Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Notes from Kapwa 3

Notes from the Kapwa 3 Conference
Baguio City, June 26, July 2, 2012

I have been struggling to write these notes from the Kapwa 3 conference because in so many ways, the event couldn't really be captured in words. You just had to be there. Present. Embodied. Because what the body experiences teaches the mind to wrestle with one's intellectual preoccupations; it teaches the soul to rest in the wisdom of the body; it teaches the heart to break wide open.  When the gongs and the drums start and you see the IPs begin to form a circle and dance, you can't help but join in. Your feet will take you there and you begin to move, at first in imitation of the IPs, and then your body finds its own rhythm and you begin to move from your inner being. You are joyful. You are wordless. You don't want to stop. Something stirs you deeply. It feels ancient. It feels good. You are glad to be there.
**
During the pre-conference, the different schools of living traditions set up their spaces at VOCAS and displayed their beautiful arts and crafts. Mangyan, Talaandig, Ata, Panay Bukidnon, Tiboli, Palaw'an, Subanen, Manobo, Kalinga, Ifugao. Basketry, bead jewelry, handsewn blouses, necklaces and armbands, embroidery, handcarved bamboo flutes, soil paintings, woven tapestries, bird whistles. Colors everywhere! Dazzling Beauty!
**
Naturally, our group from the US and Canada was ecstatic from this display of indigenous beauty. We filled our backpacks with purchases and we kept coming back for more. We made friends with the IPs; we had long extended conversations. I saw some of the young ones sitting at the feet of the IP elders listening to their stories. The young IPs, on the other hand, relished their chats with our group -- sharing their dream of getting educated, their stories of pride in their ethnic festivals and their schools of living tradition. This Kapwa 3 was specially focused on the IP youth -- to bring them into the wide circle of the country's IP communities -- so they may get to know IPS from other tribes. There were workshops that trained them how to teach others about their cultural practices and beliefs through the medium of performing arts. Then they were given the opportunity to perform at different high schools around Baguio City.
**
The first three days of Kapwa3 were devoted to these open interchange amongst all the various groups that included us. At the center stage, there were various IP speakers - Datu Vic of the Talaandig, Manong Fred of the Panay Bukidnon, Maria Todi of the Tiboli; they were joined by invited speakers like Dennis Banks, Aniishinabe founder of the American Indian Movement, representatives of the Karen tribe from Thailand, Ainu representatives from Japan. Storytelling, chanting, drumming, dancing -- filled all of our senses with an ineffable satisfaction.
**
The ABS-CBN crew who has been documenting the event, at one point, stopped to tell me that they are so awed and overwhelmed by their experience that they didn't know how to condense it all into a 30-minute documentary. How can this event be framed and communicated to urban city-folks without portraying IPs as "other" or as commodified cultural objects, or as endangered exotic cultures. We had a chance to talk about Kapwa: what would the disappearance of our indigenous cultures, languages, peoples mean for urban city folks? If we are each other's Kapwa, wouldn't those losses be ours as well? What do we all lose? What does it all mean? Such questions are so fecund. Must keep asking them.
**
The academic part of the conference began on the third day. The University of the Philippines in Baguio hosted this part of Kapwa 3. Students filled the auditorium. Academics presented papers on Kapwa psychology, research on indigenous practices, educational issues, on IP advocacy issues. Each day of the conference began and ended with ritual. We learned a lot from the wealth of knowledge shared by scholars from around the country. Oh, did you know that the Department of Education in the Philippines now has an "Office of IP Education"? How cool is that? It's about time.
**
There were also off-site events. One day we all rode in jeepneys to go to the Bencab Museum. This is a destination! It houses indigenous arts of the Northern tribes as well as Bencab's works and those of other artists. For Kapwa 3, there were several local indigenous artists whose woodcarving, sculptures, and other works were exhibited for this event. Yes - there was dancing and drumming there as well!
**
After the trip to Bencab Museum we proceeded to a new art-site in Baguio which is still under construction. There was a canao that night that lasted till midnight. The youthful ones stayed behind and enjoyed the verbal jousting and exchange of chants between the IP groups.
**
Another night we watched Busong which was introduced by the filmmaker himself, Aureaus Solito. In another part of the city, at Padma's bookstore, Dr. Mend-ooyo, Mongolian poet, read from his works and shared his paintings as well. I shared the evening with him and read from the Babaylan book.
**
Btw, the food served throughout the conference was catered by Oh My Gulay's indigenous chef... Everyday we ate gourmet healthy vegetarian meals. The merienda was likewise just as delicious and nourishing. Lemon grass and pandan tea flowed freely.
**
It rained everyday mostly in the afternoons. It is the monsoon season after all. But there were all-day rains all day. Sometimes Baguio was wrapped in fog. So we had it all -- warm sun, cool rain, foggy days. But nothing dampened the spirit and energy of Kapwa 3.
**
We were able to gather our US and Canada group twice for brief sharing of how we were feeling, what we were thinking. Alas, there was not enough time to process it all. Even now, we are still processing and this will be an ongoing work for a long time.
**
Kapwa2 in 2008 opened a portal in myself that I didn't even know was closed but could now, in hindsight, be grateful for that opening.  I saw this happen again to the Kapwa 3 folks for whom this is a first-time encounter with IPs. All manner of questions, of inarticulable feelings, of sensations, of waking up -- it was all there. It was hard to contain. It was spilling over.
**
The cultural tour was cancelled due to heavy rains so we all gathered at Katrin's in Tuding after the conference. Here we were able to circle up again and talk a little bit more about our experiences, our dreams, our "what's next?" Katrin mentioned the role that folks in the diaspora might have in the sustainability of Kapwa conferences as well as the sustainability of efforts to make a difference in the lives of IP youth. She said that a scholarship fund exists to help fund IP scholars. It is a reality that IP communities need to have members who can negotiate with entities (government, NGOs, nonprofits), can do accounting, and other skills needed to help their communities navigate their way in a world that is encroaching upon their ancestral domains, their rights, their way of life.
I said something about how our peak experiences at Kapwa3 will fade as we return to the US and resume our daily lives...but now we have had these experiences and they've made a difference in our consciousness, and we would like to incorporate these into our waking world. What shall we do to honor our commitments to ourselves, to the IP communities we said we would support? What shall we do to remind ourselves daily of our connection to the homeland and to the IPs? For we are connected...in ways so deep that we may not yet be fully aware of. How do we grow that awareness?
**
I relish the moments now of being able to see those FB images of Kapwa 3. I will continue on posting some more notes as time permits. For now, enjoy this first one...
**
Wish you were there...



1 comment:

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