The Mindanawon Theater Movement


Kaalam sa Dramaturgong Kaliwatan:
Post-modern Philosophical Roots, Underpinnings, and Perspectives of the Mindanawon Theatre Movement1

by Karl M. Gaspar, CSsR

Maayong buntag!


First of all, I would like to thank the organizers of this conference for the distinct privilege of addressing all of you this morning. When Waldolito Nestor Horfilla,  Mindulani’s shaman, initially asked me to be one of the speakers of Mindulani sa Milenyo Dos and informed me that my topic was – THE MINDANAO THEATRE:  PHILOSOPHICAL ROOTS AND POST-MODERN PERSPECTIVES – I was taken aback.  The dramaturgo in me went into an instant monologue and I heard myself asking these questions in the privacy of my theatrical space:

Philosophical roots?
Post-modern perspectives?
Mindanawon post-modern theatre?

Nakahuna-huna ko: unsa may nahuna-hunaan ni Nestor Horfilla nga morag natakdan man siya aning mga nagpaka-aron-ingon nga mga post-modernists?  Gani, una natong problema – nagkasinabot ba ta unsa ning post-modern?  Unsaon ba pagBinisaya ani nga termino?  Post-modern?  Despues sa moderno?  Lampas/pag-agi sa moderno? Nahuman na ba diay ang moderno?

Then in the deep recesses in my mind I recalled one particular event as I sat at CCP’s Little Theatre when – if my memory serves me right – UP’s Repertory Theatre mounted Noli (or was it Fili?): Isang Dekonstruksyon.  As the voice announcing the title of the play faded, I heard a voice at my back declaring loud and clear these words: Ano ba iyan? Ano ba ‘yang dekonstruksyon?

What I thought interesting was not the questions raised; what caught my attention was the disdain and contempt that was embedded in the dramatic text. It was as if the speaker voiced out a frustration among theatre artists who would rather emote  than rationalize; and was directed at other theatre artists who would dare use words that are not in the vocabulary of the community of artists and cultural workers.  Dekonstruksyon:  unsa ba na? Makaon ba na?

Pastilan, or would you rather say Post-tilan! I can already imagine some eyebrows going up. Oy….. inaog imong kilaw!  Indeed, we theatre artists do have a certain resistance to theorizing because we are praxis-oriented.  In this regard, we are no different than people we encounter in the civil society or NGO-world. Nganong magtheorize-theorize pa man oy….daghan na man tang praxis, o ginahimo nga mas maayo pa kay sa ginatudlo sa mga banggiitang Universidad!

But all of us here, whether we like it or not, are now finding ourselves in circles where the buzzwords might include: post-colonial, post-modern, post-structural, discourse, deconstruction, reflexibility, sub-texts, panoptic gaze and the like. And when we find ourselves being thrown lines of dialogue that have these words, we do sometimes feel that these words entered our sphere from the outer space!

As with cancer victims, our first reaction is be on denial as to the importance of understanding these terms.  After all, we do bring ourselves into a delusion that we are the special and gifted children of the universe and we are beyond the drab classrooms of the academia. Besides we don’t want to be boxed with labels that people look for as if they are in a grocery store.

For those of us above 50 (and there are many of you here: aminin!), we know this was not always so. There was a time in the 1970s-80s, that it was fashionable to be labeled Marxist.  One wore that tag as if a badge of honor. We had the Marxist terms at our fingertips or the tip of our tongues: dialectical materialism, base and superstructure, commodity fetishism, class contradictions, class struggle, petty bourgeoisie, democractic centralism, protracted war – and there were many more.

But my dear comrades: Marx, except the texts written by the young Marx, was modern. Not post-modern. Daghan na nag-ingon: na-debunk na man ang Marxist theory. Biyai na si Marx, dili na siya haom sa atong panahon karon. Ambot lang, but with the recent financial meltdown, the loyal Marxist theorists are saying Marx has remained relevant until today! Or has become even more relevant precisely because of the recent events in the capitalist world!


The fact is that the Mindanawon theatre artists – and other artists in the fields of music, dance, visual arts, architecture – have always been distinctly post-modern in terms of their theoretical perspectives, artistic frameworks, aesthetic sensibilities, ideological commitments and cultural engagements!

Post-moderno si dramaturgong Mindanawon?  Post-moderno ang diwa ni Mindulani?

Before the terms post-colonial, post-modern, post-structural entered into the discourses inside and outside the academic settings, before these terms evolved, before  they constituted theoretical frameworks, before these got popularized and found themselves taught in universities, the Mindanawon artists already were into this post-  praxis mode. Ay diay! Despues modern na diay ko? Nilampas, gi-agian na diay nako ang modern kay post-moderno na diay ko? These could be your lines now and do say the lines while emoting!

Question is: naka-sabot ka ba sa kahulugan aning maong mga linya? Unsa ba diay ipasabot kung ikaw maingon na nga post-modern? Unsa may mga nagpahiping mga pilosopiyang mga kahibalo ug kaalam lakbit ani? Precisely we need to have some understanding of this discourse so we will know why we are supposed to be post-modern, how we – in fact – help to evolve the term.  Pero ayaw katingala nganong ingon ka niini, kay mao na ang realidad sa kinabuhi.  Una dunay mga termino nga motumaw sa pag-punting sa usa ka butang o phenomenon, gihimo una kini  sa luna sa kinabuhi. Kon sa ato pa, ipakabuhi una sa lihok o buhat ug dihang nahimo kining kabahin sa masud-ong sa palibot, duna dayoy mga teyoritista nga maoy mohatag sa mga labels, terms identifying the concepts being theorized. Praxis then gives way to theory so that theory can further enrich praxis! Naa baya say mga teyoritista nga mga artistsa; sa natad sa teatro naa si Bertolt Brecht, si Augusto Boal, mga magtutudlo ni Marili sa UP Diliman.

Busa morag eksena sa Mindasilang: mora kuno tag mga estudyante nga magmugna’g drama! Let us imagine ourselves being in a Philosophy class and I am your overworked, underpaid Professor and you are my most diligent students!  The word is diligent: meaning, you are top A students: disciplined, ready to discuss the assigned topic in class since you have read the required reading assignments, serious, nerdy… you know the type. And, of course, considering your record in school, you are playing against type! (Daghan gani sa inyo dire wala ka-graduate!)


We cannot deny the reality of conflicts, tensions and fragmentations in our society today. In many instances, these led to the outburst of violence victimizing  hundreds of thousands of Filipinos.  If one were to present statistics of the victims, the data would be quite harrowing. There have been tens of thousands of soldiers, rebels, ordinary civilians killed through all the wars waged in Mindanao and other parts of the country especially since the dawn of the colonial era.  The numbers would soar if we include those hurt and maimed, tortured and impoverished, those who live sub-human lives in evacuation camps or could no longer return to their homes and cultivated farms.  In many instances, the victims of violence are the poor and marginalized who are the most vulnerable as it is their communities that are caught in the crossfire of violence.

We can ask ourselves, what are the root causes of these conflicts, tensions, fragmentations resulting in outbursts of violence?  Mindanao serves as a good case study.

One school of thought would point at DIFFERENCES as the root causes. From a modern philosophical epistemological framework – as Marxism – the differences arise out of the asymmetry in terms of  access to the means of production.  Grounded in political economy, such differences are very much class-based. Thus we speak about the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the elite and the marginalized.  In dealing with the class origin, class position and class option of the various segments of population, there arises differences in terms of political orientations and ideological perspectives.

Another school of thought moves beyond just the political enonomic landscape to privilege cultural analysis.  Such school of thought would identify the  differences in terms of the dis-similarities or the varying mindsets, perspectives, frameworks and  orientations among the peoples of our communities and societies, especially among those who have greater access to the economic, social, cultural and symbolic capitals.  A related school of thought would focus their analysis on the conflicting discourses.2 How we think, look at or view particular realities or phenomenon, how we speak or talk about such and the ensuing actions we engage in –  following our thoughts and conversations –  are elements that help construct such discourses.

This is where we locate Culture, specifically the realm of  ethnicity and religious traditions. In terms of ethnicity, we speak of differences  among the various ethnolinguistic groups. Pluralism is the one word that comes to mind when we speak about the multi-ethnicities of our country, including the Indigenous Peoples or  the Lumads in Mindanao. People’s identities are very much anchored in the elements of their ethnicities: genealogical origins, historical narratives, languages, cosmic  worldviews,  myths and ritual practices, governance systems, the arts and cultural expressions.

In the post-colonial philosophical  framework, there is also an acknowledgment of differences owing to varying races, castes, genders, age differences and how we view and relate to the cosmic reality and ecology around us.

The reality of differences by itself does not create conflict, tensions, fragmentations that can occasion the rise of violence. It is when the differences lead towards what anthropologists speak of as “Othering”, that is, when we refer or relate to peoples of other races, nationalities, ethnicities, cultural and faith traditions, genders and other basis for people’s  identities as inferior to us. In Cebuano we say: dili sila ingon nato (not like ours!).  It worsens when we engage in misrepresentations of them – through our written and visual texts – that project  them as less than human beings.3 Then we engage in stereotyping, even developing myths about them even as we turn very patronizing and condescending in our inter-action with them. So we make decisions on their behalf as when we continued our colonizers’ drive to assimilate all the IPS into mainstream lowland society.  Or even worse, when we forcefully impose our political, cultural, religious systems on them and harass them when they resist.  Then we demonize them to the point of extinction. We have expressions like: A good Muslim is a dead Muslim!  Think about the West’s War on Terror on Muslims they consider as terrorists on the basis of their looks or their faith expressions. Then our panoptic gaze on them have really turned lethal.

We had fallen into the tragic embrace of difference, since it can be “straightforwardly exclusionary… it can be deathly dangerous… (coming from)  a long history of racialized or gendered exclusion in the name of difference” as “those deemed different are not part of the social formation, are not included under values of moral treatment, respect and love”.4

This “othering”  process takes place within our very own social institutions.  Our families, clans, churches, schools, governments, media and other institutions  – which are the sites of our enculturation – are also the sites where we fall into the trap of ethnocentrism, racism, sexism,  ageism, and faith fundamentalism.  In many instances, our families and clans  lead us towards internalizing biases against people of different color.  Our schools teach us epistemological knowledge systems that are so Euro- and America-centric, teachers hardly teach anything that is indigenous and local leading to our alienation from our very own cultures. And media continue to reinforce our notion that women are but sex objects and nature is but a source of extracted raw materials for consumer products.

Our view of the world is then confined to binary oppositions, dualisms and dichotomies. They versus us. The civilized versus the uncivilized (read: the Westernized versus the indigenous).  The mighty men versus the weak women. The sosyal versus the promdi.  The highbrow versus the bakya. The saved versus the damned. The children of the light versus those of the dark. The fans of Rambo versus those of Obama bin Laden. And as progress moves  beyond globalization and our gadgets and technology  become more complex, the gaps further widen. Our problems  worsen as we move towards problematic  global, national and local situations.

Out of this reality has been chaos. The bad news is that chaos  can cause a lot of anxieties, fear, insecurities, depression and despair. Fortunately, there can be good news in the midst of all these. The Pulitzer prize-winning author-historian, Henry Adams, says that “chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.”5

For one thing,  when the usual things do not work anymore, there are creative, innovative thinkers and practitioners who think out of the box and begin to explore new terrains that could bring us some hope for the future.  Some of them begin to construct new epistemological knowledge systems that challenge the dominant ones that are on the verge of bankruptcy or total irrelevance.  These paradigms begin to re-imagine how we can deal with the dividing lines.

The new philosophical epistemologies has brought about a shift from colonial, modern and structural to post-colonial, post-modern, post-structural frameworks that  privilege the local, the indigenous, the subaltern, the minorities, the hybrids and all that which used to be at the margins.6 In the process such theoretical paradigms have promoted pluralism towards combating marginalization on the basis of  race, caste,  class, gender, ethnicity, religion, culture and the like.  These paradigms have celebrated diversity, they luxuriate in the beauty and goodness of differences.


I now bring you into some discussion on the important philosophical and anthropological discourses that are helpful to our circle.

CULTURE is a term whose definition has gone a long way. In 1937, Matthew Arnold  defined it from a very Euro-centric perspective, namely: “the best that has been said and thought in the world”.7. Earlier, in l917, E.B. Tylor defined culture or civilization as that “complex whole including knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other abilities and habits acquired by people as members of society”. 8 In 1952, Kroeber and Kluckhohn – “in their attempt to bring order into the confused usage of the term, uncovered almost three hundred definitions” of the word.9 In the contemporary university setting, culture has extended to the arena of discourses.

A consciousness that there is pluralism rather than monoculturalism has given rise to  Multi-culturalism which is “a commitment to cultural diversity that emerged out of … (a) conflictual history of resistance, accommodation, integration, and transformation” and is “critical of and resistant to the necessarily reductive imperatives of monocultural assimilation”.10

Difference, Pluralism and Multiculturalism are therefore hallmarks of our post-modern era.

Among the many characteristics of postmodernism are pluralism, difference, diversity  and dialogue.  By post-modernism is meant “an incredulity toward metanarratives,”  (including capitalism, communism, worldwide westernization or dominance of science and technology) , where there is “no one worldview, no single explanation… a suspicion of totalizing institutions and their legitimization by an overarching story…. (and) where there is a great fear of anything leading to totalitarianism or universalizing control.”11

Pluralism thus makes a strong “acknowledgment of the importance of difference and otherness, of other voices, other styles, other experiences, other cultures”, is “willing to accept the other as other and recognize the value of different traditions” and can fully accept that “different ways of life can be confronted, enjoyed, juxtaposed, represented, and dramatized, so that different cultures (can) acknowledge each other’s legitimacy”.12 With differentiation comes diversity which need to be celebrated rather than feared.  A deepened ecological awareness allows us to see the importance of diversity in nature and in cultures.13 And because post-modernism is aware of and desires participation by all and not just the elite, it promotes dialogue.


Allow me now to bring in a set of cast of characters: the more popular post-colonial theorists.14 The slides of the power-point presentations will allow us to see how different they are from the usual white, male, Western theorists as the post-colonial theorists are black, of non-Western ethnicity and women.  How did the post-colonial philosophical theory arose?

As you all know in your study of world history (gawas kung namayabas mo), there was a period during the 14th to the 19th centuries, when Western countries colonized what are now nation-states of  Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, there arose an anti-Empire sentiment towards the 1800s until the l940s which led to the independence of these countries. During the colonial era when the Western colonizers had a direct rule over the populations, it was not only in the realm of political economy that such a subservience took place. It also took place in the arena of culture as it was the colonizers who also had the power to determine cultural discourses in the fields of language, religious practice, education.  You know the impact of that on the colonized Bisaya, Tagalog, Ilokano, Bikolano and  other ethnolinguistic groups in this country who  got caged in such a colonial trap.

With the independence movement spreading across the world, many of the former colonies declared themselves as nation-states; in many instances, they set up their Republics.  But two consequences arose out of this movement.  Nation-states are imagined communities, so declares Benedict Anderson, which is to say that the discourse of nation-states has to be problematized. In our case, the nation-state became Manila-centric and thus was born Manila imperialism. That is to say that those from the center of the Republic tried their best to consolidate their power over the rest of the ethnolinguistic groups even if they have been able to resist colonization, especially the Moro and Lumad peoples.  Neo-colonialism arose and Mindanao had to be ruled from the Republic’s center in Manila with its elite constituted by Christian lowlanders who had control over the means of production, especially land and earnings from rent of all sorts.

On the other hand, the former colonizers sustained their hold over their former colonies, eventually leading towards the globalization phase of capitalism as controlled by the G-8. In fact, we deluded ourselves into thinking that we are an independent state;  but as the latest financial meltdown showed, our financial souls are tied up to the Great American Capitalist system. Fortunately in the realm of culture, there arose a post-colonial sentiment  which later led to efforts in theorizing; this movement was led by the likes of Franz Fanon, Edward Said, Chandra Mohanty, Stuart Hall and Homi Bhabha.

Fanon dealt with the identity formation of the colonized subject as he tried to deal with the psychological viewpoint of the colonized.  From this view, the colonized blacks were seen as children vis-à-vis the adult Europeans. If they eventually resisted their colonizers, they were perceived as mad and their resistance was viewed either as infantile regression or fanaticism. The colonized supposedly had a dependence complex going back to their ancestors and later on with their colonial masters, resulting in what he terms as Negritude.  For Fanon it was important for the colonized subject to evolve an identity formation that privileges struggle against all forces of colonization.  Indian theorists added the term subaltern to deepen this discourse. Those finding themselves existing in the subaltern layer of society has to firm up on their identities if they are to find their place  in the sun.

Said dealt with the discursive practices of the colonizer, that is, how the colonizers viewed, spoke and wrote about the “others”, namely those under the colonial gaze or the gaze of those in power.  Said appropriates Michel Foucault’s discourse analysis.  In his famous book Orientalism, he dealt with how the European colonizers engaged in the representation of the other in various texts from literature to film; he found these ethnocentric, patronizing and condescending. For Said, it was important for the colonized to evolve their own representations and engaged in cultural productions that truly represent who they are as a people.

Hall looked into the questions of race and ethnicity.  For him race is crucial in colonial discourse as those of other races are classified by the colonizers in terms of their physical, biological and genetic qualities; these are supposed to equal unchanging inner essence in the realm of the psychological, intellectual, moral and social capacities. This has resulted in the heirarchization of peoples on the basis of the color of their skin, eventually, giving rise to racism.  This discourse then shifted to the field of ethnicity as those of other races also have different ethnicities. With ethnicity, there is shared values, memories and loyalties; thus, it has a more attractive category which takes away the notion of being a minority.  Antonio Gramsci is appropriated by Hall in terms of relating class to race, gender, ethnicity and local politics.

Mohanty dealt with issues of gender and sexuality.  For her, gender and sexuality are sites of contestation in colonial domination.  In written and visual texts, women are viewed or gazed at from the perspective of exoticism.  Colonizers gaze at women as exotic sexual objects. Colonized men, on the other hand, were either viewed as gay or barbarians.  Patriarchy and imperialism are the end-products of such a perspective of gender and sexuality which are contested by feminism.  Binarism  is another end-product of such a world view which reinforce dualism or dichotomization. The challenge is to view reality from a holistic view.

Bhabha deals with the notion of hybridity. For him, the hybrid are the products of interbreeding and genetic exchanges involving cross-fertilization.  One knows this is a reality among plants, but also in languages, cultures and races.  The colonizer wants to extinguish those they view as hybrids.  On the other hand, mimicry, liminality and embracing the space of the in-between are strategies of assertion to challenge imperialism.

Bhabha’s discourse on hybridity  refers to “the mixing that brings forth new forms from previously identified categories”.15 As described by Bhabha, hybridity is “‘the name of the strategic reversal of the process of domination through disavowal”  leading to the rise of “a third space or third term created from out of the encounter of other with other (under conditions of unequal power) which is always ‘the split screen of the  self and its doubling, the hybrid’”.16
The discourse of hybridity could be useful for us theatre artists in our cultural engagements.

In Mindanawon’s theatre movement, all kinds of possibilities are there for the artists to experience a third space where hybridity could evolve in terms of negotiated identities, depending on their brains,  political will, talents and other resources.

To summarize, these are the key terms of these five theorists and how we might find  ourselves within their discourses:




FANON: Race and Subaltern

Psychological viewpoints: what constitutes subservience  and identity assertion (Racism)

Identity formation:
-Artist & cultural worker

SAID: Representations

Cultural text productions from literature to film (Orientalism)

Engaged in creative, indigenized, localized (think global, act local), contextualized productions

MOHANTY: Gender and Sexuality

Patriarchy, misogyny, imperialism (Sexism)

Gender-sensitive, allow genders to have voices, fully supportive of women initiatives

HALL: Ethnicity

Race and Ethnicity (Ethnocentrism)

Insider among Indigenous Peoples, find a home among them, respectful of their being IPs, conscious of the demands of FPIC (free, prior, informed consent)

BHABHA: Hybridity, Third Space

Cross-fertilization (Purism, Fundamentalism)

Push boundaries, evolve new forms constituted by various sources, experimental

Now, feel mo ba nga post-colonial diay ka?

Just to add a little footnote here, related to post-structuralist  theory of Derrida. He critiqued traditional theatre as relying too much on the script and the director, thus this type of theatre is dominated by a system of thought which is referred to as representational logic, i.e., what takes place on the stage represents what takes place in real life. He  would rather have an alternative stage in which speech will cease to govern stage. He calls this a process of decentering and its has  repercussions  both in terms of theatre and society.



Moves away from its traditional center, its focus on writers and their expectations

Move away from  forces at the center those with power and authority and their expectations of those below

As the center is expected to always give the answer (but ultimately leads to death) as center is linked with that which is essential: play and difference

They who are supposed to be the one with answers (usurp power to speak, interpret, represent, allocate resources, declare what is legal)

Without play and difference it is static theatre, can  be seen as being dead

Allow for free expression: pluralism so that there is dynamic flow

Free play: without center, they are open, ongoing and self-reflexive

Allow people  greater autonomy, subsidiarity, thus – open, discursive, self-reflexive

Let us now look into the praxis of the Mindanawon theatre movement in the last 40 years, constituting two generations of theatre artists and cultural workers. (Of course, the life realities of the pre-Islamic and pre-Christian indigenous communities in Mindanao that constitute “theatre” in terms of its indigenous roots go back tens of thousand years ago.) When we speak of the Mindanao theatre movement this would be the theatre that we now also refer to as MINDULANI – the theatre movement that could claim to harvest theatrical productions mounted since the 1960s.

We return to the amateur theatre productions of many public and private schools in the 1960s even if most of them had to rely on non-Filipino material; as in the Shakespeare festivals of the Ateneos and the early Broadway musicals. Some schools discovered plays in English written by budding Manileno playwrights as The New Yorker in Tondo. All these continued the modern tradition of theatre.

Then came the stirrings in the landscape of theatre in Mindanao which would eventually move beyond the modern border, shatter traditional theatre paradigms and dare plant seeds whose roots are now what constitutes  the Mindulani tree. Some arose in the heady days of the 1960s fueled by youth activism erupting all over the world, the restlessness of peasants and workers who were now ready to face the powers-that-be and demand their rights.  All these led to the search for new cultural expressions of dissent and resistance. One of the unintended consequence of Marcos’ signing PD 1081 which imposed martial rule in the country was how it would strengthen the resolve of the budding artists that, ultimately, provoked the birth of Mindulani.

One was Dong Galenzoga fresh from learning about mime among the mute and blind with whom he spent time as a seminarian. He and  his young theatre enthusiasts mounted Maranatha and the biblical-liturgical dance dramas in the coastal town of war-ravaged Kolambugan, Lanao Norte.  Taking a strong prophetic stance denouncing the injustices victimizing ordinary folks, creatively appropriating the aesthetics of a third space arising from the encounter of Bisaya and Maranaw cultures and making sure the productions find an audience across the diverse segments of Mindanawon population, Galenzoga shifted into a post-modern  theatrical paradigm that has since inspired many cultural workers and artists.  From English/Filipino, the language was Bisaya, the language of the people. From western material, it privileged indigenous material even as it also used music from Hollywood films.  Today, such productions are mounted at Dapit-Alim, itself a Bhabha third space in terms of inculturation, inter-faith dialogue and indigenous spirituality.

There were those in Davao who were touched by the magic wand of Cecile Guidote, Lino Brocka, Jonas Sebastian, Lorli Villanueva and the first PETA artists who run workshops in 1971 before Guidote would make a dramatic exit during martial rule. The first to undergo a most unsystematic workshop (kay mao gyod na sa pagsugod pa lang), were community-based groups who then mounted improvisational plays the moment they went home to their parishes.  That plus his exposure to some of the activist theatre groups in Manila was where Melchor M. Morante would draw inspiration from and would prove useful when he began to be engaged in mayukmok theatre or conscientization plays throughout martial rule, mounted in the most unlikely places from town plazas to parish churches, seminar houses to seminaries, improvised stages to gymnasiums, from the very depths of a prison camp to the heights of an upland IP community.

He founded the Mga Magdudulang Mayukmok first among students of Cor Jesu College in Digos (later on becoming a city) just before martial rule (1971-72), later among the members of the youth group of the parish of Mati (Davao Oriental) and staged protest plays like Unsay Kaugmaon sa Atong Nasud Manang Takya? Arrested when martial rule was imposed  owing to the staging of such plays, he then shifted to morality plays like Hukmanan sa Katapusan. At the height of martial rule, he set up Magdudulang Tabonon in Davao City and mounted productions like Buhi sa Kanunay, Katakomba and others.

From PETA came to Mindanawon shores the likes of Frank Rivera and later Al Santos. Frank set up the Sining Kambayoka which was to find itself rooted in an academic setting, the MSU, even as it would spread its wings from Mindanao to the rest of the world! Ensconced in one of the most beautiful campuses this part of the world, surrounded by the Maranaw culture that – in its okir design alone – had reached a most sophisticated level of  artistic achievement and populated by students who represent the brightest but financially disadvantaged among Mindanawon’s youth, Kambayoka would fulfill its destiny, namely, that of evolving a theatrical form that is truly Mindulani. From appropriating  the malong, Maranaw narratives (Mga Kuwentong Maranaw) and other indigenous material to its rich and diverse repertory, it has given birth of a model of a university-based theatre group that is truly post-modern as well as a theatre form known as bayok.  Al Santos would make an attempt at Ateneo de Davao University through the Kulturang Atin Theatre Group with the staging of Sa Bundok ng Apo with young artists who ultimately would make us Mindanawons proud – the likes of Joey Ayala and Agnes Locsin. Whereas Kambayoka explored Moro aesthetics, Kulturang Atin privileged the Lumad sensibilities.  Bagong Lumad was thus an apt name of a band when Joey would set it up along with the likes of Popong Landero, Joji Benitez, Bayang Barrios, Noe Tio (+) and Onie Badiang.

There were other university-based theatre groups, too. Including Dulaang Lasalista and St. Theresian Ensemble. MSU-IIT saw the rise of  the Iligan Performing Arts Group (IPAG) with Tibo Fernandez and we all know what they have been doing and where they have been mounting their productions. Just cruise through their web sites and you have an idea that they can give the Manila theatre groups a run for their money and publicity.

There was also the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference Secretariat’s Creative Dramatics Program which served to provide an umbrella to all community-based theatre groups all over Mindanao, especially those connected to Catholic and Protestant churches.  One needs to remember that the only institution that could face up to the Marcos dictatorship were the churches; thus many parishes provided the sanctuaries for these theatre groups that found the altar space serving as performing stages.  Malou Tiangco and Jeje Honculada were the main cultural workers training and empowering budding theatre artists as well as linking up different theatre groups doing their best to conscientize the people to resist the dictatorship.

In this circle would arise the likes of Fe Remotigue, Lando Arban, Merlit Milan, Tisay Opaon and groups like EDCADS, LEAD, BALIAKAG Youth Network.  The theorists of MSPC’s CD program included Brecht, Boal, Antonio Gramsci, Paulo Friere and those coming out of PETA as the likes of Gardy Labad, Soxy Topacio, Maryo delos Reyes, Alan Glinoga and the like were partners in the CD’s attempt to evolve more appropriate training modules. So in fact, there was some theorizing going on; unfortunately, the near-hegemony of Marxist theories prevented cultural workers in learning about the nascent post-modern theories that were already being taught in most Western universities.

There were other theatre groups that arose shortly after and they made their presence felt in the gatherings such as Kalasikas and Mindulani in the l980s-early 1990s including Magkasipan, Kariala Music Traditions, CINE (which advocated children’s theatre), Misbah theatre arts Guild, Tambuli Cultural Group, Tinalak, Himamat and Kathara Theatre Collective.17

Kambayoka gave birth to the theatrical careers of the likes of Sunny Noel, Richard Belar,  Romy Narvaez, Basilidas Pilapil, Filemon Blanco, Pepito Somagayan, Tallassa Alaba and others. They  in turn would give birth to theatre groups such as the Sining Kapapagariya. Kulturang Atin of Ateneo de Davao and the other theatre groups in and around Davao City – including those whose plays were touch-and-go street plays that disappeared once the police or military entered the theatrical space – coalesced to give birth to the ND-oriented theatre artists’ sectoral collective under the broader Kulturang Atin Foundation, Inc. (KAFI),  housed in what was then the Sidlakan  Center. Quite a number of young, vibrant theatre artists arose out of this network including Arnel Mordoquio, Tony Apat, Mayong Castillo, Lyndee Prieto, Daisy Castillo and others. Then theatre in its other post-modern manifestation, namely, a lot of improvisations soared!

Nestor W. Horfilla had earlier made a dramatic entrance.  Nestor already was a name in theatrical productions staged in Cebu in the l970s but eventually he returned to his home in Davao City. He had some connections with the MSPC CD program but eventually found a leadership role in KAFI,  MCTN and SME. The Mindanao Cultural Theatre Network (MCTN) was the umbrella of most of the theatre groups in Mindanao. In the late l980s, the MCTN would sustain the efforts of was the umbrella organization of Sining Kambayoka and Kapapagariya, the Creative Arts Cricle, TILON, Kabasalan parish theatre Group, DAE, STE, CCT, Bagat, Sining Pananadem and others.

In Davao, there was the Sining Malay Ensemble which, like a number of theatre groups, would make a dramatic exit in the years to come. One dramatic entrance that would mark a historical turn in Mindanao theatre history is the rise of the Kaliwat Theatre Collective. Taking under his wings graduates of Kambayoka like  Richard Belar and Eden Espejo, KAFI’s  Marili Fernandez, DEMS’ Geejay Arriola, EDCAD’s Titing Trinquite, Kaikai and Melvin Lamalinao, Tisay Opaon, and others, Nestor and the Kaliwat pioneered a new paradigm for the Mindanawon theatre. They immersed themselves among Lumad communities, did research and advocacy work as the State shifted its own policies related to the discourse of the Lumad’s ancestral domain, specifically with Dao-2, the forerunner of IPRA.

EDSA in 1986 has pushed us further into the post-modern era. Even as the militant sector held on to the dreams of further advancement of the ND-led struggle, it was clear that things have changed. With the changes, it was time to move on and engage in paradigm shifts. Kaliwat was one of the first to make the jump and Arakan was its launching pad.  The Arakan experience would turn out to be a model for cultural workers to engage the IP in terms of the growing significance of the ancestral domain discourse (a discourse that gave us nightmares with the new wars that erupted recently as the MOA-AD collapsed).

Eventually, Kaliwat would also give rise to new kaliwatans. The most important is the women’s collective who dreamt of a production written, performed, directed and produced by women. That dream gave birth  productions like “Pagbati,” “Ugpaanan,” “Ova” and later, “Panaw.” Women theatre artists (Geejay Arriola, Marili Fernandez, Donna Celebrado,  Malou Tiangco, Eden Licayan-Espejo, Lili Arellano, Boots Dumlao, Neneng Leoncito, Sundilyn Pedro, Rachel Cinco, Bibay Ekslamador, Amalah Morderno, Gamay Arkoncel-Dacanay, Imelda Carreon and the ones who would come on board later on)  have made their presence felt in our circles and will hopefully continue to bear fruit.

The Mindulani tree continues to grow even as its roots grow deeper.  Today, Mindulani is alive and our being here together is testimony to this fact. Even as theatre groups active in the l960s-1990s have disappeared from the scene, some are still there actively sustaining their vision-mission. New ones have arisen. Theatrical productions are still being mounted; some are on tour despite the financial and other difficulties. With NCCA and CCP backing us now, there is some source of funds to keep us going.


Perhaps, it is the analysis of the theatrical productions – which etymologically is why the name of MINDULANI was coined, namely, the harvest of plays mounted through the years – that will help us see better why, philosophically, we can refer to ourselves as being post-modern. Let us take a few samples.


So what is all this philosophical fuzz all about and why is this important for us?

As I have shown you already, the Mindanawon dramaturgo of the past two generations embedded itself in the post-colonial and post-modern philosophical perspectives long before we even heard these theoretical terms.  Our praxis – both in the realm of organizing theatre groups (where we are cultural workers) as well as  mounting productions  (where we are artists) – makes it easy for us to understand such a philosophical viewpoint. Our praxis served as one of the tributaries that ultimately joined with the world-wide river of a post-colonial, post-modern cultural revolution.

Having validated that, it is important that we do everything – including offer our lives (or if that is asking too much, at least our early mornings – still very difficult?) to sustain our location within that philosophical landscapes. Until, of course, there is a post-post-colonial/modern era. If that happens, we would have already taken a step towards the needed paradigm shift.

So what does it mean to sustain our post-colonial, post-modern location?

  1. We always need to have a punto de vista, angay natong kanunay ipunting asa ta nagbarug; we must always have a well-informed, well-analyzed, well-articulated ideological position  made firmer & stronger by a political will. Of course, we always need to review this and make the necessary changes when necessary.
  2. We should always take a reflexivity stand.  Our perspective is only one of many; we should never consider ourselves the superior elite ones even in this field. Which is why we need to collaborate with other groups no matter the differences so long as we do not sell our soul (and dignity) in the process.  Settting up linkages and engaging in collaborative efforts have to be continuously explored.  Possibly, compared to Luzon, Visayas and even the capital region, we have been fortunate in Mindanao to forge ties under the Mindulani banner that makes it possible to have Congresses as this one we are attending now. There is a friendly competition among us (and naturally, duna say paglibak-libak sa usa’g usa; pero sigue lang, matud pa ni James Scott, libak is the weapons of the weak). We do embrace each other within our network and make sure no one feels excluded.  Just look around you and you have an idea of the wide range of our networking. Padayon jud ni unta!
  3. We should never forget that our punto de vista  is Derridian,  the subaltern’s view, those of the marginalized and disadvantaged on account of their ethnicities, religious and cultural traditions, genders and geographical locations. Even if we become the darlings of the glitterati and culturati in our respective locations, we should always return to the margins of society. If it is not possible for us anymore to be community-based, we should support those who are and find whatever little time we can spend to be immersed among the timawa, dinaug-daug, sinalikway, sinikmahan sa kapalaran. One of the roots of Mindulani is community-based theatre groups which have dwindled since People Power, except among those in guerilla zones. We need to find resources to assist those at the grassroots level who are interested to set up or sustain their community-based theatre groups.  This is why it is good to have a  play like Dula Ta at this festival as it reminds us of this pillar of Mindanawon dramaturgy.
  4. We owe it to the Moro and Lumad peoples to support their struggles if only for the fact that we owe a debt of gratitude to them for enriching our aesthetics. We should refrain from following the path of the companies engaged in mining mineral resources in the uplands by making sure we are not “cultural miners” extracting cultural resources from the Lumads in the most brazen manner that the colonizers did. Specifically if we are the intermediaries between Moro/Lumad peoples and lowlanders (especially students who are mobilized for the variety of localized festivals organized by the Tourism Agency of the State), we should make sure that the lowlanders who are descendants of migrants-settlers have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the historical, religious and cultural underpinnings of their dances, music and material culture. Otherwise, we can be accused of peddling other peoples cultures only for commodification purposes. One way to pay forward is to help set up theatre groups composed of Moro and Lumad artists and cultural workers so that, eventually, they also have such strong  voices in the cultural landscape of Mindanao.
  5. We should not be content in terms of the kind or types of theatrical productions we are mounting. During the martial rule, our plays had a greater variety: the dula-tula, the street plays, zarzuelas, dance-dramas, musicals, historical dramas,  bodabil, morality plays, biblico-liturgical plays, comedies, tragedies, one-acts, three-acts – the whole works.  We were everywhere despite the lack of resources; the aesthetics of poverty made it possible to mount a play with a P 100-peso budget.  Now, there seems to be a hegemony of the grand musical theatre type needing a sizable budget. I have nothing against this as this type is helping us to enrich our aesthetics and has made it possible for the Mindanao theatre movement to evolve theatre forms that could be at par with Japan’s noh and kabuki theatre, or the Chinese Peking opera, the Indonesian wayang kulit. In the absence of a term, I dare call it the Mindulani theatre forms that serves as umbrella of the plays of Kaliwat, Kambayoka, IPAG, Mebuyan and others.  There have recently been efforts by Sunny Noel, Felimon Blanco and others  to do monologues and dialogues; such a movement can only enrich our dramaturgy.  There is also the improvisations linking up dance and theatre and those of Surigao and Kathara at this festival are the good examples of such initiatives. More, of course, need to be mounted. Post-modernism or the art that came with postmodernity favors improvisations like those in visual artists which are being exhibited even by the most haughty museums in the world. We need to explore more experimental works that are artistically well-conceptualized by spontaneously mounted. While I am in this point, we should forge more collaborative efforts with the other arts groups. We are doing very well with musicians, song-writers and singers. But we have to still explore greater collaboration with visual artists, architects, fashion designers, landscape artists and computer artists.
  6. There is the question of sustainability, especially in terms of finances. We have proven that in terms of spirit, there is a high level of sustainability. Tan-awa god, nagkadaghan dire ang mga hamtong (read: tigulang o idaran na). And we continue to encourage the bagets to come on board.  Pero, nasayud ta, nga kabus gayod ta gihapon hangtud karon ug ga-aginod! Unsa bay atong kasigurohan kung uugod-ugod na ta? Which is why MECA is heaven-sent and Pepot Remotigue is the new avenging angel dropped from the celestial heavens to bring money to the pockets of the likes of Mother Romy.  She will give a presentation on this and you better pay attention Mother Romy if you want to have some security in your old age!
  7. Finally, we need to theorize based on our practice and be engaged in epistemological endeavors. Appropriating Foucault, we must be engaged in discourses. We have been producing knowledge systems useful for cultural workers and artists even as these have sustained our efforts despite the struggles and difficulties. But we should not allow those in the academic settings to do the textualizations and get the ensuing credit plus all kinds of awards on our behalf kuno. We should also do the research and documentation, the analysis of the data gathered, to theorize on our praxis and publish the  books that are a reflection of our identities.  If we can find the time and resources, do graduate school if that is how you can systematize the theorizing process. Otherwise, find a quiet spot and do your writing there, even if this is in the form of memoirs. My dear colleagues, believe me: our roots as Mindanawon dramaturgos can only go deeper if we theorize based on our praxis. As Popong Landero’s web page would tell us: tam-is ang bunga kung ang kaugatan haskang lawoma! Or fruit is sweeter if roots are deeper! Need I say more?

I end as I began.

Did anyone here in this hall hear someone at his back saying this line: Unsa man ning gipangyawyaw aning Karl?  Wa jud ko kasabot!  Magdrama na lang ko oy, nganong mag-teyorize-teyorize pa man god!

Ambot sa langaw, pila edad sa ok-ok.
Mayong buntag sa tanan.

The congress delegates ready to watch another new Mindanao theatre production at the Rodelsa Theatre of Liceo University in Cagayan de Oro City.


1 Talk given at the Mindulani sa Milenyo Dos, De Luxe Hotel Hall, Cagayan de Oro City,  23 November 2008.

2 Discourse is defined as “a group of statements which provide a language for talking about – i.e. a way of representing – a particular kind of knowledge about a topic. When statements about a topic are made within a particular discourse it makes it possible to construct the topic in a certain way.  It also limits the other ways in which the topic can be constructed. A discourse does not consist of one statement, but several statements working together to form what the French social theorist, Michel Foucault, calls a discursive formation. The statements fit together because any one statement implies a relation to all the others.” Kenneth Thompson in Joel Canuday, Bakwit – narratives, assertions, spaces and security, A thesis Proposal, Xavier University, 2003, 27.

3 For a more detailed explanation regarding how we can fall into the trap of mis-representing others, see Delfo Cortina Canceran, “Representing the Other: Limit of Inter-Religious Dialogue,”  in Theories and Practices of Interfaith Dialogue in the Philippines: Conference Papers, DLSU, 24-26 April 2008, p. 26-29.

4 David Theo Goldberg, “Introduction: Multicultural Conditions”, in David Theo Goldberg (ed), Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994) 12.

5 Cited in Gerald A. Arbuckle, SM, Earthing the Gospel (New York: Orbis Books, 1990) 2.

6 Definitions of post-colonial, post-modern, post-structural. Post-colonial theory is a “textual and praxiological practice initially undertaken by people who were once part of the British, European and American Empires, but now have some sort of territorial freedom while continuing to live the burdens from the past and enduring newer forms of economic and cultural neo-colonialism…[It] tries to conquer the past by comprehending it, and to overpower the present by exorcising it”. R.S. Sugirtharajah, The Bible and the Third World as cited by Pilario, Daniel Franklin, Mapping Post-Colonial Theory, Appropriations in Contemporary Theology.” In Hapag, Volume 3, No. 1-2 (2006), 9-51. Post-modern as project is “the attempt to go beyond the materialist paradigm which characterizes modernism; an intense concern for pluralism and a desire to cut across the different taste cultures cultures that now fracture society; an obligation to bring back selected traditional values, but in a new key that recognizes the ruptures caused by modernity; an acknowledgment of difference and otherness, the keynote of the feminist movement; indeed the re-emergence of the feminine into all discourse; the re-enchantment of nature, which stems from new developments in science and A.N. Whitehead’s philosophy of organicism; and the commitment to an ecological and ecumenical world view that now characterizes post-modern theology”. Charles Jenks as cited in T. Howland Sanks, S.J.. “Postmodernism and the Church,” in New Theology Review, Volume 11, Number 3, August 1998, 51.  Lastly, post-structural refers to theories involving “a form of analysis, primarily in literary criticism, particularly associated with the… Jacques Derrida”.. (whose) fundamental idea is that we cannot apprehend reality without the intervention of language… or texts… (which) can only be understood in relation to other texts, not in relation to an external reality against which they can be tested or measured”. In Nicholas Abercrombie, Stephen Hill and Bryan S. Turner, Dictionary of Sociology (London: Penguin Books, 1994), 328.

7 Cited in David Theo Goldberg, (ed),  MultiCulturalism: A Critical Reader, (Oxford:  Blackwell, 1994), 3.

8 Cited in Luzbetak, 1990, 134.

9 Ibid, , 134. Luzbetak refers to Alfred L. Kroever and Clude Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology. 1952.

10 David Theo Goldberg, “Introduction: Multicultural Conditions,” in David Theo Goldberg, (ed), Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 7.

11 Ibid, 52.

12 Ibid.

13 For a refreshing take on diversity as a dynamic in our understanding of the world today, see Albert Nolan, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom (Quezon City: Jesuit Communications Foundation, Inc., 2006) 174 ff.

14For summary readings of these post-colonial theorists, see, Pilario.

15 Jeannine Hill Fletcher, “Religious Pluralism in an Era of Globalization: The Making of Modern Religious Identity,” Theological Studies, Vol. 69, No. 2 (June 2008), 394.  Homi Bhabba was the main theorizer of this concept with his book -  The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994).  In Bhabba’s view,  hybridity “was transformed into an instrument of resistance by playing with the meaning of the imposed signs, interpreting them in such ways as to subvert them, muddling them up with local wisdom never to be recognized as their origins”.  In Pilario 2006, 30.

16 Ibid, 408.

17 Documentations of these groups are rather sketchy owing to various reasons: the  insecurities of keeping documents during the martial rule, the lack of office spaces and archival locations, the paupacity of graduate students doing research in this field and the character of theatre artists  who are not disciplined in the area of research and documentation. Marili Fernandez is presently doing what she can to gather these documents and she is in a position to make such materials available to researchers.  Thanks to Marili for providing such data that helped me in the writing of this paper.

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