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Music of Indigenous Southeast Asian Filipinos

Harmony with the Creative Forces of Nature

This is the music of the indigenous, strongly animist, though nominally Christian, non-Muslim peoples of the highlands of the Cordillera (ex. Ifugao, Kalinga, Isneg, Ibaloi, Kankanay, Bontoc), Mindoro (ex. Hanunoo, Buhid, Alangan), Mindanao (ex. T’boli, Mansaka, Tiruray, Bagobo, Manobo, Subanun), and Palawan (ex. Batak, Tagbanwa). Sometimes these people are called lumad. Their music generically may be called by the same name. An example of lumad music is that of the Kalinga tongngali (nose flute) or T’boli hegelong (lute).

Our indigenous peoples are the closest to nature. Life to them is an indivisible whole. Art, myth, ritual, work, and activities of everyday life are all integrated into one. Spirit and matter, God and nature, the visible and invisible worlds are not a dichotomy but interpenetrate in many ways. Of all Filipino subcultures, indigenous art is the most integrated with everyday life, multifunctional and participatory.

To the lumad everything is alive: rocks, rivers, the wind, fire and air, though to lesser degree, are permeated by the same vital energy that animates biological life.

Creative activity, for the indigenous peoples, is highly extemporaneous and not cultivated as a special gift by select individuals. Oneness with the creative process is a strength of our indigenous peoples and the culture puts emphasis on the creative process rather than on the finished product, making conception and performance simultaneous activities. Lumads can actively interface with the spirit or dream world, the source of their inexhaustible creative energy. Listening to this inner voice or to the Muse within is something we can learn from them.

The music of our indigenous peoples traditionally has the widest repertoire of sounds in the Philippines, perhaps reflecting the myriad forms and enormous biodiversity in their environment. The uniqueness of indigenous music has attracted the proponents of new or experimental music in the West, which is currently fascinated in exploring the entire universe of aural phenomena.

Indigenous music is also the most communal among Philippine musical traditions. Many instruments are often played by three or more people in an interactive, reciprocal, and interlocking fashion, highly indicative of social cooperation, togetherness, and an egalitarian ethos, particularly in the distribution of and access to resources. Musical form is open-ended to provide maximum opportunity for creative communal interaction or participation. Music is very much a part of everyday life and serves many uses and functions.

The unity of opposites, representing the twin cosmic forces holding the universe together – man and woman, forceful and tender, change and permanence, positive and negative – is a core principle among Filipino indigenous peoples. For instance, the hegalong, a two-stringed boat lute of the T’boli of South Cotabato in Mindanao, is an instrument that clearly shows our indigenous peoples’ recognition of the cosmic unity of opposites with its two strings representing change (melody string) and continuity (drone string, playing one note repeatedly).