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BAMBOOREFLECTIONS:

UNDYINGFAITHINTHEAMBAHAN

TheAmbahanofHanunooMangyansdoesnotonlyrepresentthetreasureofthe
Filipino indigenous culture, but it also symbolizes the philosophical and spiritual
depths of the Mangyan creative soul searching. Its rhythmic language, emotional
narratives, metaphoric thoughts and poetic symbolisms reflect some fundamental
themes that open the doors for Filipino reflection of sustainable development
(Kaginhawahang Likaskaya). The following reflections based on my unpublished
book entitled, Nagmamagandangloob Po!, illustrate the richness of the Ambahan
symbolic philosophy and ecospirituality drawn from a hermeneutics of symbols
andmetaphorsoftheAntoonPostmascollectionof261Ambahan.

LifeisSufficient&Integrated

First,you havetobelieveintheAmbahanandthelifeitreveals.TotheAmbahan,
life is naturally sufficient. Scarcity is not the core problem of life. Rather, it is the
lackofbalanceinthehumancosmicrelationsandthestabilitythatthisrequiredfor
harmonious living. To the Mangyans, life is not a configuration of situational
scarcity, personal survival, and insatiable drives to satisfy human needs. The
Mangyansdonotfightwithoneanotherto getthebiggestshareofthefood.Food
maynotbeplenty,butnatureandsociallifehasawaytoprovideforhunger.Itis
not the scarcity of food that the Mangyan worries in the Ambahan; rather, it is the
lack of sensitivity to others 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 his food with others. Sharing of labor, food and
harvestcreatealifethatissociallyinterconnectedandcosmicallystructured.

But kaingin 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
becausethereisaharmonyofallrelationshipsintheMangyanwayofliving.The
Mangyan relates and works within a balanced personal, interpersonal and social
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means.Afterall,theMangyanfamilyandsocietyareareflectionoftheirecosystem
andsustainableecology.

As such, life is the animating and unifying principle that connects and drives the
behavior of plants, animals, humans, spirits, and nonliving things. Life is not
fragmented and isolated to one another by individualism and by conflicting
interests.Lifeisanundividedselfconsciousspirit,anundividedpersonalization&
socializationof lifethat integratesawareness,experience, understanding,decisions,
actionsandtranscendenceintoharmoniousbreathingandrelating.

IntheAmbahan,theMangyanshaveanintegratedsenseoflife.Theydontdivide
things into physical or spiritual, like the Gnostic duality of life. They dont even
categorize life into biological, economic, social, political, cultural and spiritual like
the contemporary segmentation of reality. They dont even see life as conflict of
cosmic forces (like the gods fighting with another for supremacy in the battle of
mortals) that victimize the humans like that of the classical Greeks & Romans.
Things are harmoniously united, complementing and counterreflecting to create a
tonal quality emanating from sung Ambahan drawn in the perfectseven syllables.
To the nonMangyans hearing the sung Ambahan, they may say that it is a
monotonouslycrudepieceofmusic,thattheAmbahanisnotasexcitingaslistening
toclassical,contemporaryorpopmusic.

ButyouhavetobelieveintheimaginationandsymbolismoftheAmbahaninorder
to appreciate the musical meaning and understand the humancosmic 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.Ithasthepowertoexpresstheoverflowingemotions,meaningsandtruth
theybelieveasapersonandasapeople.Itisthisconsciousnessthatreflectsthelife
of the Ambahan itself. The psyche of one is the psyche of all. You cannot alienate
one from the whole. This is probably why the Ambahan continuously exists today.
The Mangyan script has preserved the Ambahan in bamboos, but the Mangyan
philosophical consciousness and shared body of socialcosmic meanings has
preserveditmoreintheirheartandmadeitalivingiconoftheirfreespirit.
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TheAmbahanawarenessoflifeisnotconfinedintheMangyanpoetalone.Rather,
life is an undying, universal consciousness living in their society filled with the
symbolization of plants, animals and things. A bird is a personal symbol of a
Mangyans spatial and spiritual journey in the Ambahan. And so are honey bees,
pigs,boas,monkeys,andothers.TheyhavestoriestotellintheAmbahanmelodic
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
existence. To the Mangyan, he is a bird, a bee, or an animal, and will be always a
part of the entire universe of the living. Man does not rule nature. Rather, he
partakes in it, share life with it, and reflects the inner truths in him. Through the
Ambahanmeaning,theworldisconstitutedasanintegratedhomeoflifealifethat
islikethewateralivingrefreshmentofthespiritedbody.

Thats why things are alive and have an existential value. All have a purpose and
meaning.Plantsareusedfordecoration,deodorant,medicine,rainprotection,food
andhouseholdpurposes.Younggreenleavesreflectyouthandbeauty.Theygrow
so attractively that mirror the youth in the Mangyan. A young bamboo shoot
reveals the mans vigor, beauty and youth. A growing plant, blooming in beauty,
like the buri leaves, coconut trees, and reflect the beauty of young maiden. Like a
gabe,palay,sugarcane,vine,orbananatree,theyoungMangyangrowsstrongerif
heisdeeplyrootedandplantedintheappropriateplaceandtime.

Animalstoohaveapurpose.TheyreflectthebehaviorofaMangyan.Animalslike
fish, wild boar, deer, insects, and birds give food. In the Ambahan, an animal
personifiestheMangyaneffortandjourneytolive.Thehoneybeegoingfromone
treetoanothermirrorsthebehaviorofayoungmanserenadingwomenindifferent
places.Theramleavinghiswifeandkidstolookforfoodreflectsthestoryofaman
workingforhisfamilyandfacingthefactthathemaynotbeabletoreturnsafe.

Waterintheriver,brooks,springs,andbamboocanalhasapurpose.Itrefreshesthe
body and spirit. It is the home of the spirits with a cleansing power. It eases the
mindaftertakingabath.Takingabath,thespiritispurifiedandisreadytoenterto
theworldofthelivingbeyonddeath.Andtheairhasapurposetoo.Itbreathesin
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two ways: one in peace and one in peril. The air as wind may be strong, blowing
powerfully the poor bamboo house on the top of the mountain, forcing the house
maker to move elsewhere. The air comes as a sweet harmony, making the leaves
swayandleavingarefreshingkissofquietness.

Thisisalsotruewiththespiritswholiveintheforest,rivers,caves,trees,andmany
parts of theirenvironment. Theyhavea purposeinthe Mangyan worldview.The
bad spirits may make the person sick. But the good spirit could help the Mangyan
overcomethebadspiritandconvincethesoulofthestrickenpersontoreturntohis
body and get well soon. Spirits live with people as a part of his ecosystem and
cosmiclife,alwaysleadingandinfluencingthemintheirliving.

PhilosophicalRealitiesintheAmbahan

Therearetwoprinciplesandpowersofreality:(1)Afirm,strong,dependable,nice,
goodandhappylife,and(2)Aweak,frail,unreliable,ugly,dissonant&lonelylife.

TheAmbahancallsthefirstoneayad.Urog,huyongandlinongarethemetaphorsof
lifeasayad,whichcouldbeseeninbeautifulmemoryofchildhood,growth,teenage
lifeandhappyhome.Beautyandcontentmentisrevealedbyurogasametaphor.It
describes a state of quality of fulfilled or happy life. Ayad (or mayad) reflects
fundamental goodness, wellbeing and happiness. Linong and huyong like urog
describe a delightful condition of things which portrays peaceful stability
exhilarating in sights, words, thoughts, and memories. All these Ambahan
metaphorslinkbeauty,goodness,wellbeing,happiness,harmonyandcompleteness
in the Mangyan way of living, the environment and the relationships they live.
Mayad could be seen in the amban (living together and bonding) among friends,
married life, family, and society in general. They could be experienced when
relativesandfriendsvisitafamily.Itbringsjoys,sharingofbetel,stories,food,fun
andlaughter.Itispeace,simplicity,andjoyexperiencedinhomelystories.These
are metaphors of the strong conjugal love, of filial dearness, of intimate romantic
love,ofmemorablevisitsoffriends,andsoforth.

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As such the meanings of these metaphors (urog, huyong, ayad & linong) are so rich
that they paint a world of the Mangyans that is strong, sustainable and lifegiving.
LifeonintheMangyanworldisworthilycaring.Theyarefoundinplants,animals,
man and the nature. Good spirits live with them, bringing sacredness in the
meaningofurog,ayadandlinongaslifetocome.Whenonerecoversfromsickness,
misunderstandings and problems, these metaphors are used. When one is saved
from perils and death, these metaphors reflect the faithful caring of parentnature.
Fear is dispelled. Food is available. No one will be left alone. The Mangyan has a
reason to believe and move on. Life is naturally and existentially reliable, despite
death.

On the other hand, there are realities contrary to what ayad conveyed. The tieknot
givesup.Someplantsdontgrow.Animalsattackedtheswiddenfarm.Birdscome
totaketheseeds.Monkeys,pigs,rats,etc.cometoeatthekainginplants.Babiesare
borndead.Thebambooflooriscoldandlonelyforlifelesschild.Soonthebabywill
be left alone in the grave covered by earth and sands. How lonely the child could
be! Then, the husband and the wife quarrels. The son violates the parents advice.
Loveisforgotten,leavingtears,painfulsadnessandstressbehind.

In the Ambahan, the Mangyan uses the negative metaphors of lutan (weakness,
frailty),sungnan(badfeeling,anger)andmagkabayong(pulsatingpainsinthehead).
Things bad happen to the Mangyan. A sower is tripped and entangled with grass
vineintheswiddenfarm.Thepalayseedsfalltothefrustrationofthesower.Dried
leaves falling on the ground, the Mangyan watch with his dream gone. Wind
pounds the bamboo house creating squeaking, fearful noises (magtanggiitan). The
homeownergivesupthehouse,andlaterdecidestomovetoasafer,morepeaceful
place.IntheMangyanthinking,onecannotforcetheissue,disrespectingthenatural
fact and process of things. Birds, monkeys, pigs and other animals may attack the
kaingin farm. Things are not as dependable and reliable as they are. The palay is
takenawaybybirds.Plantsandfoodsaredestroyedandeaten.TheMangyanisleft
sittingnearhiskaingin,wonderinginfrustrationaboutwhathappened.

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These lutan, sungnan & magkabayong metaphors reflect daot (evil). Daot is the
opposite of ayad (goodness). Daot is portrayed in the painful destruction of the
house, the farm, the conjugal bond, and the relationship that starts with internal
experience of daot. It is a condition of broken bonds, of poor sick body, of the
wonderingsoul,etc.Daotisthelonely,parentlessowl,cryinginthenight.Itisthe
birdstruckbyarrowsandfallingfastontheground.Itisthedeathofawildcator
bat on top of a dried river bed. It happens to a tuber eaten by pigs, or to man
sufferinginpainofthorns.Itisexperiencedbydyingsickwhocantbecured.Itis
the departure of a lonely man leaving his beloved family behind. It is an old
butterflysayinghecouldonlyreachtheplacewherehiswingscouldbearhislife.It
isthetragedyoflifeleadingtoirreparable,irreversibledeath.

In life there is frailty both seen and unseen. Frailty is there in everything that has
life. Where such frailty came from, the Ambahan does not explain. The Mangyan
just accepts the frailty of life existence in the cycle of birth, growth, relationship,
love, marriage, friendship, and so forth. It is found in the external universe of
unseen power in nature that makes life so difficult, where one experiences hunger,
sickness,loneliness,anger,destruction,lossofstrengths,tolossoffaithanddeath.

TheMangyantranscendentbeliefsustainslife

Butinthe Mangyan Ambahan,selfconsciouslifedoesnotend indeath:Dapatbay


una kunman! (Despite this, still . . . ). In the face of frailty (lutan) and death
(nirway),thereisfaithinthecapacityofthislifetoovercomefrailty.Achildmaybe
born lifeless and lonely in his grave, but he still has the living memory of the
belovedwhenhewasstillinhismotherswomb.Afriendmaybefaraway,buthis
presenceisfeltandthebondremainseverfresh.Thesickcouldrecover.Andifhe
dies,hissoulwilllive,experiencingtheoppositeofpain,lonelinessanddestruction
of the body. His journey will continue. He will meet his forefathers. He will live
withthesoulsofthedeparted.

In the house, a husband and wife may recover from sungnan (anger, disharmony).
Like the wooden kalutang, each pole could be reshaped to calibrate tonal quality to
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bring greater harmony. When knots were broken, one can get another vine to tie
two things again. And the Mangyan can strengthen the house. He could re
cultivatetheswiddenandplantbetterseeds.Tomorrow,urog,huyong&linongwill
come. The fallen banana tree will rise again. There is ayad. A shoot will sprout
becauseofitslifegivingroots.Whenbirdsandanimalseatthepalay,therewillbe
thingsleft fortherestofthefamily. Naturehasawayto protecttheweak andthe
frail.Harvesttimewillbebountifulofpalay,eating,songsandstories.

Even death cannot take away the bond of the living and the departed. Ones soul
hasadestinybeyondthegrave.Thesoulwillsoontravel;takeabath,andjourney
farthroughtherivers,valleysandmounts.Hewillgototheplacebeyondaplace
filledwithurogandayad.Itisalinongplacebeyondthemoon,thestarsandthesky.
Itisaplacebetterthanthislifewherefrailtyisexperienced.Thesoulswilldwellin
that spiritual home and will relentlessly share stories of their lives with spiritual
betel nuts. It is coming (aban) to the time that they will unite together as a family.
Time will stop and everlasting now! Ayad and urog will never end. In the
Ambahan, the Mangyan expresses the depth of his fait: Dapat bay una kunman!
Hanggansamanundugan!

Inbelieving,lifeisforever!

RestiR.Pitogo
QuezonCity,Philippines
July3,2008
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