ISA holds a Public Lecture on Filipino Artisans

The Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) held a public lecture on “Pamilubluban (Heart-Knowledge): A Window into Kapampangan Artisans’ Spirituality” on Saturday, March 18, 2017 at the Titus Brandsma Center, New Manila.

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ISA Executive and Academic Director Fr. Rico Ponce, O.Carm welcomed everyone and introduced the topic while Assistant Dean Dr. Marissa Alcantara. a.O.Carm served as moderator. 

Resource person for the afternoon talk was Dr. Eufracio C. Abaya (Ph. D. Anthropology, Michigan State University, 1994). He is a recipient of a research grant from ISA.

Dr. Abaya is also a professor at Graduate College of Education, University of the Philippines, where he teaches social and cultural foundations of education, educational anthropology, ethnographic research, sociology of Philippine education, and comparative education.

Dr. Abaya has conducted ethnographic studies on a wide range of topics, including the topic of his research grant and talk at ISA: spirituality and artisanship. He stressed how this study is the first to focus on the spirituality of cultural workers who have been the subject of other research studies as well as of books, magazines and programs in the broadcast media.  

For the public lecture at ISA Dr. Abaya discussed the lives of nine artisans 50-70 years old who make heritage dishes and the traditional crafts of the province of Pampanga: Christmas lanterns, ecclesiastical images, guitars, metal craft, horse carriages, and pottery.

In his study Dr. Abaya paid attention to factors which  express  the sense of spirituality of the artisans, or what can be construed as practical spirituality” which, he said, refers to  `heart-knowledge’ per Conger’s idea of “inner life” (1994, p. 9).

Dr. Abaya quoted Conger for this particular idea: “Spirituality gives expression to the being that is in us; it has to do with feelings, with the power that comes from within, with knowing our deepest selves and what is sacred to us, with `heart-knowledge’.”

The term in Kapampangan for `heart knowledge’ (inner feeling ) is pamilubluban. In particular, Dr. Abaya said that `heart knowledge’ “is spirited by pragmatic concerns and engendered by the fast-changing  lifeworld.” He cited how potter Conrado Mercado now makes flower pots and jars, whereas his family used to make sturdy pots which could transport sugar cane to milling centrals for processing.

Mercado continues to have a “huge income” from flowerpots, jars and garden décor of dwarves, birds and frogs. Also, he now gets design ideas from magazines, instead of creating them.

Dr. Abaya also said that their life stories “provides an understanding of the ways in which spirituality shapes and is, in turn, shaped by the life purposes, visions, and challenges of these socially-situated artisans.” 

His informants may be said to be socially-situated in that they may be gracious hosts (for example, Lilian Borromeo welcoming tourists to her centuries-old house and demonstrating how to make biscuit-images of St. Nicholas of Tolentino) or they may be employers  (Erning Quiwa, lantern maker;  200 workers)  or they may be plain employees (Miling Manalastas, head cook for the family which owns an iconic restaurant in San Fernando City)  . 

Indeed, spirituality can be viewed within a social context, said Dr. Abaya – as a way of “finding and expressing meaning and purpose and living in relation to others and to something bigger than oneself ” (Ashmos and Duchon, 2000, p. 135).

 The study also identified factors which express the spirituality of the artisans – namely, religion, gender, class, age, kinship, patronage, moral values and market forces.

In the case of religion, it could be manifested by the altar in the talyer (workshop) of Ben Linggad, crafter of calesas (horse-drawn carriages) or by heirloom statues and images placed on ornate carriages (carosas) during Holy Week by the family  of Lilian Borromeo.  

Religion is also shown when Lilian marks time in cooking her coveted recipes by  praying 10 Our Fathers, instead of practicing what she had learned from the BS Home Economics course  decreed by her doctor-father (who thought it unbecoming of his daughter to study BS Dentistry).

Also, as early as childhood, Willy Layug, maker of ecclesiastical statues, would hear whispers urging him to make crucifixes out of the clay in the river bed near his house. Was this paranormal or psychiatric in origin just as St. John of Arc had heard voices, asked Dr. Tan Cho-Chiong, neurology-psychiatry specialist, during the open forum.

Religion also played a major role for Erning Quiwa, who felt God the Father blowing strength into his body exhausted from rushing the famed lanterns of Pampanga for a fair in Seville, Spain as commissioned by former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.

Indeed, patronage can influence spirituality. Born poor but good in drawing, Willy Layug was recommended by the mayor of his town for a scholarship in Fine Arts at the University of Santo Tomas to the late Estelito Mendoza, Kapampangan on the Cabinet of the late President Marcos.

Mendoza also supported another artisan interviewed by Dr. Abaya – Ben Linggad – by introducing this calesa maker to tourism officials who needed horse-drawn carriages for Fort Santiago, main attraction in Spanish-era Intramuros District of Old Manila.

And on the factor of market forces, Efren Tiodin – described by Dr. Abaya as shy and retiring – decried “the politics” of lantern making which is now tourism-oriented and government-supported.

On the positive side, metalcraft artisan Ed Mutuc has succeeded in  penetrating (as described by Dr. Abaya) the Manila-based dance troupe of the late Ramon Obusan for its  costumes as well as the high-end gowns business of designer Patis Tesoro.

Mutuc has received the 2004 Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan   (National Craftsperson Award), equivalent to Obusan as National Artist. 

Still related to market forces, guitar maker Romy Lumanog faces competition from imports from China which are made of plywood – not the wood prized for durability, good sound and rarity and which is sourced from the Aetas, indigenous peoples who scour the mountains for it.

According to Dr. Abaya, Lumanog belongs to the family who originated guitar making and who has generously taught the craft to people who now use Lumanog as a brand name. He also belongs to a family of born-again Christians.

As for the factor of age, Lumanog laments how apprentices and younger guitar makers may lack  patience, seriousness and values to sustain their craft.

Just how do artisans infuse life into their works in the way that dance artists do, it was asked at the open forum.

Dr. Abaya pointed out that the case may be different for the plastic arts such as sculpture which are inanimate. As times change, though, robotics now animate sculptural pieces.

Also at the open forum, Fr. Christian Buenafe, O. Carm, the Prior Provincial when Dr. Abaya was doing his research for ISA, asked for follow-up on the articulation by  interviewees of their thoughts and insights without mentioning God or the Divine.

For his part Fr. Ponce asked how the study relates to the human and divine experiences of transformation.

In answer, Dr. Abaya related spirituality to the antidote offered by grateful disposition, which he defined as “the palpable articulation of self-transcendence, which is a powerful response to egotism, selfishness and undue pride.”

For example, Dr. Abaya documented how interviewee Miling Manalastas, skilled  in cooking but  not  as well-off as Lilian Borromeo, is grateful to God and to the owners of Everybody’s Café in San Fernando City, for taking care of her through the years. 

Also grateful for success  are Erning Quiwa, now online for his lanterns, and Willy Layug for his  gallery, website and non-stop buyers of lifesize religious images and altar pieces (retablos).

In Pilipino the term is utang na loob, as manifested when guitar makers based in Cebu Province  recognize the roots of their craft – the family of Romy Lumanog in Pampanga.

Reciprocity in gift-giving and gift-receiving is a part of grateful disposition, Dr. Abaya posits.

“Is it reciprocal obligation?” he asked in showing his last slide, one on practical spirituality (`heart-knowledge’) and on Christianity, religion and cultural and social systems.

 “Or is it obligatory reciprocity, because you are receiving God’s awa (mercy in Tagalog but love in Kapampangan and Bicolano)?” #

Perla Aragon-Choudhury