Filipino Folk Dance Program Notes Resource



by Zonia Elvas Velasco

(Note: Any of the foregoing material may be copied for your use, but with due reference to author and FFAT as follows: from Zonia Elvas Velasco, Filipino Folk Dance Program Notes Resource, FFATI )



A. T’boli and B’laan

The Philippines has tribal minorities which live high in the mountains. In the thick jungles and rainforests of Mindanao, we have the T’boli and B’laan tribal groups.

This section opens up with a song from a Babaylan, a prophettess and medicine woman, who sings Korayan “….. I sense a climate of foreboding, something is going to happen which will affect the lives of people in this village. I see death’s hand coming…, I do not want to know who will die… but everyone be careful, beware….” Three village girls echo her fears as they sing with her. And life goes on in the village.

Enter Dedeng, a beautiful princess who starts dancing with the village girls. Dedeng dances very gracefully, and is very playful. In their merriment, they did not notice that a stranger from another tribe had come in to join them. Angok had been watching them for days and he had secretly fallen in love with Dedeng.

He dances with Dedeng. During the dance, Dedeng is attracted to the handsome Angok. Angok invites Dedeng to go with him. She disappears with Angok.

The girls sound the alarm as soon as they notice Dedeng’s disappearance. The villagers follow and finds them. Angok is challenged to a fight for Dedeng’s honor. Angok loses, but Dedeng runs to his rescue and tells her family that she is in love with him and that she and Angok were now one. She asks for forgiveness and acceptance although she is ready to be punished and be banished from their kingdom. Instead her family and tribe forgives her and takes her back. That is how the two tribes of the T’boli and B’laan came together, to live in peace for a long, long time.

B. Igorot Sketches

In Luzon, high in the Cordilleras live the Igorot tribes of the Sagada, Kalinga-Apayao, Itneg, Gaddang, Ilongot, Benguet, etc.. They have built rice terraces in the mountains, which now look like giant stairways to the sky. The songs and dances reflect daily life, and courtship. The use of ethnic drums and various bamboo instruments by the Southeast Asian Anklung and Bamboo Ensemble heightens this experience of Igorot pastoral life.

Songs and Dances:

  • Banga-Salidsid, the art of carrying water inside earthen jars which are balanced on top of women’s heads
  • Chua-ay, a rice-pounding song
  • Digdigwi, a song for women to call their menfolk home to dinner
  • Salidum-ay, a style of poetry and song-form used for courtship and greeting
  • Rain Dance, a dance asking for rain to come
  • Talip at Bumayah, The maiden Talip‘s courtship and Bumayah celebration


1. Filipino Folk Song Medley – a medley of Filipino folk songs from different regions of the Philippines: O Ilaw (Tagalog: Oh, starlight in a dark night, shed light to my unrequited love), Ti Ayat Ti Meysa nga Ubing (Ilocano: the love of a young virgin, is as fresh and sweet as jasmine flowers in April), Si Nanay si Tatay (Bicolano: my mother and my father, I will never abandon them), Ili-ili Tulog Anay (Ilonggo: sleep my child), Atin Cu Pung Singsing (Pampangga: I have lost my ring, has anyone seen it?)

2. Manton de Manila
Long-fringed and tasseled shawls from Manila were brought to Spain through the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade, and were known as manton de Manila. This dance, exhibits the different ways of wearing and using this shawl.

3. Bailes de Alcamfor
– handkerchiefs kept in camphor boxes carry its sweet scent, which both the ladies and gentlemen of the period enjoyed.

4. Aray!
– sung originally in Chabacano-Ermitense dialect, this dance from the Ermita district, uses tambourines and a lot of turns.

5. Estrellita
– a folk song from Mexico which has been so popular in the Philippines that it was thought to be a Filipino folk song as well. This song exemplifies the close affinity of the Philippines to Mexico during the Spanish colonial era. “Star in the blue sky, look down at my tears and my suffering. Help me find solace in this love which I may never find.”

6. Jota Moncadeña
– A dance utilizing castanets made out of Philippine bamboo. Originating from Moncada, a town in Tarlac, this is a fast dance which is complemented by a slow, sad portion.


7. Pobreng Alindahaw
– The word Alindahaw, means a raindrop or a butterfly. This is a song from Leyte which talks about a poor raindrop/butterfly, as it travels from one thirsty flower to another.

8. Paseo de Iloilo
– In the town plaza of Jaro, Iloilo, it is customary for ladies to promenade in the park in the late afternoon with their chaperones  Let’s see how successful this chaperone is in guarding her ward.

9. Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal
“How much do I love you? You can count on my love as you could count on the sun rising at dawn. Although this is a contemporary classical Filipino love song by the late George Canseco, it is used as background for a typical Filipino wedding scene complete with veil, cord and arrhae ceremonies.

10. Habañera
Bridesmaids dance during the wedding reception, while guests pin money on the bride and groom’s garments, as is tradition.

11. Jota Caviteño
A jota dance of skill, of fast castanets, rapid twirls and turns… from the province of Cavite.

12. Bayan Ko
A patriotic song yearning for freedom from Spanish colonial rule. Music is by Constancio de Guzman, lyrics by Jose Corazon de Jesus.

“Ibon mang may layang lumipad,
kulungin mo at umiiyak
Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag,
ang di magnasang maka-alpas
Pilipinas kong minumutya,
pugad ng luha ko’t dalita
Aking adhika, makita kang sakdal
…. laya!”

(A bird who is free to soar… put it in a cage, and it will cry. What more a country with such beauty, will it not want to break loose and be free? Philippines, my beloved, in you I suffer with tears and poverty. My ultimate hope and dream, to see you one day, free!)


1. Anklung Medley
The anklung handbells are bamboo instruments that are common to the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries. Here, they play folk songs of the rural areas of the Philippines.

2. Magsayaw Ka Giliw
A song saying “dance, my love, and sing!” This is a dance of celebration after a good harvest. The rice is pounded and now the husk has to be separated from the grain. This dance is performed using flat bamboo baskets called bilao. With a few movements of the bilao, the grain is separated from the chaff.

bilao-scaled500 bilao2-scaled500

3. Ahay, Kalisud!
An Ilonggo folk song which was first popularized by operatic diva Jovita Fuentes. She was engaged to President Roxas and was jilted for another. While in Capiz, she heard this folksong being sung by the maid, and the lyrics touched her so, as it echoed her sentiments. She brought it back to Manila and added it to her repertoire. This song comes from the island of Panay, and laments about being abandoned by a lover for someone else. This arrangement is by Prof. Lucio San Pedro.

4. Kalapati
A dance originating from the Ilocos region, mimicking two love doves, cooing and exchanging flowers which they carry in their beaks.

5. Masaganang Kabukiran
The abundance of the fields is celebrated using wooden slippers called bakya.

6. Magbalik Ka Hirang
This classical kundiman by Nicanor Abelardo yearns for the return of a lost love.

7. Ay, Pag-ibig!
Nitoy Gonzales has written this lilting song. “Ay, Love! It was love at first sight the moment I laid eyes on you. Love, when you come, may you bring joy and not despair!”

8. Sayaw sa Bangko
“How could they dance on top of that narrow 8 inch wide bench? How could they do twirls, jumps and exchange places?”

9. Sinawalihan
Arnis rattan sticks are used to display the different sinawali martial art drills.

10. Wasiwas-Pandanggo-Salakot
Night fishermen are guided back to shore by townspeople who wave lighted candles inside glasses. The women balance them on top of their heads and both hands. The men, wrap them inside handkerchiefs, and wave them over their heads, to serve as a beacon to guide the fishermen back to shore safely.

11. Subli
A dance from the province of Batangas, this is a dance which comes from two words: subsub (bent over forward, nearly falling), and bali (bent and broken). Girls tease the men with their hats, coaxing them to straighten up. The men had made a bet, and the last one that straightens up wins!

12. Pandanggo ng Sambalilo
Whoever could put on the hat which is on the ground without using his hands to pick it up, wins!

13. Tinikling
The dance mimics the movements of the long-legged tikling bird as it tries to avoid and escape bamboo traps in the rice paddies.



Excerpts from “Sultan Kudarat

The ailing Sultan of the ancient Kingdom of Kudarat is ready to have his son take over the throne. However, tradition states that he must first take a wife. The Sultan from the neighboring kingdom sends Princess Dayang-Dayang, and the Prince is love-struck as soon as he sets eyes on her. However, the Princess was not interested. She told him that she will only marry the one she loves, and she made it clear to the Prince that she certainly felt no love from him!

The Prince, calls on the Wise One to give him advice, and he was told that only a powerful Love Potion could solve his problem. He should at once embark on finding the ingredients of this love potion.

First, he needs to find the egg of the Sarimanok which is buried deep in the sand where the turtles dance. Second, he needs to find the roots of the Lunok tree, but he may have to fight and beat the fierce Guardian of the Lunok to get a handful of it. Third, he needs one fragrant flower that is grown only by the Queen of Flowers. To cook this together makes a magic love potion which will surely make the princess fall in love with him.

So, this story is about the Prince’s quest, and adventure! He does get the love potion, but did he really need it? For even before the Princess partakes of it, she had already fallen in love with him, as she learned about his persistence and sacrifice to find the ingredients of the potion.

Unfortunately, by tradition, Princess Dayang-Dayang still has to pass the test of the Singkil. If her feet get caught by the bamboo poles, she fails this, and she dies – as to them, it is a sign that her heart is not pure, and that she would ultimately lead the kingdom to ruin. If she succeeds, she will become the next Queen of the Kingdom of Kudarat! So, will she succeed?

  1. Kulintang Overture
  2. Village People: Kapa Malong Ulo
  3. Kapa Malong Malong
  4. Princess Dayang-Dayang Welcomed: Pangyan Welcome Dance
  5. Refusal of the Bethrothal, and the Wise One’s Solution
  6. Sultana: The Prince’s Quest for the Ingredients of the Love Potion
  7. Janggayan: The Sea Turtles and the Sarimanok Egg
  8. Arnis Laban: The Lunok Fight for the Miraculous Roots
  9. Pangalay sa Patong: The Queen of Flowers
  10. The Love Elixir and the Proclamation: Sayao Panyo
  11. The Kingdom Prepares: Kadzoratan
  12. The Festivities Begin: Sayao Paypay
  13. The Test of the Singkil
  14. Finale

These are the program notes for FFATI’s performance entitled MUSIC AND DANCE FROM SEVEN THOUSAND ISLANDS gala presentation on June 14, 1997 starting at 7:45 pm at the Horchow Auditorium, Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 Harwood, Dallas, Texas. (FFATI reserves the right to change the program sequence and/or numbers.)

last modified: June 4, 1997

Philippine Traditional Weddings

Filipino Wedding Rites  by Tara Celeste
copyright 1997, all rights reserved

Kasal …. meaning “wedding”. Ikasal…. to wed or to marry. Kasalan…. the wedding ceremony. The traditional Filipino kasalan in the Christian community is unique in that it adds three more ceremonies into the basic wedding rites. These additional ceremonies are: the veil, the cord and the arrhae or coin ceremonies. The whole wedding thus takes just a little bit longer, and a few more participants are required, but it certainly makes for a more memorable wedding day!

The Wedding Participants

Wedding participants are the Priest/Minister, the Bride, the Groom, Maid of Honor, Best Man, Bridesmaids, Groomsmen, Flower Girl/s, Ring and Coin Bearer, Bible Bearer, Parents of the Bride, Parents of the Groom, Primary Sponsors, Secondary Sponsors.

Historical Background

Traditionally, the coin, veil and cord ceremonies were performed only in the wedding rites of the Roman Catholic church in the Philippines. Today, other Christian churches have adopted it as well, and it is up to the bride and groom to request its inclusion from the officiating Priest/Minister.

The Spanish colonization period in the Philippines (1521-1898) brought the Roman Catholic religion to the islands. These special wedding rites were part of those which were brought by the Spanish friars to the Philippines, and similar wedding rites are found in Mexico today. Spain ruled the Philippines through Mexico, and a regular schedule of merchant galleon trade ships plying the Manila-Acapulco route joined the three countries’ cultures in more ways than one.

Songs for the Wedding Ceremony

What else could give more essence to the ceremony than music, especially a voice, or voices to send those “chill bumps up one’s spine”, and start the tears flowing from everyone?

Serenade to the Bride: The groom and his best man has marched in and standing in wait at the altar. The parents and sponsors have been seated. While the groom is awaiting thus, a song is offered as a “serenade to the bride”.

Ring Ceremony: A song is usually sung just after the exchange of rings.

Offertory or Communion Song: Another song is sung during this time. Usually, the Ave Maria and the Panis Angelicus.

The Lord’s Prayer: May be sung instead of recited at the appropriate place in the ceremony.

Songs after the ritual mass/service: Sometimes more songs are offered after the wedding ceremony, to serenade the wedding party during the long photo sessions which follow inside the church.

The Wedding March

Order of Entry

The Priest/Minister stands at the altar and the march begins. The best man leads the way, followed by the groomsmen. Then the groom follows. Marching with him, to his left side is his mother. Behind him on his same side is his father, and to his father’s left, is the mother of the bride.

Behind the families are the primary sponsors, with the female sponsors marching to the left side of the male sponsors. Respectfully called Ninong (male sponsor) and Ninang (female sponsor), this is a position of honor. One cannot choose his parents, but they could choose their godparents. They are like second parents to whom the couple could depend upon encouragement and counsel in their married years to come.

Behind the primary sponsors, march the secondary sponsors, again with the female sponsors positioned to the left of the male. These secondary sponsors play a part in the wedding ceremony, and each couple has specific functions: lighting of the unity candle, putting on the veil and the cord for their respective ceremonies. They are usually chosen from friends of the bride and groom.

The bridal party then follows in the following order: ring bearer/coin bearer, bible bearer*, flower girl, bridesmaids, maid of honor, then the bride with her father. She stands to the left side of her father. All guests stand as the bride marches in.

Note that all the female members of the bridal party (with the exception of the bride), stand or walk to the left of the male members. This is in keeping with the oriental yin and yang principle. Female energy is yin, and therefore should be to the left of the maleyang energy.

Order of Entry

(Standing at the altar)

Officiating Priest/Minister

Best Man

Mother of Groom – Groom
Mother of Bride – Father of Groom

Primary Sponsors
Ninang 1 – Ninong 1
Ninang 2 – Ninong 2
Ninang 3 – Ninong 3

Secondary Sponsors
Candle: Female – Male
Veil: Female – Male
Cord: Female – Male

Usually, the Parents, Primary and Secondary Sponsors would have taken their seats in the first
one or two designated front pews before the rest of the party marches in, as follows: 

Main Bridal Party
Ring/Coin Bearer (male child)
Bible Bearer* (male or female child)
Flower Girl
Bridesmaid 1
Bridesmaid 2
Bridesmaid 3
Maid of Honor

Father of the Bride – Bride

The Bride is on the right side of her Father (or whoever gives her away), so that when they get to the altar, he will not be in the way of the Groom who will be on her right side throughout the ceremony. 

Not traditional, but a common alternative nowadays, is that the Groom marches with both his parents, and the Bride with both her parents, hence:

Order of Entry

(Standing at the altar)
Officiating Priest/Minister

Best Man

Mother of Groom – Groom – Father of Groom

Primary Sponsors
Ninang 1 – Ninong 1
Ninang 2 – Ninong 2
Ninang 3 – Ninong 3

Secondary Sponsors
Candle: Female – Male
Veil: Female – Male
Cord: Female – Male

Main Bridal Party
Ring/Coin (Boy) Bearer
Bible (Boy or Girl) Bearer*
Flower Girl
Bridesmaid 1
Bridesmaid 2
Bridesmaid 3
Maid of Honor

Mother of Bride – Bride – Father of Bride

The advantage of this latter arrangement is that both parents participate equally in the wedding rites. The disadvantage is that because there are three people marching together at one time, it is crowded and there may not be enough room in the aisle. 

*Bible bearer – in Protestant ceremonies, a child (either male or female, usually male) brings a bible to the altar on top of a cushion, and there is a place where the officiating Minister, blesses this bible telling everyone of the couple’s wish for their home to be ruled by God’s word. This bible then becomes the couple’s home bible and will be used in all religious ceremonies and devotions in their household.

How they stand at the altar


Bridesmaids-Maid of Honor-BrideGroom-Best Man-Groomsmen
Flower Girls Ring/Coin/Bible Bearer

Seated in First and Second RowsParents of the Bride Parents of the Groom
Primary Sponsors** Secondary Sponsors**

(**This could be evenly matched on either sides. Some put the Secondary Sponsor pairs together, as they have to go to the altar at the same time for the veil, cord and candle ceremonies.) 

The Wedding Rites

The Bride and her Father marches to the altar. The Groom meets them, and all three will face the Priest/Minister. The question of who gives the bride away is asked, to which the bride’s Father answers, “I do” . He then gives her daughter’s hand to the groom, after which he takes his designated seat in the front row with his wife.

The Exchange of Vows follow.


Ring Ceremony: The Priest/Minister may, at this point bless the Bride, Groom and rings with holy water. He holds their hands together in unity, then they exchange rings.


Arrhae or Coin Ceremony: The Priest/Minister then drops 13 pieces of coins (silver or gold) called arras into the Groom’s waiting hands, who in turn drops it into the Bride’s hands. The Bride then puts her hand above the Groom’s then drops the arras into his hands again. The Groom allows the coins to then be dropped into a plate held by an acolyte.

The metal tinkling of the coins being passed from one pair of hands to the other, is a distinctive reminder of the groom’s promise to take care of his wife materially. The bride in return, by giving back the coins to his hands, convey that what they both earn become part of each other’s. The trickling sound also signifies abundance and success in the couple’s joint efforts. The husband gives his material earnings to his wife who manages, saves and invests the money wisely, as basic Filipino tradition dictates.

Veil Ceremony: In the Catholic ceremony, the Priest continues with the nuptial mass until the “Sanctus”. When the bell for the Sanctus rings, it is also a signal for the veil sponsors to come up to the altar. In Protestant ceremonies, the Minister explains the veil ceremony to the congregation and this constitutes as the cue for the veil sponsors.Together, they pin a veil from the groom’s shoulders, extending it to cover the bride’s head and shoulders. This is symbolic of the groom pledging his strength and protection to his bride – the wife who he promises to take care of, from this day forward.

Cord Ceremony: The Cord Ceremony follows immediately after. The Cord Sponsors come up to where the Bride and Groom are kneeling, and put a figure of eight cord over the veils that are on the heads and shoulders of the Bride and Groom. This cord symbolizes unity and infinity – a love together, forever!

Candle Ceremony: The Candle Ceremony is first and last. As soon as all the primary and secondary sponsors have been seated, the Candle Sponsors proceed to the altar where they light the two side candles beside the middle and larger (unity) candle. This represents the two lives and two spirits who will be joined together.

Towards the end of the ceremony, at a signal from the Priest/Minister, the Bride and Groom come up and approach the candles. They each take the smaller candles, and use it to light the middle unity candle. This means that from then on, their lives go together, kindled as one.

The Unity Candle is saved and kept by the couple, to be lighted on each wedding anniversary, as a reminder of this first day when they gave their promise to each other.

The rest of the wedding ceremony is the same as that in the west… the kiss after the priest or pastor introduces the couple for the first time as “Mr. and Mrs.”, and the guests applauding them. The march out of the church is definitely faster and more spirited than the wedding march to the altar. Rice and flower petals are thrown gently to the couple outside the church door for luck, prosperity and marital bliss. In America, bubbles are blown.

The Wedding Reception 

At the reception, everything follows the usual similar western practice – thr throwing of the bridal bouguet, the garter, the cake and champagne. One thing that is different however, is that during the reception, there is a bell shaped basket that hangs in the middle of the room. After the toast, the bride and the groom approached this bell-shaped basket, and pull on its ribbons to open a trapdoon, from which would fly two love birds – usually two white doves which are set free afterwards. For the birds to fly up towards the heavens when they are set free, is an omen of good luck, predicting a successful life together.

Two Filipino Traditional Reception Practices

Sayaw sa Batya – dancing inside a batya. A batya is a huge flat metal container about one meter in diameter and about 6 inches in height. It is used for handwashing clothes. In some localities in the Philippines, the couple dance inside the batya, while the guests throw money to them inside the batya. This money is the seed money which the couple will use to start their life together.


Sayaw ng Pera – the money dance. The couple dances a slow waltz and relatives of the groom pin money on his clothes, while relatives of the bride pin money on her clothes. The couple, of course, gets to keep all the money.


Filipino Wedding Dress

The Bride typically wears white, off-white or ecru, especially if she is wearing a dress made from the expensive jusi or piña cloth, which natural color is ecru. The groom wears a barong tagalog, a traditional hand embroidered formal shirt made from specially hand-loomed jusi or piña (pineapple fiber) cloth.

The Bride chooses a color scheme for her bridesmaids, flower girl and maid of honor. Typically, the female sponsors follow this color scheme.

Wedding Expenses

In the Philippines, the Groom’s family spends for everything except the bridal dress and female entourage dresses. He pays for the church, flowers, limousine, invitations, reception, etc.. The Bride only pays for her dress, and the dresses
of her bridesmaids, flower girls and ring bearer.

Wedding Superstition Trivia

1. It is bad luck for the bride to be seen by the groom trying on her wedding dress at any time before the wedding.

2. It is bad luck for the groom to see the bride the night before the wedding ceremony.

3. On the wedding day, light showers are considered lucky as they will bring material blessings to the union.

4. Typhoons bring bad luck should it come on the wedding day. A sunny day means a life full of married bliss.

The End 

Photos courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Andy and Pet Van Hausen who were married on June 14, 1997 at Lover’s Lane Methodist Church at 2pm. Their wedding ceremony was repeated at 8:30pm that night at the concert entitled “Music and Dance from Seven Thousand Islands” presented by the Filipino Folk Arts Theatre, Inc. at the Dallas Museum of Art. Costumes are from the Basilisa Elvas Filipiniana Collection.  

Filipino Folk Arts and Culture


by Zonia Elvas Velasco
(Copyright 1997, All Rights Reserved)

A country’s past history dictates its culture and tradition. This tradition is presented in its arts through music, dance, literature, architecture, fine arts, print, weaving, dress, cuisine, beliefs, folktales, stories, etc.. What is called traditional is that which is passed down from generation to generation through practice, word of mouth, written text, rituals and performances.

The Philippine culture is distinct from its other neighbors in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Not only has it been accessed through migrations and trade from the neighboring countries, but countries from the opposite side of the world have come into the country, leaving their cultural mark on its inhabitants which in turn have passed them on to the present generation.

Has anyone ever wondered how a Filipino can easily learn Hawaiian-Tahitian dances, and dance them in an instant, without need of much coaching? How come some of the dances of southern Philippines have gestures that look similar to that of Indian classical dance? How come our Jota dances look like they are flamenco dances of Spain? And our lilting balitaws, polkas and valse’s – why do Europeans love them so much?

The Philippines is situated strategically where on the eastern seashore laps the Pacific ocean, while to its west is the calmer China sea. Countries to the north are China, Taiwan and Japan, to its south is Borneo, Celebes (Sulawesi) and the other islands of Indonesia. To its west is Malaysia and Indo China and to the east is the vast Pacific and its Pacific Islands.

In analysis, it is interesting to note that if we watch dances of the other countries mentioned above, we realize that the Filipinos did not pick up much of the dance steps of the Chinese and Japanese. However, we do have a lot in common with the folk dances of Indonesia, Celebes, Borneo, Malaysia and India (through Indonesian dances).

How did India get into the picture when it is so far away? The Indian migrants, you see, went south, crossing the Indian ocean, to bring its culture and religion to Indonesia. In turn, Indonesia, spread it east to outlying islands. Waves of migration north from these areas brought the culture to the Philippines. By the time we got part of that Indian culture it has already been modified and processed by these southern countries.

The theory that India shared that culture with us from land movements going east through Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, China ….. is not as feasible as there are not many aspects in common by way of dress, customs from these northern countries as we have with the south and west (Indonesia and Malaysia).

How sure are we that we got a part of the Indian culture since the Hindu religion is not actively practiced by a large group of people in the Philippines? In the 50’s, in a cave off the Batangas coast, Pat Badillo, a Filipino antique and ethnic art collector unearthed about 100 stone statues that portray Hindu gods and the characters from the epic Ramayana. Instead of the elaborate stone carvings characteristic of typical Indian temple origin, they are more primitive stone carvings, with writing on them that show more similarity to the Bugis (versus Sanskrit) text.

What about dress, jewelry, weaving patterns, etc.? A country with an organized form of government and civilisation will start moving beyond the basic food and shelter necessities to luxury items. Our Philippine ancestors at the time that they were documented by the western world, were known to be wearing elaborate jewelry made of gold, different styles of cloth and different weaving patterns. For example, it is not hard to distinguish the difference between the weaving patterns and thicker thread used in the Mountain Province as compared to the finer weaving of the Maranao. In Mindanao, different areas offer different fabrics and patterns of weaving from silky scarves to ikat patterns, and elaborate malong weaving patterns.

What about writing? Of writing, the Philippines had its own written text, a form of which is still used by the Mangyan in Mindoro and Palawan today. They are not Chinese nor Hindi related but are seen to be related to writing found to be used also by the Bugis, a minority group who live in Celebes. Some Filipino scholars say that these writings come from the Bugis. Scholars from Celebes however, think that the Bugis got these writings from the Filipinos.

Other findings like the Copperplate inscriptions found in Laguna, demonstrate another type of script used and tell us that the local residents of that area already had a flourishing civilisation, long before the Arab traders or the Spanish had come into contact with the country.

Music is another aspect whereby a country’s culture could easily be seen and measured. Of music, in the South, we find more similarity again with our southern neighbors. The kulintangan gong orchestra is distinct, yet it belongs to the same brass gong grouping that includes the gamelan gong orchestra of Indonesia.

Are these gongs not similar to the Chinese gongs? Chinese gongs do not have a boss, and when struck produce a broken clanging sound. The gongs of the Mountain Province Igorots are similar to these.

On the other hand, the Kulintangan gongs from Mindanao have a boss, and when struck, produce a clear sound which could be adjusted and scaled to play a certain note. Hence the Kulintang is a series of graduated gongs, tuned to a pentatonic scale which produces the melody of the piece. The kulintang gong is similar to other gongs found in other countries of Southeast Asia.

In the 10th to 12th centuries, Arab traders came from the Indian Ocean to Indonesia, Malaysia, then the Philippines. With them they brought their language, music, religion and culture. Just like the Christians later, they brought their religious rituals and celebrations which are still carried on today.

In 1521, the Portuguese explorer Magellan came, in the name of Spain. The next 300 years saw the Philippines as a colony of Spain. Spain brought change. It’s goal was to change the culture of the country to make it like their own. It brought music, dance, European fashion, architecture, cuisine, etc… from Europe and the Americas (by way of Mexico). All these influences were assimilated into the culture.

For example, Filipinos started to compose music and sing in Spanish. Even those which are sung in the Filipino language, had the influence of Spain.. like our balitaws, polkas and pandanggos. Out of the chaos we identified those that came from our own songforms, like the kumintang and the kundiman.

Rondalla orchestras were born. On stage, the sarsuela started to flourish. The moro-moro became a stage-play which people enjoyed watching.

On the religious side, traditions which we still follow today for Advent, the Passion, Easter, etc… started.

Spain brought to the Philippines knowledge of their fine arts and painting, and the Amorsolos and Juan Lunas were among those Filipino painters who excelled in their work, which was celebrated in both hemispheres.

Arnis, the Filipino martial art was forced to retreat to secret practices during this time as they were banned by the Spanish. And yet, the Filipinos found a way to openly practice it, by making its movements part of Filipino folkdances. The Binasuan, for example is really a dance which shows the “lockflow” or the movements which an opponents joints could be locked to prevent them from moving to harm one during battle. The Sakuting dance, is really a two stick arnis exercise set to music (not coming from chopsticks like what some dance groups claim).

In December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed between Spain and the United States. The Philippines was sold for the the sum of $20,000,000 to the United States. This started another three year period of struggle, this time against America. In Philippine history, this was called the Philippine-American war, but in American history, this was called the Philippine Insurrection. This was America’s first war outside of the United States. Roughly 700,000 Filipinos lost their lives versus America’s 10,000 dead. Villages were massacred, sometimes to include 10 year old children because they were thought old enough to bear arms. However bad America started, it made up for it later. It built the Philippines slowly, bringing education to the masses, the protestant religion and a different way of life. American influence brought a new language, food, music, religion and dance patterns. For example, it brought the Fox Trot tempo to Filipino music as in the song “Magandang Juaning”.

What was Filipino culture like before all the other immigrants came to the country? No one really knows. History books show us pictures which the early Spanish and French artists drew about typical Filipino scenes. But these scenes were only made from people that lived in the bigger towns.

What about those Filipinos who retreated into the mountains and were not touched by the foreign invasion? What do we learn from them now about ourselves? Their culture is so valuable to us now, as they give us an example of what our ancestors could have been like years ago. Surprisingly, there are so many variations as different tribal groups present differences in government, beliefs, language and traits. Which leads us to the conclusion that we do come from varied cultures within the greater culture which we call Filipino.

Today, there is a movement to find and identify Filipino tribal minorities. These groups basically have been isolated from civilization, and have kept their own cultural tradition distinct through the generations. The government has identified about 200 of these, and they are all on the verge of extinction.

On a sad note, the Filipino of today who have education and live in the city, look down upon these group of people as illiterate and ignorant. This is not true. That was due to the teachings, misrepresentation, mis-education and mis-perception that was taught them by the colonial powers.

The truth is that, now, the west is coming to these areas, learning more about their tribal government, and realize that they make better sense. People from Europe have come to live in some isolated tribal communities, not to change the communities and modernize them to that of their European standards. On the contrary, they come to learn and willingly adapt that of the local tribal government because they find them superior to their own.

So what is traditional Filipino art and culture? That is a question that could not be answered in a single sentence. It is a lot of things. But to qualify, ask yourself this question: Is it something that your great-grandmother taught your my grandmother which she taught your mother to teach you? Is it something that has been practiced a long time, that you don’t even know why it is being practiced, except that it has just always been done like that? Is it something that you know is from the past but is unadulterated and unmodified by today’s music, art and culture?

The Philippines is a melting pot of the world’s cultures. Yet, out of that pot, it has made a distinctive product that is only one of a kind – the Filipino! All Filipinos should be very proud of their heritage. It did not get there overnight. It got there through the sweat and blood of ancestors who tried to find a land which they could make into a paradise.

Today, there are those of us who choose to live in America, far from the motherland. It is true that the land we call Philippines may be so far away from us…… but if we look deep inside, the paradise is there, because it has been and always will be there – in our hearts! Mabuhay ang Pilipino!!!

(Copyright 1997-Zonia Elvas Velasco-All rights reserved)