Monday, July 28, 2003

Drums of giants: Marawi City

Jafar is our driver. He is Maranao. They tell me Maranao drivers are special. We hop into the van: Sunnie, Maui, Alex, a current Kambayoka member, and me and head to Tugaya. There are numerous towns along the lake. Tugaya is known for its craftsmen.

We first go to the brass makers collective. Jafar's family is part of this collective. We pass through the home and enter the backyard. We watch as they add a layer of bamboo ash to the inside of a wooden mold. The design is done by sticking strips of bee's wax to the side. The designs have triangles and curly cue swirls. They will later put together the two parts of the mold, then poor wax in two holes at the top. Jafar demonstrates. This is the old way of brass making. It takes about a week to finish one, depending on the design and the intricacies. Down the street is where they sell the pieces, nice and polished. They have a seller in Davao at Al Davinco market.

Sunnie and Maui explain that I am from Manila just visiting and they are taking me around. I have that urban sophisticate look about me which blends well. My camera too.

We get back in the van and drive along the roads in the neighborhood. They've set it up so there's one road in and one road out. They are narrow. There is a radio or tape playing Arabic prayers. Kids play alongside the road. There is a neighborhood mosque.

Maui tells me, the Maranao keep many guns. It's a status symbol, like expensive cars. Here it's guns. The Maranao are known as a fighting people. One of their traditional weapons is the kampilan, a long and heavy sword shaped like a crocodile. Unlike most other Philippine swords that have a dual purpose, the kampilan was built for battle. Maui had told me stories before about how his uncles constantly got into street fights to protect their honor. Talagang astig!

We wind down the road to one of the wood carvers. They make the traditional wooden chests called baol with similar designs of mother of pearl pounded in. He had several different baols each of increasing intricacy. In addition he was working on a tv stand and hood where the lid lifts up and slides back. People want TV cabinets more than chests. The design must be first chipped out of the surface of the wood, then the mother of pearl is pounded in. His house stands on stilts right on the water's edge. Under his house are gong and kulintang stands, some so carved in so much detail it looks like it's shimmering.

Sunnie haggles for a couple of small boxes that I want to buy for pasalubong. He is quite the charmer. There is an art to the bargaining, called tawad. There's shock of disbelief of such a high price, the asking for a discount for bulk purchases, the acknowledgement of comeraderie, the well timed jokes, complimenting the seller on how nice they are, the enthusiastic thanks once a price is agreed upon, etc. It's a dance really. In some sense, the seller's willingness to go down in price shows how much they like the buyer.

We hop into the van and drive again. A few houses down, we spot a log of wood, 10-12 ft in length lying on its side, with carved designs. Stop! Stop! we cry to Jafar who abruptly parks. Sunnie calls to the people inside asking them if we can take a look at the drum. "We are from MSU with a guest from Manila." A family walks out. One of the men, wearing a rainbow colored malong, says, "Sure!" and indicates where I should stand to get a better picture of the log.

The log is really a HUGE drum. They bring us to their workshop where there are 6-7 of these drums already finished standing upright. They are twice my height and carved from base to rim. It takes two years to makes one, carved out of a single piece of wood from a tree born in Spanish times (ie over 100 years old). What possesses anyone to spend two years carving out a drum? The drums were used to warn of danger. If there were attacks from one side of the Lake, they would play the drum to announce to the other villages of the attack. I can only assume that they were hung on their side. They use horse's hide for the drum skin.

In another areas of their workshop there are 3-4 incomplete ones and another on it's side being hollowed out. It's all done by handtools, no black and decker here. The similar Maranao design of the wavy curly cues that remind me of paisley patterns is penciled in on the side, while that dig out the inside of the trunk.

They invite us inside to see another baol piece. I am amazed by the craftsmanship in each new piece.

We hop back in the van and continuing driving. We make out way like this. See something interesting, tell Jafar to stop, then ask the residents there if we can take a closer look. The people there are quite welcoming and enjoy showing off their work, in part hoping to make a deal, but also you can see the pride that they take in their work. Some are making innovations like the TV cabinet or a wooden vase with the mother of pearl designs. In order to retain their traditions, they must innovate to art to what the market is looking for. Yes, they are being influenced by a global market that spreads handicrafts throughout the world for the tourist trade, but it's also what they need to do in order to remain being carvers. It's either this, or go abroad, like many others.

As we pass by schools there are makeshift checkpoints. People are so used to driving through checkpoints they have utilized this concept to force drivers to slow down when near schools. The checkpoints are integrated into the every day psyche.

On the way back to town, Jafar races through the roads. In general Philippine driving is crazy, but Maranao drivers will scare the wits out of a regular Philippine driver. Like the chicken games the buses play on the highways, Maranao drivers play it up a notch. At the closest split seconds they somehow make it back into their lane. A leftover road block covers our side of the road while the cars coming down hill cut into our lane to cut the curve, even though the road is wide. A timid driver would wait. Jafar steps on the gas and somehow we squeeze through as a oncoming car whizzes inches past. All of us exhale in relief. Alex who sits next to me had his hands covering his face, too scared to see what might have happened. This is much scarier than a rollercoaster.

We all commend Jafar's skills. I'm not sure if his mind simply can calculate physics at a tremendous rate or that he simply believes. Maui says that his kind of driving represents the Maranao attitude. They are a prideful people who rarely back down. These are the kinds of games they play, the need to show face and courage. This is what I believe people in the lowlands are afraid of. But I find that they are simply mirroring what they are presented as is natural for people.

We drive through the narrow streets of downtown Marawi. There are no busses here so there is no need for wider streets. We hear kulintang music, stop the jeep and follow the golden sounds. It is a thanksgiving feast at a home. There are women dressed in malong, long sleeved blouse and head dress. Two large agongs are hung from the ceiling. A row of 8 large bronze gongs are suspended on strings on a wooden stand. They allow us to sit and watch. Maui tells me it's unusual to see all women play, often there is usually at least one man. Their dabakan/drum is a plastic pail.

Most areas that play kulintang have a few rhythmic standards upon which each player improvises to create their own version of the tune, in the same way many jazz musicians riff of off a jazz standard. I am honored that they let us listen. The children of course are quite fascinated by the new visitors. They pile up near the bench I'm sitting on, they press against each other as if there is an invisible barrier they cannot pass a few feet away from me.

We thank the women for our intrusion and hop back into the van. We do not have time to stay long in any one place. This is partially for safety purposes as well as the lack of time we have today. We still have to drive back to Cagayan de Oro from here. We take a few photos at the provincial capital building and grand mosque. It's the largest mosque in Marawi.

I ask Sunnie about weavings so we stop by a co-op of weavers. They make malong landap, the fancifully decorated malongs. Bright red, yellows, with gold threaded trim. I buy a couple for my mom and sister. $40 US, pricey, but you won't find these in SM.

Our last stop is Maranao food. We go by a row of turo-turo (point-point) food stands near the campus. The vendor hits the front of the display case to chase the flies. We choose the chicken with yellow tumeric and coconut sauce and a spicy fried fish ball with rice. There is a metal bowl and water pitcher with which to wash our hands with. Traditionally, men are separated from women and the food is eaten with hands. We are constantly waving flies off the table, but at this point, I don't care and swatting of flies is a normal thing. The food is delicious!

We go back to the Kambayoka offices and hang out there for a few more hours before heading back to CDO. We leave around 5p and drive in and around the campus a bit. Maui tells me that these buildings here are on university property but the university president is too weak minded to enforce the boundary. There used to be trees there that were burned down. They think it was arson. Pretty soon, the university will have no room. "Once they are here," Maui explains, "they will not leave unless forced to by guns. They will claim that this is their ancesteral domain, even though it is public land of the university. Guns are the only language they know." I ponder this for a moment. This is true with many areas of the Philippines. With 10 million people, land is scarce and so long as no one complains, someone will squat on other people's property and must be paid or forced off in order to leave. Some make it part of their livelihood.

We head down the hill and we whiz past the banners, mosques, and schools as the sun starts to fade. I count backwards the number of checkpoints. We are stopped at one. The one near the fishery. Maui says this is a key checkpoint. We roll up to the soldier standing there, a bright searchlight pointed directly at the car. Maui turns on the light inside the car to allow the soldier a clearer view of the passengers. Sunnie speaks to the soldier, tells him we are from Cagayan de Oro and simply returning home. He is a professor at MSU. I say nothing. There is nothing for me to say. The soldier looks at each of our faces probably trying to compare them to the Philippine's top ten list of fugitives and rebels. After a few more moments he lets us through and Alex races back to CDO.

Maui turns off the light. "Behind the searchlight," he says, "is what do you call it, the gun with the bullets that feed through." "A machine gun?" I say. "Yes," he says, "behind the searchlight is a machinegun pointed directly at the car just in case something happens. Before they didn't have this and a few soldiers paid the price. They know better now." "I'm glad you told me this after the checkpoint." I reply, exhaling to release the tension in my chest.

The rest of the trip back is uneventful. Once we're past the refinery the landscape has changed. Malongs have turned to blue jeans, covered heads and long sleeved blouses turn to uncovered heads and t-shirts.

Back in CDO we stop by the brand new SM mall, so I can get a balikbayan box. I txt my friend, "now my trip is complete. m @ SM CDO." How can you not go to the Philippines without visiting at least one mall and specifically SM (Shoe Mart), the cookie cutter mall of the nation. They have Ace hardware, stores that look like GAP, National Bookstore that sells mostly NY Times best sellers with a small shelf for Philippine books.

We get back to the hotel and rest a bit. We will head to Tribu again later to meet up with some folks. This is my last night in the Philippines. I'll be going home tomorrow.

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