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The Epic Tale of the Singkil Dance

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Singkil; also known as Sayao sa Kasingkil is generally (often erroneously) considered a traditional Muslim dance, as it is a dance of the Maranao/Meranao (people of the lake), a Malay Muslim or Moro people or tribe who inhabit the shores of Lake Lanao in Mindanao province, Southern Philippines. The Singkíl is in fact secular in nature, performed by the Ummah communities of the Maranao and Maguindanao but has roots in pre-Islamic Mindanao.

Singkil is regarded as the oldest and the most golden Filipino dance, either named after the heavy leg bracelets or anklets of silver, nickel or brass with chiming bells of the same name worn on the ankles of the Maranao princess, or the act of voluntarily or accidentally entangling on one’s feet in either vines or tall grass because singkil as a word literally means “to entangle the feet with disturbing objects or anything in your path”

It is danced with fans and bamboo poles, and is an expression of grace delicately balanced within danger, as the dancers must step nimbly between moving bamboo poles that could trip them up or crush their ankles with a single mistake.

Singkil is often performed as a ritual for festivals and ceremonies of passage by the Maranao prince and princess to define their courting originally. But since it is considered taboo for Muslims to dance with men and women together, especially for royalty; it became that only women, particularly of noble blood danced the Singkíl's lead female—to present her eligibility in a conscious or unconscious advertisement to potential suitors for her future marriage while displaying the agility of the young girl turning into a woman with every step.

Singkil Anklets

Singkil Anklets

Initially, the dance was performed with just one pair of bamboo poles, but eventually adopting the use of two crisscrossing pairs arranged in either a parallel or rectangular fashion. But more additional sets were also added in later adaptations to build more thrill and heighten excitement. Another notable variation from the original is its inclusion of male dancers, as pole clappers.

For the music, the musicians match the tempo of the clapping bamboo with a Kulintang (an ancient musical instrumental composed on a row of small, horizontally laid gongs) and Agung (a set of two wide-rimmed, vertically suspended gongs) ensemble that always accompanies the dance. These instruments are forged in either brass or bronze and tuned to each other, and they cannot be separated or mixed with other ensembles.

Singkil by Menchu Arandilla

Singkil by Menchu Arandilla

Process

The more modern version of this dance is divided into four movements:

The first movement is called Asik, where the maidservant with umbrella is introduced that usually precedes the performance of Singkil. Asik means "agitated, or to leap for joy or anger" in Maranao language. It is a solo dance performed by the umbrella-bearing attendant (some scholars list her role as ‘slave’) to win the favor of her sultan master.

Second movement is the entrance of the princess, heralded by the chimes and gongs. Resplendent in dazzling golds, sapphire and other jewel tones, the princess’ manservants carry her in a litter or sedan chair (depending on the capability and resources of the dance company) in a solemn procession. Upon her ankles the small bells mark to count her movements.

Usually, her entourage of ladies-in-waiting precede her with scarves, fans and decorative umbrellas, flourishing their measured movements and keeping dignified expressions on their faces. But in other adaptations they come after her entrance.

Then the arrival of the prince, a suitor courting the princess dances opposite her bearing a kris (a Malay-Indonesian dagger with a wavy-edged blade) and shield.

The third movement is called Patay meaning "dead", which is a slow section, and is a structural dance convention often found in Western performances.

And the fourth movement is the climax in which all dancers dance to the crescendo of the music, while the pace of the bamboo poles between which closures they skillfully navigate quickens pace. Performers would therefore gracefully step in and out of clapping bamboo poles, while the main lady attendant dutifully follows her mistress wherever she goes and the dance ends with the princess going home with the prince.

Costume

As mentioned earlier, the prince figure carries a shield and a native sword called kris (also known as keris/kalis)—a highly spiritual sword filled with mythology in many cultures in Southeast Asia. It is believed to have its own spirit and capable of defeating evil beings or warding off spirits. The kris are also believed to protect homes, and passed down as heirlooms. Only those with royal blood can possess this magical weapon, with the exception of the spiritual leaders.

The lead female dancer graciously manipulates either fans called Apir (meaning to clap), scarves, or just her bare hands while she steps in and out of closing bamboo poles. She is wearing a unique interpretation of the traditional outfit worn by a Moro Princess, while being accompanied by a lady-in-waiting, who holds a beautifully decorated ceremonial umbrella called payong-a-diakatan over the princess’ head wherever she goes.

In most cases, either the umbrella or the princess' headdress or crown is topped with the mythical bird called Sarimanok; a symbol of good fortune and unity. It is a very important cultural symbol for the Maranaos and a common traditional motif that is used especially in royal occasions such as enthronement, weddings or kalilang (feasts). The Sarimanok is usually found in Maranao territory to either be made of brass or wood-carving, in art, architectural designs and textile patterns or part of an embellishment.

The Sarimanok is derived from the totem bird of the Maranaos called Itotoro, a medium to the spirit world via its unseen twin spirit bird called Inikadowa, thus bridging the worlds of the seen and the unseen and invoked through rituals.

Although figurative art, displaying humans and animals is frowned upon by Muslims, it is sometimes also based in a later Islamic legend that says the Prophet Muhammad found a rooster in the first of the seven heavens, so large that its crest touched the second heaven.

The name Sarimanok comes from sari (meaning "varied or assorted") which is a Hindu cloth or garment made up of different colors, and "manok", the Tagalog word for fowl or chicken.

The colors of the Sarimanok is meaningful as well. The head consists of a crown that holds the colors of the Philippine flag, while the face is colored white to represent purity. Later on, the neck or tail has 8 feathers to symbolize the first eight Tagalog provinces that rose up against Spanish colonial rule, or just to signify the Philippines as a country as it soars and advances forward.

A popular favorite choice for National Costume by Filipino Beauty Pageant contestants

A popular favorite choice for National Costume by Filipino Beauty Pageant contestants

Popularity

When the historians-dancers-ethnomusicologists Bayanihan Dance Company began performing the Singkíl in the mid-1950's, the traditional Singkil dance became a popularized Philippine folk dance and branded as the 'Princess Dance' or the 'Royal Maranao Fan Dance'.

The Bayanihan version re-tells the Singkil conveyed with Western aesthetics, and performed for audiences around the world, even for Ed Sullivan, to much acclaim. Although, the Bayanihan in their mission statement make no secret of the fact that the historical folk dances they present are reinterpreted and restaged for contemporary audiences.

Bayanihan Dance Company's Singkil Princess in the 1960's

Bayanihan Dance Company's Singkil Princess in the 1960's

Bayanihan has both to remain constant and to change and adapt. It has to remain constant and true to its mission of showcasing the best of Philippine culture and artistry. But it has to do this by making the changes needed to meet the preference, expectations and requirements of an audience of a different century, an audience nurtured in high technology and the information age.

— Helena Benitez, founder of Bayanihan Dance Company

Bayanihan Dance Company

It was researched, interpreted and staged by the Bayanihan’s dance director Lucrecia Reyes-Urtula, who went on to be named a National Artist of the Philippines for her contributions to cultural heritage in dance in 1988; together with Henrietta "Ele" Hoffer (a choreographer of Maranao, German and Dutch descent, and founder of the Darangen Cultural Ensemble) who became the Singkil dancer in dance groups of the Philippine Women's University even before the Bayanihan was so named.

According to Hoffer, one of the original dancer of Singkil, Princess Tarhata Alonto-Lucman, artfully twirled three fans for each hand. She was the first Muslim lady governor of Lanao del Sur, who broke royal Muslim traditions by marrying the man of her choice, a staunch critic of the Marcos regime during the Martial Law Dictatorship, and eventually became a leading light for her fellow Muslims.

Singkil is truly one of Bayanihan's signature dances derived from the Maranao. In this rendering, the prince has a contingent of male warriors/assistants (counterparts of the princess' court ladies) that serve as background fan dancers who stimulate the waves of the sea in their movements.

The fan dance is allegedly an incursion from another dance of a different Muslim group, the Daling-daling dance from the Tausug of Sulu—mixed with the Kini-Kini scarf dance based on the Maranao royal walk, representing their sophisticated women with walking movements and shapes that are very articulate. Their scarves represent their fluidity and grace, a characteristic of their good education.

All these different elements have been incorporated into the Bayanihan Singkil which is now the more recognized, iconic and popular, with the original Singkil being far less known in comparison.

Bayanihan Singkil Evolution (from top to bottom, left to right); colorized picture in1958, their earlier version of Singkil, and black and white in 1977

Bayanihan Singkil Evolution (from top to bottom, left to right); colorized picture in1958, their earlier version of Singkil, and black and white in 1977

The Bayanihan portrayal became so popular that it is often mistaken for the authentic version of the dance, now replicated by innumerable dance companies and Filipino student groups around the world; believing in the authenticity of the Bayanihan Singkil interpretation.

PCN (Pilipino Cultural Night) festivities held by foreign-based student groups and other theatrical dance companies have modernized this dance, resulting in unorthodox portrayals of the Singkíl by even the most esteemed of Philippine folk dance choreographers. Some dance companies have even fused the Singkíl with ballet, and artistic directors argue that there is a need to enhance common steps to visually stimulate audiences.

What was an "invented tradition", has now, over time, obtained the status of national culture as the youth in schools (from elementary to college levels) have consistently performed this dance over the last few decades, especially during Linggo the Wika (used to be a week-long but now turned a month countrywide celebration of the Philippine National Language and Culture).

(Singkil starts at 12:30)

But there are several interpretations of the Singkil. Filipino dancer, choreographer, stage designer, artistic director and National artist of the Philippines for Dance in 2006—Ramon Obusan, studied the Maranao folk dances and used his findings in presenting the folk dances close to its original form in his Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group. In his version, it is interpreted as a wedding dance performed with a brief ritual at the beginning.

While the Singkil of Philippine Baranggay Folk Dance Troupe, which is based on Francisca Reyes-Aquino's research (considered as the mother of Filipino folk dances, whose life and work was celebrated in Google's daily Doodle on March 9, 2019), portrays a prince dancing with scarves instead of a sword and shield.

The Singkíl was also performed in the 2001 American independent film The Debut. The movie was directed by Filipino American filmmaker Gene Cajayon and starred Dante Basco, capturing the essence of Filipino traditions and the blending of these with modern American culture.

A play by Catherine Hernandez titled Singkil was published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2009, and tells a story of a Filipino family migrating to Canada, with the Filipino folk dance bridging their past and present.

Kaloob Philippine Music and Dance Ministry

The Epic

The Singkil was set into a storyline based on an episode of the Darangen (also spelled as Darangan), an epic poem written before the coming of Islam to the Philippine islands in the 14th century. It is the unique Maranao interpretation of the ancient Indian epic: Ramayana, connecting it to earlier Sanskrit traditions and indicating the dance’s Hindu spiritual origin.

Darangen is considered to be the longest surviving epic poetry in the Philippines, consisting of 17 cycles with 72,000 lines in iambic tetrameter or catalectic trochaic tetrameter. Each cycle pertains to a different self-contained story but they are all connected sequentially.

Its importance was first recognized by Frank Charles Laubach, an American missionary and teacher then living in the Lanao Province who first encountered it in February 1930 on a return trip to Lanao by boat and heard it being sang (incompletely) by two Maranao leaders for the two-day journey. The entire epic was published from 1986 to 1988 in eight volumes, in both original Maranao verses and their English translations.

But the Darangen is meant to be narrated by singing or chanting because it derived from the verb darang, which literally means "that which is narrated by song or chant" in the Maranao language.

Although the Darangen touches on topics such as social values, customary law, courtship, politics and others, it also recounts the history of the Maranao as well as their folktales, myths and feats through symbols, metaphor, irony and satire. The epic also illuminates the inter-ethnic relationships of the Maranao people by mentioning the Manobo (referred to as the mountain-dwellers), and the Sama-Bajau (the sea gypsies/nomads) many times.

Sung in its original form, the Darangen possessed a sustained beauty and dignity, and it might be studied for it’s aesthetic values alone. A full performance of the entire epic usually takes about a week and several nights were needed to recite the twenty five beautiful chapters. In modern times, however, it is more common to only perform parts of the epic, which usually lasts for several hours depending on the part being performed.

The omitted parts are usually those that broach non-Islamic themes that mention ancestral or nature spirits, because some Maranao Islamic religious leaders object to it; resulting to modern revisions and singers refusing to sing these older versions as they are deemed inauthentic.

Select parts of it are memorized and performed by male and female singers known as onor during weddings called kawing and other traditional night time celebrations, usually accompanied by music from kulintang gong ensembles, tambor drums, and kudyapi stringed instruments. It is also traditionally accompanied by several dances interpreting specific episodes of the epic, but it can also be used as a lullaby for children.

The use of archaic Maranao in the Darangen makes it less readily accessible to modern Maranao speakers, leading to a decreasing interest among modern Maranao youth. Some versions are so old that only the chanters can understand the words being used.

In 2002, the Darangen was declared a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines by the National Museum and a Provincial Treasure by the Lanao del Sur provincial government. The Darangen epic was also proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005 by UNESCO.

Singkil concept art by Isaiah Santos

Singkil concept art by Isaiah Santos

Darangen tells of the sentimental and romantic adventures of noble warriors. The heroes in the epic worship and interact with various ancestor and guardian spirits called tonong and nature spirits or minor deities called diwata; thus details the traditional pre-Islamic anito religions of the Maranao. An example is Batara-sa-Marudo, a diwata capable of bringing down floods and storms.

The Darangen features several locales, but the principal setting is the grand city of Bembaran (also spelled Bumbaran or Bembran). The seat of the Kingdom of Bembaran was described as being near a great river, but it supposedly does not exist anymore as it was enchanted and sank to the bottom of the sea.

According to one source, this ideal mythological kingdom comes to an end with the final episode of Darangen recounting Bembaran's fall. It describes how a Muslim missionary famous in all of Sulu and Mindanao named Sharief Awlis, visited Bembaran and taught the Islamic faith. The people there refused to accept the religion, so Allah became angry and destroyed the kingdom with a great fire. A man named Butuanen Karinan, who barely escaped, is thought to be the direct ancestor of the Maranao people.

In the epic, Bembaran is described as being founded by Diwata Ndaw Gibon, the grandfather of the notable warrior-prince called Bantugan (whose name means popular or famous). Prince Bantugan was the younger brother of the chieftain of the empire, named Madali. It is said that while Madali won many battles, Bantugan won many hearts—for the younger brother is not only a marvelous fighter but also very handsome and popular. He has courted fifty of the loveliest princesses in the world but the king does not allow him to marry. His popularity later makes the older brother jealous.

(But in other translations I found, Madali turns out to be one of his first cousins and his older brother's name was really Pasandalan a Rogong.)

Bantugan owned a magic shield, was protected by divine spirits and was capable of rising from the dead. One time, his enemies attacked Bembaran, thinking he was dead. But in the nick of time, Bantugan’s soul was recovered and he saved the city.

There is also an episode where Prince Bantugan was on a quest and fought his enemies with his magical kampilan (a large single-edged sword). Soon, he got tired and fell on to the water where a crocodile delivered him to his enemies. But he regained his strength, escaped his captors, commands an oarless ship and won the battle.

I can relate to the story of Bantugen so easily because the story revolves around feelings. Like the king who has a longing for somebody, but Bantugen also is attractive to that woman. It’s very human in contrast to some of the scenes that I read that are quite unbelievable; like Bantugen fighting with the sun, riding the sun, fighting the rain or beating the earthquakes. But I think that is how they sensationalize the greatness of Bantugan.

— Gener Caringal, artistic director and choreographer of the Philippine Ballet Theater

Putri Gandingan by Katrina Pallon

Putri Gandingan by Katrina Pallon

There were also Darangen epic poetries that relate stories of wars about abducted princesses, leading some to compare it to the chronicles of the Trojan War.

The Singkil narrates a scene in which an initially unnamed princess was rescued and wooed by Bantugan. Particularly, the lines 718 - 887 of the 6th cycle of the Darangen epic titled: Paramata Gandingan, deals with the courtship of Putri Gandingan of Komara by Paramata Bantugan of Bembaran.

(putri means princess or daughter, and paramata denotes something of fine quality or easy on the eyes, while a gandingan is also a Philippine set of four large, hanging gongs used by the Maguindanao people as part of their kulintang ensemble; because in the story, the princess is also quite talented in playing this musical instrument.)

Singkil by Norlando Pobre

Singkil by Norlando Pobre

Courtship

One day, Prince Bantugan strolled on the shoreline of a mystical place called Inantara Legawan/Inantar ah Lugowan (leg-awan means 'in between' or betwixt in Malay), and wondered at the brilliant rays coming off from a mountain called Lakongan Tomiyonong/Lakongan Minipantaw that protruded far above the sea and casted not only dark shadows, but also a spellenchanted by Diwata Makapanton (god of obstacles) over its odd surroundings and decided to leap over there.

He then sees Princess Gandingan and is mesmerized by her beauty. At first he thought the lady was a lomiao (demon), but her expensive attire and costly jewelries showed she was a human woman of royal blood. Curious why she was there alone on the mysterious mountain, he approached her and respectfully asked for her name. But she refused to give it to him, saying she does not know of her background and why she was there to begin with.

The warrior thought the lady is deliberately hiding her identity from him for unknown reasons, except to herself. He told her he could not believe it because even a nori (parrot) had its parentage and homeland. Bantugan offered her a betel nut, and she wept remembering how she was recieving service back to her own kingdom. The lady got out her handkerchief and wiped the tears from her eyes—embroidered on the handkerchief was “Paramata Gandingan”.

Over the course of their lovely conversation, each began to admire the other until both were finally at ease and found pleasure in their meeting on the isolated rock.

The prince, with exemplary conduct and refined by royal upbringing, convinces her to marry and be with him to his kingdom in Bembaran. But the lady declined because it would be degrading. Trying to win her trust, the chivalrous Prince said he would not leave her alone because she had no companion especially in the moment of need.

He assured her that if she decided to go with him, she would be with his sister in their magnificent tower called lamin atop the colossal palace; where they are home-schooled and taught everything that royals should know of—art, culture, social graces and public-speaking among other things. Up in the tower, they are protected from the eyes of the public but they are kept abreast of everything by only their tutors.

(The lamin is like a one-way mirror that shields them from being seen and the origins of the modern Filipino word for mirror 'salamin'. This means that they are only visible on their own terms because Maranaos put their women on a pedestal, both literally and figuratively.)

The princess weighed in her predicament and finally consented. She agreed to marry him, on the condition that the prince would not divulge how they met for fear of being put to shame. This decision made Prince Bantugan exceedingly happy.

Bantugan's brother, the king, opposed the engagement because Gandingan was homeless and poor while being of noble birth. And also because she did not choose to disclose her origins; an important requirement in a royal marriage in their culture. He reminded Bantugan that she came from Legawan, a place where devils resided, and marrying her meant betraying all of their ancestors and their Gibonen bloodline.

Still they got married in secret with the help of Bantugan's cousins and the approval of all the high datus, except the king's. Gandingan proves her high royal status by making refined clothes for Bantugan as a dowry. Eventually, they had a son together, named Alongan Pisayanan also known as “Soyana”.

When the son came of age, he became anxious about his place in the royal family and expressed his desire join the warriors in battle for the expanding empire in order to prove his worth. He was denied by his uncle because of his mother's unknown lineage, believing he could not be relied on war unlike his half brother Boroboro sah Rogat, whose mother Princess Saraorawan Sirig, was a scion of a royal family.

Thereafter, Soyana attempted to end his life. His mother cried as she revived him, explaining to him the reason why she did not reveal about herself. She said it was because she thought it was a shame to divulge the truth of her background to the others while in an embarrassing situation.

She said her name was “Putri Gandingan”, her homeland was the Kingdom of Bogabong oh Komara and her brother was the king, lnayonan oh Kampong. The Kingdom was powerful; it had tributary domains and its warriors were respected and feared. Their wealth was immense and their territorial domains were extensive. She added that her royal family held grand festivities and one of the highlights was her coronation as queen.

Her coronation day was attended by powerful lords and nobles from kingdoms far and near, including the beautiful ladies of Bogabong oh Komara. As provided in the royal edict, Princess Gandingan walked on the palms of these ladies.

But suddenly, rains fell and strong winds blew while lightning flashed. Thunders roared and darkness engulfed the entire kingdom.

In one translation of the Darangen, Paramata Gandingan was engaged to be married to Prince Sandiyarendaw Pandi, until the tonong (guardian spirit) of Bantugan called Mango'aw, gate-crashed the wedding and took Gandingan away, believing that the two are more suited for each other because they were equally matched in beauty, wealth, rank and grace.

When the darkness cleared away at last and the strong winds and heavy rains subsided, Princess Gandingan said she was extremely perplexed when she found herself on a whimsical mountain near an awesome island. She was precious for her people because she was the only daughter after 30 sons, so they searched for her desperately and wept for their loss.

Then she added that a prince who was not known to her, came and succeeded in persuading her to join him on his way to his homeland. Afterwards, they were wedded and Alongan Pisayanan was born out of the wedlock.

(performance starts at 4:00)

Storytelling and Symbolism

There are several variations of the story where the Singkil dance was based on. In the more Hindu version, Putri Gandingan (named Sita in the Ramayana) escapes her abductor, the demon king Lawana (Ravana, the ten-headed king of the rakshasas), and is lost in the forests of Alangka (Kingdom of Lanka in the original Ramayana). Thereupon being found by Prince Batugan (the role of Rama).

Interesting to note is that in the original Ramayana epic, Rama selects Hanuman, the Hindu monkey-god, to find Sita on his behalf. The fact that in the Darangen and Singkil, it is Rama (Bantugan) who finds her suggests a modification of the original Hindu aspects of the narration in order to conform with monotheistic Islamic ideology.

Singkil by Mariliza Reyes-Bulaong

Singkil by Mariliza Reyes-Bulaong

Filipino Indologist Juan Francisco, who translated to English another Maranao retelling of the Ramayana epic called Maharadia Lawana (narrating the adventures of the monkey-king, whom the gods have gifted with immortality); believed that the Ramayana narrative arrived in the Philippines some time between the 17th to 19th centuries, via interactions with Javanese and Malaysian cultures which traded extensively with India.

By the time it was documented later, the names of characters, places, and the precise episodes and events already had some notable differences from those of the Ramayana. He believed that this was a sign of "indigenization", and suggested that some changes had already been introduced in Malaysia and Java even before the story was heard by the Maranao, and that upon reaching the Philippines, the story was further indigenized to suit local cultural perspectives and orientations.

Before the Spanish colonial period, the archipelagos of Southeast Asia were under the influence of the traders of Hindu-Malayan culture, such as the Majapahit Empire, which was being supplanted by Islamic conquest by the Sultanate of Malacca, who had converted from Hinduism to Islam in 1414, and of Borneo. In the Majapahit Empire, the last Hindu kings retreated to Bali around 1500.

Influences from the Indian subcontinent may be traced earlier before the arrivals of the Arabs and the Europeans during the 1400s and 1500s, respectively. In fact, the rulers of many of the islands in the Philippines were called Rajas/Rajahs, a Hindu title. And the central region, Visayas, is said to be named after the last Southeast Hindu Prince Srivijaya.

In other versions, it tells the fateful story of a Moro princess—accompanied only by her loyal maid-servant, who gets caught up in a forest (abducted by the diwatas) during a terrible earthquake. A Maranao prince named Bantugan, who is noted for his amorous exploits, is finally captivated by the lovely princess whom he pursues in courtship; amazed by her ability to dodge large rocks.

But the diwatas that hover over the forests, also beset his path with difficulties in order to punish Bantugan for his erstwhile philanderings; causing a heaving of the earth and clashing of rocks which also causes the trees of the forest to topple around Gandingan, blocking her from the prince. He has to maneuver these obstacles that further hinders the pursuit of the princess.


Kasingkil refers to the art of moving one’s feet in and out of two clicking bamboo poles that represent the evil forces which the two main characters had to overcome. The bamboo poles signifies the fallen trees or the large protruding rocks in which the prince and princess (together with her slave girl) avoided smoothly, while the fans or scarves imitate the strong winds. The finale is when the prince eventually came to the princess’ rescue.

Legacy

The Maranaos have a reputation of holding to the highest degree prestige, pride and honor. They value self-dignity highly and fear being shamed as very much evident in the meeting of Princess Gandingan and Prince Bantugan in the story.

What distinguishes them from other tribes in the Philippines is their intricate craftsmanship in metal, and are known for creating colorful sets of jewelry and clothing out of dyed pineapple and banana fibers which are showcased in their traditional dances.

Although the tradition of the Maranaos has pre-Islamic elements, it combined with the tenets of Islam. But this type of adaptation or repurposing of new belief systems to native ones is not a new phenomenon, and also happens in Philippine culture as a whole with regard to Catholicism and ancestor worship.

Both the dance and the stories they are based on, are art forms that serve a great deal in preserving the Maranao culture. However, while the dances are performed, the audience remain unaware of the stories they came from. Furthermore, young audiences are more familiar with the dances than with the stories because the study of the Maranao literature is dependent on the teacher’s or professor’s discretion in teaching Philippine literature. While the study is very selective and tends to focus on the most popular stories which mostly retained its form, the folk dances are diluted and deformed.


Mindanao is a cultural melting pot. Although it carries a strong flavor from other lands, there are people who have lived there before it became a breeding ground for foreign trade. These indigenous groups honor their gods for the fruits and trials of daily life.

Aside from the colorful contributions of its regional tribes, Mindanao is home to the largest cultural minority in the Philippines today— the Muslims. Brought by Javanese and Middle-Eastern traders, Islam is the religion of approximately 20 percent of the country's population and the Filipino Muslims have faced a history of oppression and prejudice in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

The Muslims in the Philippines, also known as Moros, were able to resist Spanish conquest and preserved the Islamic lifestyle that differs from the majority of the Philippine population. They are known for their mysticism, royalty and beauty which are evident in their music and dances, marked by intricate hand and arm motion along with shimmering costumes, characterized by vivid colors and rhythmic movements which reflect the influence of Arabian and Indo-Malaysian cultures.

But issues about Mindanao has always been cast along the lines of war, underdevelopment, kidnapping and lately terrorism.

The battle against the militant group Islamic State destroyed some of the foundational texts of the Maranao people, including family genealogies, religious texts, literature and cultural heirlooms such as the Darangen epic when these insurgents occupied the city of Marawi in 2017 in a five-month battle that displaced hundreds of thousands of people and caused damages worth billions.

The keepers of these manuscripts are also put at risk because some of the contents are a more moderate and fluid interpretation of Islam. So preservationists like the Grupo Kalinangan with the help of the Prince Claus Fund, stepped in to digitize the pages that survived. Although the loss was more subtle compared to the destructions caused by the Islamic State in other parts of the world, it is still profoundly felt.

But even before the militants stormed into Marawi, strict Islamic scholars and followers (usually educated in Saudi Arabia), scorned folkloric practices and even encouraged the destruction of the ancient Maranao texts.

the-epic-story-of-singkil-dance-of-the-maranao

It is highly possible however, that before the arrival of the new religions, the Philippines was part of Hindu empires based in Java and in other islands.

Hinduism was deterred by the spread of Christianity by the Spaniards and the spread of Islam by Indonesians and Malay missionaries before that. Ancient statues of the Hindu gods were hidden to prevent their destruction by a religion which destroyed all idols.

As evidence, a 4-pound gold statue of an Indo-Malayan goddess dubbed as the Golden Tara of Agusan was found in Mindanao in 1917, which now sits in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and is dated from the period 1200s to early 1300s. Another gold artifact of Garuda, the bird-like mount of Vishnu was found in Palawan, as well as those believed to be depicting Kinnari (part-human, part-bird creatures in Hindu-Buddhist mythology) found in Surigao and a clay medallion of Ganesha found in Mactan, Cebu by Henry Otley-Beyer in 1921.

Although Hinduism is now a minority in the country, Hindu beliefs still pervade the national psyche; it is socially and culturally ingrained in the majority of Filipinos today.

Sources:

PARAMATA-GANDINGAN, Iranaoan royal website Ontay & Marogong.net

Sayaw Pilipino: A study of Contrasting Representations of Philippine Culture by the Ramon Obusan Folklore Group and the Bayanihan Philippine National Folkdance Company by Kinami Namiki (2007)

The Metamorphosis of Selected Maranao Stories into Dances by Jiamila E. Panaraag and Geldolin L. Inte

The Kinship and Genealogical Construction in the Maranao Darangen Epic of Mindanao by Luis Foronda, based on the translations of Hadji Lawi Cali

Trying to Save the Stories of a Philippine Culture, One Scan at a Time by Regine Cabato, washingtonpost.com

Roots of the Singkil; a Traditional Filipino Muslim Dance, sarahlynnpablo.wordpress.com

Filipino Historian Kirby Araullo, youtube.com/user/TheKirbyNoodle

Of the Sarimanok Costume, darangenwomentoday.wordpress.com

Hinduism in the Philippines, religion.wikia.org

Mindanao Moro and Tapestry, Muslim Philippines, kababayangpilipino.org

About Philippine Epics and Folklores, jeplerts.wordpress.com

Knowing the Maranao, myranao.blogspot.com

Muslim Mindanao Dances, seasite.niu.edu

12 Most Notable Philippine Folk Dances that will get you Grooving, zenrooms.com

In Focus: Dancing Darangen: The Way to the Maranao Epic, ncca.gov.ph/about-culture-and-arts

Philippine Folk Dances: Singkil, jiebelle.weebly.com

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