HOUSE BOAT. The Sama people of Tawi-Tawi and maritime Southeast Asia is known for making boats, of which the lepa is the most known. The lepa is the Sama house boat, used for fishing and traveling as well as serving as home for an entire family. (Screengrab from the documentary)

MANILA – The International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region (ICHCAP) under the auspices of UNESCO has recently launched 10 video documentaries on different Philippine intangible cultural heritage (ICH) elements.

The documentaries, which run for an average of 27 minutes, can be viewed in two versions, one in English (with English subtitles) and the other with Korean subtitles, on ICHCAP’s official YouTube channel.

The ICH elements featured are the use of mud in traditional Ifugao textile dyeing (“Using Mud as Mordant in the Traditional Dyeing Process of the Ifugao of Northern Luzon”); piña weaving of Aklan (“Piña: The Pineapple Textile of Aklan, Western Visayas”); the traslacion procession of the Black Nazarene image of Quiapo, Manila (“Poong Nazareno: The Traslacion of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, Manila”); the moryonan Lenten penitential ritual in Marinduque (“Moryonan: A Lenten Tradition in Marinduque Island”); the craft of making moryonan masks (“Mukha ng Moryonan: Mask Making for Moryonan Lenten Tradition of Marinduque”); the giant Christmas lantern tradition of San Fernando, Pampanga (“Parul Sampernandu: The Giant Christmas Lantern Tradition of San Fernando City, Pampanga”); the feast of Our Lady Peñafrancia of Naga City, Bicol Region (“Ina: Our Lady of Peñafrancia”); the buklog ritual of the Subanen of the Zamboanga Peninsula (“Buklog: The Ritual System of the Subanen of Zamboanga Peninsula”); the igal of the Sama people of Tawi-Tawi (“Igal: Traditional Dance of the Sama of Tawi-Tawi”); and the boat building practices of the Sama people of Tawi-Tawi (“Lepa and Other Watercrafts: Boat Building Traditions of the Sama of Tawi-Tawi”).

These documentaries are part of ICHCAP’s video documentation of the ICH project in the Asia-Pacific region, which is being implemented since 2015.

Journalist and cultural researcher Roel Hoang Manipon, who is the main writer of documentaries and the director and co-director of several of them, said 0ICH elements “are some of the most impactful factors in shaping civilization and culture,” ones that “yield invaluable insights into many aspects of social relationships and human development.”

“However, they are also ephemeral and highly mutable, depending mostly on memory, dedication, and community for its preservation and continuity. Especially now with the rapid growth of urbanization and globalization, ICH elements, especially the traditional ones, are in danger of vanishing and/or alteration,” Manipon said. “Modern technology, however, also provided a way to safeguard these ICH elements, enabling us to document them, intensify awareness and make them more accessible through audio-visual means.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines ICH to include “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge, and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.” On the other hand, buildings, historic places, monuments, and artifacts, and other material objects are part of tangible cultural heritage.

ICHCAP, which is headquartered in Jeonju, Korea, promotes the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and contributes to its implementation in the Asia-Pacific region.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the number of cultural traditions of communities in danger of vanishing is gradually increasing because of many factors. Thus, there is an urgent need to make high-quality documentation that can contribute to safeguarding, transmitting, and raising awareness of existing ICH. The project involves both media experts and ICH experts. The project can also serve as a venue where both kinds of expertise can work together and share their experiences.

The ICH video documentation project started with four Central Asian countries and Mongolia, implemented from 2015 to 2017. ICHCAP selected Southeast Asia for the second phase of the project, beginning with four countries—Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia

For the Philippines, ICHCAP partnered with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the national government agency for arts and culture, formalizing their partnership on November 21, 2017. Productions spanned from 2018 to 2020.

TRASLACION. The statue of the Black Nazarene is one of the images of Jesus Christ that inspires intense veneration among Filipinos. Every year, the image is brought out for the commemoration of its transfer or traslacion or arrival at Quiapo Church from another church in Bagumbayan. (PNA photo)

The Philippine ICH video documentation team is led by NCCA Secretariat’s Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts Section headed by Renee Talavera; theater veteran and Mindanao culture expert Nestor T. Horfilla as consultant for Mindanao and co-director of some of the documentaries; and Manipon.

The documentaries attempt to provide valuable information and hope to generate a deeper understanding of the threatened heritage and provide valuable information. For the filmmakers, the process was a rewarding one.

“Each ICH element presents a set of challenges, which are different from each other. The documentation has always sought the partnership and assistance of knowledgeable counterparts, which have become valuable allies in the documentation processes and the gathering of data,” Manipon said. “The more an ICH element is in danger of vanishing, the more it presents challenges, especially in terms of accessibility. But the more efforts must be made in their documentation. The video documentation presents a lifeline to these elements and will present the only connection for many people to these precious aspects of culture and identity.”

“During the video documentations, new dynamics were opened up wherein the subjects have become part of the documentation and creative process itself and the documentation team have become part of the community and practice, enabling more participatory and empowering experiences,” he said.

While the documentaries are released during a very dire health crisis, Horfilla noted that the project offers an important avenue to reconnect and learn about our traditions and heritage.

“The video documentaries make the unfamiliar familiar. While we struggle, day by day, with the challenges and threat of the pandemic, the digital technology, and online platform take center stage,” the cultural expert said. “And the video documentation on ICH had proven its significance—as effective information and promotion material on community ICH. It was timely as most of our learners such as students and the faculty, and the various publics are seeking for local and/or national cultural content.”

He said the documentaries indeed contribute to the safeguarding of the ICH elements featured.

“Awareness of the ICH is the starting point, then critical appreciation and transformative action follow. In Zamboanga del Sur, local Buklog Safeguarding Task Forces are being organized. In areas where the ICH is least known, massive online audiences are reached,” he said. (PR)