and the Basal and Kulilal Ensemble
Living in the highlands of southern Palawan are the Palawan people, who, together with the Batak and Tagbanwa, are the major indigenous cultural communities of Palawan.
The Palawan possess a rich, intense yet highly refined culture encompassing both the visible and invisible worlds. They may not exhibit the ornate splendor of the Maranaw nor the striking elegance of the Yakan, but their elaborate conemology, extensive poetic and literary traditions, multi-level architecture, musical concepts, social ethic and rituals reveal a deeply spiritual sensibility and subtle inner life of a people attuned to the myriad energies and forms of luxurious mountain universe that is their abode, a forest environment of great trees, countless species of plants and animals, and a magnificent firmament.
The Palawan have no notion of property. To them, the earth, sea, sky and nature’s elements belong to no one. Their basic social ethic is one sharing. Their most important rituals such as the tambilaw and the tinapay are forms of vast and lavish sharing, particularly of food and drinks, skills and ideas.
The tambilaw is a collective cooking and sharing of rice which is a ritual offering to the Lord of Rice, Ampo’t Paray, while the tinapay is the rice wine drinking ceremony. It is during such occasions that the basal, or gong music ensemble, plays a vital role in the life of the community. For it is the music of the basal that collectively and spiritually connects the Palawan with the Great Lord, Ampo and the Master Rice, Ampo’t Paray. The basal enlivens the night long fast of the drinking of the rice wine, bringing together about one hundred guests under the roof of the kolon banwa (big house).
The gimbal (tubular drum) begins the music with a basic rhythm, then enter the sanang ( pair of small gongs with boss and narrow rims) and one to three agungs (gongs with high bossed and wide turned – in rims).
Basal ensemble playing is an accurate and wonderful metaphor for the basic custom of sharing among the Palawan . For in this music no one instrument predominates. The techniques of interlocking, counterpoint, alternation and colotomy ensure a collective oneness. The two sanang play in alternative dynamics. When one plays loudly, the other plays softly. Contrapuntal patterns govern the interaction of the agung with the sanang and gimbal. It is the music of “punctuation, rhythm and color rather than melody”. Its very essence is creative cooperation and togetherness.
A non-musical instrumental element of the basal are the young women’s rapid stamping rhythm of their foot as they move back and forth on the bamboo slatted floor of the kolon banwa, carrying taro leaves on both hands at their sides. This percussion dance is called tarak.
Further highlighting the intensely poetic and subtle harmony of human beings with each other and with nature among the palawan are the kulilal and bagit traditions. The kulilal is a highly lyrical poem expressing passionate love sang with the accompaniment of the kusyapi (two-stringed lute), played by a man, and pagang (bamboo zither), played by a woman. The bagit, also played on the kusyapi, is strictly instrumental music depicting the rhythms, movements and sounds of nature, birds, monkeys, snakes, chirping of insects, rustling of leaves, the elements and the like.
An outstanding master of the basal, kulilal and bagit is Masino, a gifted poet, bard artist, and musician who was born near the head of the river in Makagwa valley on the foothill of Mantalingayan mountain. Masino is not only well-versed in the instruments and traditions of the basal, kulilal and bagit but also plays the aroding (mouth harp) and babarak (ring flute) and above all is a prolific and pre-eminent epic chanter and story teller.
He has the creative memory, endurance, clarity of intellect and spiritual purpose that enable him to chant all through the night, for successive nights, countless tultul (epics), sudsungit (narratives), and tuturan (myths of origin and teachings of ancestors).
Masino and the basal and kulilal ensemble of Makagwa valley are creative, traditional artists of the highest order of merit. (by Prof. Felipe M. de Leon, Jr.)