|Philippines: Looking into the Ambahan: Basic themes in the Ambahan|
|Monday, 14 February 2011|
RESTITUTO R. PITOGO: The ambahan, the indigenous poetry of the Hanunuo-Mangyan of Mindoro does not only represent the treasure of the Filipino indigenous culture, but it also symbolizes the philisophical and spiritual depths of the Mangyan creative soul. Its rythmic language, emotional narratives, metaphoric thoughts and poetic expressions reflect some fundamental themes that open the doors for us Filipinos to reflect on the meaning of sustainable development (Kaginhawaang Likas-kaya) in the Filipino way.
The following reflections based on my newly published book entitled Nagmamagandang-loob Po! Illustrate the richness of the ambahan symbolic philosophical and eco-spirituality drawn from a hermeneutics of symbols and metaphors in the 261 ambahans collected by Antoon Postma in his Treasure of a Minority.
Life is sufficient, integrated
First, we have to believe in the ambahan and the life it reveals. To the ambahan, life is naturally sufficient. Scarcity is not the core problem of life. Rather, it is the lack of balance in the human-cosmic relations and the stability required for harmonious living. To Hanunuo-Mangyans, life is not a configu-tation of situational scarcities, personal effort for survival, and our insatiable drive to satisfy our human needs. The Mang-yans do not fight with one another to get the biggest share of the scarce resources. Food may not be plenty, but the nature and social life has a way to provide for hunger. It is not the scarcity of food that the Mangyan worries in the ambahan; rather, it is the lack of sensitivity to other who are hungry that make life dissonant. It is unimaginable in the ambahan worldview to have someone who is absolutely wealthy but who is not sharing hi food with others. Sharing of labor, food and harvest create a life that is socially defined, communally interconnected and cosmically structured.
But the kaingin farm harvests are not just shared among the Mangyans. They are even shared even with animals and spirits. Nature has an ability to nurture all. This is because there is a harmony of all relationships in the Mangyan way of livivng. The Mangyan relates and works within a balance of personal, interpersonal and social means and resources. After all, the Mangyan family and society are a reflection of their ecosystem and sustainable ecology.
As such, life is an animating and unifying principle that connects and drives the behavior of plants, animals, humans, spirits, and nonliving things. Life is not fragmented and isolated from one another by individualism and by conflicting interests. Life is an undivided self-conscious spirit, an undivided personalization and socialization of life that integrates collective awareness, experience, understanding, decisions, actions and transcendence into harmonious breathing and relating.
In the ambahan, the Mangyans have an integrated sense of life. Unlike modern Western thinking, they do not even categorize life into biological, economic, social, political, cultural and spiritual as if they are specific disciplines that we need to specialize. They do not even see life as a conflict of cosmic forces (like the gods fighting with another for supremacy in the battle of mortals) that victimizes humans like that of the classical Greeks and Romans. Things are harmomoniously united, complementing and counter-reflecting to create a tonal quality emanating from sung ambahan drawn in the monotone, perfect-seven syllables. To the non-Mangyans hearing the ambahan, they may say that it is a monotonously crude piece of music, that the ambahan is not as exciting as listening to classical, contemporary or pop music. Music is not a field for ambahan to specialize and perfect. Rather, the poetic music serves as the expression of the ambahan aesthetic value and philisophical truths. It is not the form of musical expression but rather in the style of chanting and meaning the metaphors of the ambahan conveys.
To make this work, we have to believe in the imagination and symbolism of the ambahan in order to appreciate the musical meaning and understand the human-cosmic philosophy that the ambahan reveals. For the Mangyans, the ambahan has the power to convey the unexpressed depth of soul in the individual, in the family and in the universe. It has the power to express their inner emotions, meaning and truth they believe as a person and as a people. It is this consciouness that reflects the life of the ambahan itself. The psyche of one is the psyche of all, and the effort of one is the effort of all. You cannot allienate one from the whole. This is probably why the ambahan contin-ously exists today. The Mang-yan script has preserved the ambahan in bamboos, but the Mangyan’s poetic consciousness and metaphorical sense of social-cosmic meanings have preserved this icon of indigenous art in their heart and made it a living icon of their free spirit.
The ambahan awareness of life is not confined in the Mangyan poet alone. Rather, life is an undying, universal consciousness living in their society with the symbolization of plants, animals, and things. A bird is a personal symbol of a Mangyan spatial and eco-social-spiritual journey in the ambahan. And so are honey bees, pigs, boas, monkeys, and others. They have stories to tell in the ambahan melodic way. A blooming plant like a bamboo shoot, banana, buri leaves, coconut tree, etc. personifies his human reflection woven in the drama of human beauty and eco-existanse. To the Mangyan, he is a bird, a bee, or an animal, and will always be a part of the entire universe of the living. Man does not rule nature. Rather, he partakes in it, share with it, and reflets the inner truths in him. Through the ambahan meaning, the world is constituted as a integrated home of life-a life that is like the water-a living refreshment of the spirited body.
That is why things are alive and have existential value. All have purpose and meaning. Plants are used for decoration, deodorant, medicine, rain protection, food and household purposes. Young green leaves reflect youth and beauty. They grow so attractively that mirror the youth in Mangyan. A young bamboo shoot reveals the man’s vigor, beauty and youth. A growing plant, blooming in beauty, like the buri leaves, coconut trees and reflect the beauty of a young maiden. Like palay, sugar cane, vine or banana, the Mangya grows stronger, provided he is deeply rooted and planted in the appropriate place and time.
Animals too have a purpose. They reflect the behavior of a Mangyan. Animals like fish, wild boar, deer, insects, and birds give food. In the ambahan, an animal personifies the Mangyan effort and journey to live. The honey bee going from one tree to another mirrors the behavior of a young man serenading women in diferent places. The ram leaving his wife and kids to look for food reflects the story of a man working for his family and facing the fact that he may not be able to return safe.
Water in the river, brooks, springs and bamboo canal has a purpose. It refreshes the body and spirit. It is the home of the spirits with a cleansing power. It eases the mind after taking a bath. Taking a bath, the spirit is purified and is ready to enter to the world of living beyond death. And the air has a purpose too.
The air as wind may be strong, blowing powerfully the bamboo-made house on the top of a mountain, forsing the house maker to move elsewhere. The air comes as a sweet harmony, making the bamboo leaves sway and leaving a refresshing kiss of quietness.
This is also true with the spirits who live in the forest, rivers, caves, trees, and many parts of their environment. They have a purpose in the Mangyan worldview. The bad spirits may make a person sick. But the good spirit (the daniw) could help the Mangyan overcome the bad spirit and convince the soul of the stricken person to return to his body and get well soon. Spirits live with people as a part of his ecosystem and cosmic life, always leading and influencing them in their living.