Monday, February 16, 2015

Awong Chi Gongsa: The Sound of a Thousand Gongs

This weekend marked the 20th anniverary of the founding of Kalinga Province in Northern Luzon. 20 years ago the province split from the province of Apayao in order to better serve the needs of the local peoples.

The population of Kalinga province is incredibly diverse, consisting of 48 different tribes. In this diversity is a history of persistent inter-tribal violence. The name of the the province itself can be translated as "headhunter" or "enemy". While headhunting is by no means the modern way of the Kalinga people, there is still a strong sense of tribal affiliation. This at times manifests in cycles of revenge and violence. An article from an NGO operating in Kalinga quotes local Sison Paut, “most of crime cases in Kalinga are related to tribal conflicts. While it is all quiet right now and there is no war going on, peace and order in the province is volatile because hostilities that happened even long ago can be rekindled. Here in Tabuk, once it is 7:00 PM, you do not see people walking out in the streets and there is hardly any vehicle on the road. There is that fear of either being affiliated with a tribe or caught in crossfire.” National court cases concerning anything, land disputes, traffic violations, or violence, always include mediators from the tribes of the parties involved. The local Episcopal Churches are also deeply involved in efforts for reconcilliation and peaceful mediation.

In a province of so many different tribes, what brings people together? What enabled the people to come together from the far reaches of the province and celebrate together, as I witnessed this weekend? I asked a friend of mine about this, and she looked at me a little funny. Wasn't the answer clear? "Because we are all indigenous people... we have to protect our traditions." One tradition that all these tribes have in common in the playing of gongs. This is a live and energetic part of life for the people of Kalinga. In my time here, anytime there is any sort of celebration or gathering, I know it is not finished without the inevitable playing of the gongs and the dancing that goes along with it. The different tribes and regions have different rhythms and melodies, but they all play gongs.

So for this Kalinga day, the province issued a call for 1,000 gongs for peace in Kalinga. This meant that all of the 11 municipalities, and their various tribes, would have to come together and play. On Monday, February 16th, this vision became a reality. Each municipality, dressed in different colors, paraded through Tabuk ending at the local sports arena. Then, each group gave a performance of their own particular style of gong playing and dance and moved on to each form a letter in the provincial motto, "Kalina Shines".

But the real exciting moment of the day came, when at long last, the gigantic gong was struck, and all the people played and danced in unison. At this point, the letters, once segregated by colored t-shirts and tribes, moved and mixed together to form the word P-E-A-C-E. The crowd stood and roared. In that moment, it seemed like a prayer briefly answered. There was something that the people agreed upon besides the playing of gongs, a deep desire for peace, unity, and cooperation of the indigenous peoples of Kalinga province.

The Crowd and Food Vendors Assemble to Watch the Parade.

The Representatives from the Municipality of Tabuk.

The Parade Enters the Arena Alongside the Giant Master Gong

Keynote Speakers Having a Chat Before the Program

A Tableau Representing the Products and Livelihoods of Kalina Province

A Tableau Representing the Natural Resources and Beauty of Kalinga Province

Tableau Representing the Spanish Colonial and Religious History of the Philippines

Dancers Trying to Escape the Heat During the Presentation

From Left to Right: The Flag of The Philippines, The Cordilleras Region, and Kalinga Province
The Kiddos and the Motors
The Elders

The Gong Players and Dancers Formed the Motto "Kalinga Shines"

In Formation Waiting for the Playing to Begin

The Youngers

The Sound of a Thousand Gongs

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You

Here is the situation. You are many miles from home and you find that the only road has been completely blocked by a mudslide. It’s too dark to turn back to where you came from and there are no hotels. Where do you go?

Is your first instinct to head to the town church or to try and find a place to sleep in your car?

I was recently put in this situation on a trip from my home in Tabuk to visit a partner community in Saltan. When my companions informed me we would just sleep at the church for the night, I wasn’t impressed with the plan. I had tried the same approach in Memphis, Tennessee as an 18 year old on a road trip and it didn’t go particularly well.

As we approach Advent Episcopal Church in Balantoy, I notice two things. The first is a sticker on the door that says, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” and the second is large group of people sitting on the balcony of the rectory having coffee. As it turns out, the church isn’t just where stranded church employees went, but where many stranded members of the community turned for shelter. By the end of the evening, there were 12 of us sheltered together. We threw our money together and slaughtered some chickens for supper. We played cards, sang, talked, ate, and enjoyed the warm fire. When late in the evening it came time to sleep, we rolled out mats of the floor and stretched out side by side.

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You. I mean really welcomes you. I know I have been guilty of using that same sticker on the back of my own car to get free parking at Churches in historical downtown areas. I know many of us think of it in reference to the inclusiveness of congregations towards particular individuals. But I don’t think that I ever thought of it in terms of the welcoming of one individual by another. In this case, it wasn’t the articulation of an institutional guideline. It wasn’t “The Church” welcoming people. It was a statement of the responsibility and joy of an individual providing safe haven to other individuals.

When the slide was cleared, we moved onto Balbalasang and Saltan to do our training seminars and data gathering. Our timing happened to coincide with the town fiesta, so once again, we shared with rectory with 8 other out of town visitors. The whole town came together for church services, eating, a Mrs. Senior Citizen beauty contest, traditional music and dance, and sporting events. Oh and did I mention the eating?  
The men in our group holding court about the slide.

Rice Terraces in Balantoy

See that rock? That where the road used to be.

Coffee break after finally clearing the slide.

St. Timothy's Church in Saltan

All the Majorettes taking communion at the opening service of the town fiesta.

The Majorettes in action at the opening parade.

Home visits in the Saltan community.

A contest where adults place a sack of cash at the top of a very tall and greased bamboo pole.

Balbalasang from the distance.

Community members gather for a meeting in Saltan.

The ECW performs a traditional dance.

A basketball team makes a go at the pole.