters in the refrigerators while their older siblings were upstairs, kicking off their shoes, getting ready for lift off.

Flying like some circus seals do, these kids crashed into the humble mattresses located in the master bedroom, not exactly worried that others below may hear the ruckus they created by the thuds throughout the dry wall.

Kids like Matthew and Jam-Jami represent the new generation of Filipinos sa America, an enclave of upper-middle class children of the much more carefree variety. With much of their parents having already passed the phase of hardships in the inner city or the silly ‘small’ houses in pre-existing suburbia, these kids were now in the full spotlight of their parents’ success, basking in its heat and feeling the effects of its glow.

And it’s no wonder…

Their parents were now on the real estate market, buying new state-of-the-art houses, with rooms adjoining rooms and bathrooms galore. Places like Home Depot were their domain and their checkbooks seemed to have no bounds, accessorizing their houses with big barbeques and eloquent gardens with lawns that are “hella” green even while the surrounding hillside seemed to be contrasting with something “hella” dry.

Lalo na, with so much space inside, the items for the choosing seemed endless; along with the fancy curio, massive grand pianos, came big screen televisions with hundreds of channels which became more of the standard, not the exception to the rule.

My familiarity, of course, with such grandeur isn’t so since my parents weren’t exactly as “successful” when I was smaller as their parents happen to be now. Dreams and aspirations I had before as a youngling now seem almost inconsequential, judging by what my nephews are exposed to.

For example, I never had a bathtub at my place of living and so I’ve always wanted to have one. Bubble Baths were considered on the luxury side of the scale from my point of view. No wonder I enjoyed going to hotels so much.
Of course, the total opposite story plays out for these little nephews of mine.

The playground my little nephews, Gabriel and Joshua, are getting is larger than the in-law house I was born into.

In fact, it’s about the size of some of the playgrounds in Golden Gate Park (No, not the one near Kezar Stadium) but other ones along Martin Luther King Dr. Say what you will but no matter what … to me that’s huge! Of course, such obvious differences do bring me to my question.

In such well-off circumstances, will these kids remember what their parents and older generations living and gone had to go through just for them to enjoy what they’ve been given?

Or will it be forgotten under the cover of glamour, glitz and the occasional “bling-bling” that superimposes them?Though I’m in a much better disposition than before, the days growing up in Jay Z’s world of the “hard-knock lives” did have its interesting effect upon me.

In my world, hardship actually had some tangible meaning, for I could just look around at my surroundings for signs of it. Such a situation created a need to actually break out from such circumstances, inspiring me to trudge through school, wringing out the best grades and hopefully culminating into a better future for me in the end.

But for kids such as these, that urgency isn’t as present, being as elusive as trying to find cellular service in some parts of Hidden Brook.

That resolve to “try” isn’t exactly as necessary as it was for me, for they already “have” and so sometimes even their parents, who believe they’re “a - o.k.,” are usually caught off guard, stuck in the belief that being in such pleasant surroundings would eliminate the stench notoriously known to encircle inner-city environments, not realizing that past suburbias from East Bay to Orange County, once considered to be havens of good, have proven time and again that kids even in these more modest of settings could still easily succumb to evils that even high suburbia living can’t cure: that is the drugs, the street gangs and the like.

So, whose responsibility is it to continue the invaluable ideals that I learned from our hardships to these children before they become the victims of their parent’s success?

Well, that responsibility soon falls upon their parents and older relatives (like me) that surround them, whose job is to instill a sense of determination in their young hearts based on the valuable lessons that former generations had learned from their own experiences.

Kumon (math tutorial) and other math problems could only go so far as getting them through algebra but nothing will beat the time and true lessons of the Filipino experience, filled with its virtues of living the “American dream” along with its vices, like racism whether real or subtle and the continuing struggle to find identity in a world in which things like Prop 54 pop up, seemingly out of nowhere to try and derail our fragile existence.

It’s from these stories that these children will learn the true value of being a Filipino in America, where everything isn’t fancy and pretty but real and from there, will ultimately attain that “need” to be a success later on.

As I guarded the doorway, a couple passed us by; their eyes seemed to roll at me as if I was doing something wrong. Although medyo put off ako sa attitude they dispelled sa amin, I tried playing it off…

“Don’t worry... they’re just testing the springs,” I said point blankly.
OK. So maybe I capitulate to my nephew’s eagerness for adventure. But as far as I was concerned…

They’re still young. Let them have their fun. - PDM

Friday, April 13, 2012

Unconsciouly Filipino

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

A SNAP. A crackle. A pop.
Was this a Rice Krispy commercial?

Well, no. But, at least from my perspective, it da** well could have been one.
My nephew sat across me, shotgun, trying to control his laughter, for he knew what was up. My face was slowly turning into a timeless masterpiece of frighten madness and the reason behind why this was so could be explained by what I was seeing thru my rear-view mirror.

There, in the backseat of my coche, were my Auntie Auring and Uncle Peding, popping pistachios nuts into their mouths with unwieldy zeal, firing the unwanted shells into the air, sending them into the dark recesses of the floor matting that lay below them, never to be heard from again.

As ‘innocent’ as their actions seemed to be, it definitely got my attention in that very unnerving way. To me, a car is a precious commodity that must be cleansed precisely with quaint perfection for a smooth and pleasurable vehicular experience to truly be obtained. Of course, my relatives saw nothing of this wonderful concept, contented to ruin it with a bunch of munches and crunches of a few nuts.

Maybe it’s just me, but there are times when I do wonder if my relatives even realize that those seemingly ‘innocent’ things that they do actually could be perceived in not so ‘innocent’ way.

Another one of these ‘innocent’ incidents occurred along Monterey Bay amongst many of the rocks, which hugged the shoreline. My relatives were participating in the tradition Filipino way of picture taking, that is, where everybody takes a picture next to every rock and boulder that could be found, at every angle that could be thought of.

My cousin, Marc Craig, and me decided not to participate. We were rather contented to stand along the roadside. As we talked, a forest ranger resembling the likes of Smokey Bear drove up to the two of us. His interest spurred on by the activities of all the little people who had amassed themselves down below us.

Emerging from his green pickup, the ranger struck up a conversation with my cousin and it was then that he informed us of the signs posted along the shoreline telling of the penalty that would be levied if any person were caught disturbing the scenery in any way.

“You could receive a $500 citation if any animal is removed from the shoreline. None of your company intends to do such a thing I hope?”

Marc, lending a reassuring statement to calm the ranger’s worries, replied back to him, “Of course not, sir. I’m sure none of our relatives would try such a thing.” He paused to think then continued with a chuckle, “Well, actually, except one of our uncles, but I don’t think he’ll do anything like that.”

Just then, that very uncle of ours decides to beat the odds, taking out a makeshift glass cage, placing a hermit crab he found while forging through seaweed and what have you into it and started parading it around unabashedly to all the other relatives.

My cousin and I stood in awe, aghast at the odds that our uncle would have done such a thing at that very moment. What should have been just a routine questioning of our family’s photographic practices, has now turned into an altercation with the laws of the national park system.

The forest ranger stood more vexed than anything. His silence was a reflection
of his indifference to our uncle’s supposed impressive find. Using his hands, he signaled our crab-happy uncle to our very location. My uncle, oblivious to the situation he had placed himself in, obliged, heading toward us, holding his crab proudly in front of him, perhaps believing the ranger would congratulate him for his ‘great’ find. Of course, that the last thing he got.

“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” scolded the ranger, his displeasure was more evident than ever.

My Uncle Obal remained silent. The lens of his sunglasses was the only thing, which protected him from the officer’s glare. Soon after, the ranger went on a 20-minute lecture about the penalty such actions required and the impact such amusement would cause had every person taken home a crab from the bay for their own entertainment. With every passing minute, the darker my uncle’s shades seemed to get, his eyeballs trying to hide from the ranger’s ire.

As much fun as all the crab jokes that will forever be leveled at this particular uncle for years to come, instances such as this, do bring up a fundamental question: Exactly what does it take to make, at lesat in my situation, my relatives aware of the inappropriateness of their behavior? Does one need to stamp a ‘no eating’ sign, like in my auntie’s and uncle’s situation, for them to get it or does it require some law enforcement agent, as in the case of my uncle, to finally frighten them into submission?

Whatever the triviality may be, I know I’m not alone in this. I’m sure many of the Nintendo-playing, lumpia-eating generation have found themselves stuck in similar predicaments, frightened at their relatives’ adept disregard of the American culture which they are exposed to.

Awareness of their surroundings, their locality, the very laws, whether apparent or just circumstantial, which may or may not be broken by their actions, usually is nonexistent, swapped instead for a happy-go-lucky, carefree attitude, where a naïve sense of the environment in which they were placed in ruled.

As American as some of them say they are or try to be, that visceral desire to be Filipino is still very much alive, still hauntingly present, sometimes appearing in forms which frighten, vex or just plain embarrass the hell out of American lumpia eaters like me.

Understandably, it’s not that my relatives intentionally try to be perceived in that unnerving way. They just happened to be caught along the crossroads where that back-in-the-day, culturally laid-back provincial way of living meets a more constrained, more conscientious American way of life.

And just like anyone else caught between choosing which road to take, they are more apt at over looking the road less traveled, rather going for the one their used, that being, that more Filipino trotted one.

So as my nephew, and me John John, started heaving the scattered pistachios shells of our relatives unto on to the street that faithful day in Vallejo, one thing’s for certain.
My relatives were just being Filipinos.

That is... unconsciously Filipino. - PDM