Philippine intangible cultural heritage in the spotlight


Traslacion, moryonan, piña weaving, boat building. The Philippines is rich in traditions, rituals, and practices—some popular, others relatively unknown—that form part of our country and its people. They are called intangible cultural heritage or ICH. 

PRESERVING HERITAGE. Ten documentaries featuring the country’s intangible cultural heritage (ICH) aim to document and provide valuable information on these elements in danger of vanishing. In photo is the elaborate ritual buklog of the Subanen people of Zamboanga Peninsula. (Photo by Roel Hoang Manipon)

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines ICH to include “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.” 

Buildings, historic places, monuments, and artifacts and other material objects are part of tangible cultural heritage.

Select Philippine ICH are featured in 10 video documentaries produced by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), as part of International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia Pacific Region’s (ICHCAP) video documentation project implemented since 2015. 

Moryon mask maker Alexander Luna in Mogpog, Marinduque. (Photo by Roel Hoang Manipon)

The ICH elements featured are the use of mud in traditional Ifugao textile dyeing (“Using Mud as Mordant in the Traditional Dyeing Process of the Ifugao of Northern Luzon”); piña weaving of Aklan (“Piña: The Pineapple Textile of Aklan, Western Visayas”); the traslacion procession of the Black Nazarene image of Quiapo, Manila (“Poong Nazareno: The Traslacion of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, Manila”); the moryonan Lenten penitential ritual in Marinduque (“Moryonan: A Lenten Tradition in Marinduque Island”); the craft of making moryonan masks (“Mukha ng Moryonan: Mask Making for Moryonan Lenten Tradition of Marinduque”); 

The giant Christmas lantern tradition of San Fernando, Pampanga (“Parul Sampernandu: The Giant Christmas Lantern Tradition of San Fernando City, Pampanga”); the feast of Our Lady Peñafrancia of Naga City, Bicol Region (“Ina: Our Lady of Peñafrancia”); the buklog ritual of the Subanen of the Zamboanga Peninsula (“Buklog: The Ritual System of the Subanen of Zamboanga Peninsula”); the igal of the Sama people of Tawi-Tawi (“Igal: Traditional Dance of the Sama of Tawi-Tawi”); and the boat building practices of the Sama people of Tawi-Tawi (“Lepa and Other Watercrafts: Boat Building Traditions of the Sama of Tawi-Tawi”).

The documentaries attempt to provide valuable information on and hope to generate a deeper understanding on the threatened heritage and provide valuable information. Productions spanned from 2018 to 2020. “The more an ICH element is in danger of vanishing, the more it presents challenges, especially in terms of accessibility,” reveals journalist and researcher Roel Hoang Manipon, the main writer of documentaries and the director and co-director of several of them. 

The traslacion ritual and procession of the image of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, Manila. (Photo by Ronnie Santiago-NCCA)

“But the more efforts must be made in their documentation,” Manipon continues. “The video documentation presents a lifeline to these elements and will present the only connection for many people to these precious aspects of culture and identity.”

In the Asia Pacific region, ICHCAP notes the number of cultural traditions of communities in danger of vanishing is gradually increasing because of many factors. 

Manipon says that while ICH elements “are some of the most impactful factors in shaping civilization and culture,” ones that “yield invaluable insights into many aspects of social relationships and human development, they are also ephemeral and highly mutable, depending mostly on memory, dedication, and community for its preservation and continuity. Especially now with the rapid growth of urbanization and globalization, ICH elements, especially the traditional ones, are in danger of vanishing and/or alteration.” 

Ifugao weavers gather mud to be used in traditional textile dyeing in Amganad, Banaue, Ifugao. (Photo by Mac Dillera for NCCA)

Hence, the importance of high quality documentation is highlighted. “Modern technology provides a way to safeguard these ICH elements, enabling us to document them, intensify awareness, and make them more accessible through audio-visual means.”

“The video documentaries make the unfamiliar familiar,” says Mindanao culture expert Nestor T. Horfilla, who served as consultant.

The documentaries, which run for an average of 27 minutes, can be viewed in two versions, one in English (with English subtitles) and the other with Korean subtitles, on ICHCAP’s official YouTube channel. 

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