- Philippines -
There is a war in Lake Sebu, Philippines. The artillery chosen is music. On one side of the fence is Divine Chanter, Rosie Sula also known as Lamingon. She is sprawled on the wooden floor of The School of Living Tradition as young students gather at her feet, waiting for her to receive inspiration from the god, D’wata.
The T’bolis, the tribe that Rosie belongs to, is known to have the highest tonal range among all tribes in Southeast Asia. But the voice is a mere vessel. It is the stories of each chant, the stories of rivers and age-old traditions that her captive audience comes for.
In Lake Sebu, they call artists dreamers for they believe that it is only through the spirits that they are able to create.
Rosie’s chants are never memorized. She has no records of her past performances which last from moonlight to midmorning.
She lets out a long shriek before starting a tantric incantation. “Our culture was given by the gods and passed on by our ancestors. Preserve it. Take good care of it,” she chants.
Her surreal alien song though, is interrupted by the line-in echo of a microphone across the street.
On the other side of the fence in this war of sound is Mark Meyen, a motorcycle driver practicing for his audition for The Voice. He puts the videoke on maximum volume as he belts out a rendition of Faithfully by the Journey, his full baritone cutting through the noise of passing cars.
Mark is from the same tribe as Rosie. He was born a T’boli and, in many ways, still adheres to the customs of his tribe. He has five wives and eight children.
Stronger than his lineage though is Mark’s dream of becoming famous. He has joined almost every local singing contest in Lake Sebu and serenades his foreign customers during long rides on his motorcycle. He hopes that someone will take notice of his talent, so he can finally send his children to school.
Chanting is an archaic practice best left to the elders, he thinks. He would rather sing cover songs by Richard Marx instead.
(Kubling is a traditional instrument used by T’bolis. A row of small, horizontally -laid gongs that function melodically - On the Right picture.)
“That sound is my enemy,” Rosie points out of Mark’s loud override as the tradition of their people is on the verge of cultural extinction because of the influx of skinny jeans, English movies, and Converse sneakers.
In retaliation, Rosie teaches as many young people as she can every Saturday, testing them on the origins of instruments like the kubling. She dresses her granddaughters in traditional garb even when doing trivial errands.
In this most auditory battle between tradition and modernity, each party refuses to back down. Separated by a mere highway, their arsenal of sound and sentiment seem to be heard from the Mount Busa all the way to the Lake Sebu where the silence of the water absorbs the vibrations.
Words & Photos By Johana Michele Lim
Illustrations by The OO