Celebrating our pre-colonial heritage

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales - CDN Digital | October 07,2019 - 06:58 AM

Hoops Dome in Lapulapu City will host on December 14 an unforgettable 30-minute extravaganza, a magnum opus, if you will, featuring the country’s best story tellers, choreographers and performers. The event: the start of the 500-day countdown to the historic battle at Punta Engaño, where Spain lost miserably in the hands of Lapulapu and his men. This has come to be known to the present as the Victory at Mactan.

In just 30 minutes, a never-before-seen pageant of the nation’s rich precolonial heritage will be performed in various types of presentation media, the task of which has fallen on renowned, multi-awarded playwright Floy Quintos to imagine and put into writing. 

To help him grasp the world we lost when Spain arrived on our shores, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) gathered a creative team, formed earlier, to meet with historians last Thursday, October 3,  in Manila. I joined U.P. history professor Dr. Vicente Villan, an expert in Visayan and Panay history, in a day-long meeting for this purpose, where we explored the ways in which the past can be showcased in just 30 minutes. 

Brainstorming the past at the secretariat office of the National Quincentennial Committee inside the headquarters of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines on Oct. 3, 2019.

Dr. Villan and I agreed that the show should be anchored on the warrior tradition and character of the Visayan peoples, suggesting the performance to be titled “Mangayaw,” to which Floy added the sub-title, “Libutin ang Mundo ng Ating mga Ninuno (Libuton ang Kalibutan sa Atong Mga Kagikan).” The word “libut” is intended both as a performative act and a contrapuntal device, or more to the point, a discursive play of words on the circumnavigation event that Spain will celebrate in 2022, the 500th year when the remainder of the Spanish fleet returned to Spain.

We decided on a storyline that will eventually show a vibrant group of islands that, centuries before Magellan arrived, had long been meeting and trading with foreigners while engaged in the art of warfare and defense, tested so successfully in the victory at Mactan. This will entail ways of telling such a story, both in music and dance as well as perhaps in chants, complete with state-of-the art multimedia technologies in a show approximating the opening of the Olympics, for example. Consider these facts and jus imagine for now how this will be presented in just 30 minutes on December 14:

The precolonial Bisaya was tattooed, had lots of gold jewelry and went about raiding villages in the south and the north of the islands to secure slaves or to get a well-guarded maiden, a “binukot,” to be married to the chief or his son. At the same time, however, this was a world full of rituals and beliefs, in a hierarchical spirit world with a supreme being, called Laon or Malaon, the ancient one, on the apex. It was a world where the spiritual realm was reached through ritual practitioners called “babaylan” (women) and “asug” (effeminate men). Land was communally managed by a chief called “datu” who ensured order in his “gamuru” or “guinsacopan” (territory) composed of allied “datu”, free men called “Tumaw” or “Timawa” and various  categories of persons in debt called “Ulipon.” Defense was assured by warriors called “bagani” who, like the datus, had their bodies ritually tattooed to mark victories in battles. This was a world in which communal land was tilled but also abandoned for years in order for the soil to reinvigorate and build up nutrition. 

THE TEAM. The creative team with historians posing in front of a blown-up set of illustrations from the “Boxer Codex” showing precolonial Bisayans.

Other than Floy on the creative side asked to put these and many more facts that we put on the discussion table is multi-awarded theater director and composer Lutgardo “Garde” Labad, who took time away from his work on the preservation and promotion of Bohol’s artistic and musical heritage to direct this production, undaunted by the limited time left to prepare. Together with him are composer Jem Talaroc, theater artist Dessa Quesada-Palm of Silliman University, artistic director Eric Divinagracia of University of San Agustin in Iloilo. Only my good friend, Junjet Primor, the choreographer of this event, was not able to attend this brainstorm of a meeting.

I wish President Rodrigo Duterte, despite his dislike for certain aspects of the Quincentennial events, will be able to attend this opening salvo on December 14, if only for him to see that indeed we can focus not on Spanish conquest but on the society and culture that the Spaniards rent asunder when they came to conquer our world. 


My congratulations to GMR Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC), the private managers of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, on the vast improvement, nay, massive enhancement of Terminal 1, the domestic terminal. Like Terminal 2, it is now very spacious, well-lit and complete with shops and a food court. It is without doubt worthy of being the central hub for domestic flights in the country. It was my second time yesterday to be at the terminal in just a week and I could still not help but marvel at what other better things in store for the airport. 

Domestic Terminal, Mactan Cebu International Airport

Of course, I still think there should be an exhibition there, no matter how small, of the airport’s evolution from a World War II Japanese airfield, to an American airbase and now the internationally renowned world-class gateway that it has become today.

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TAGS: CDN Digital opinion, Cebu columns, columnist Jobers Bersales, Floy Quintos, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), Past forward, Vicente Villan

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