Mga Kuwentong Maranao a timeless political satire

Ayo Gunting - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - In 1974, Sining Kambayoka, the folk ensemble company of the Mindanao State University (MSU), shook up the theater scene with its groundbreaking play Mga Kuwentong Maranao. Thespian Frank Rivera, founder of Sining Kambayoka, made his statement that the traditional theater could stand up to Shakespeare and Broadway musicals. 

Premiered at the MSU in Marawi and at Fort Santiago in Manila, Mga Kuwentong Maranao integrated acting with Muslim cultural traditions such as dance, martial arts, the malong, kulintang and other ethnic instruments. The heart of its theater was the bayok or the chanting of the story, which was culled from the Maranao tradition. The Filipinos had never seen traditional Maranao theater. Beyond entertainment, Rivera used folkloric material to parody the Marcos regime. 

Today, Mga Kuwentong Maranao still dazzles audiences. It was recently restaged at the Sharief Kabunsuwan Cultural Center in Cotabato City at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 

Mga Kuwentong Maranao is the story of Pilandok, a happy-go-lucky fellow, with a flying banig. He becomes a hero after killing the sorceress Busaon. Ironically, he marries her daughter Bagoaoraga. The happy marriage eventually gets ruined when Pilandok fails to get a midwife for Bagaoraga. Consequently, she gives birth to a stillborn child. Maddened by her husband’s blunder, she abandons him. Pilandok wanders into the forest, and seeks help from the fairies and martial arts masters. Over time, he develops his martial arts skills which he uses to fight Bombola and his rebel army. 

One day, a Sultan offers a prize to anyone who releases his daughter from the spell of the evil Busaon. By day, the princess carries out her royal duties at the palace. At night, she turns into a snake that hides in the cave. With the help of fairies, Pilandok is able to free the princess. The Sultan offers his daughter to Pilandok for marriage. 

However, Pilandok chances upon a conversation between the Sultan, his second wife and the princess on their plans to deceive their people to acquire more power and wealth. Pilandok then calls off the wedding. On leaving the palace, he sees a girl playing in the hallway, collects her and declares, “This is no place for the innocent!”

The undertones and symbolisms of political satire remain relevant today. Pilandok’s ratty banig was a reference to the state of the country; the three gold stones represented the initial abundance of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao; three black stones symbolized the poverty and stagnation in the islands. The sorceress Busaon was the symbol of corrupt officials. The Sultan was the illusory transitional governance. Pilandok was the Juan dela Cruz with a good heart. The princess, who turned into a snake, was an obvious reference to hypocritical politicians. Bombola represented the rebel and extremists groups. 

The audiences were impressed with the verve of the cast and the rich production design. These are qualities that have earned honors for Sining Kambayoka. It holds the distinction of being the first regional recipient of the CCP Theater Arts Awards in 1997 and the Lifetime Achievement Award by Aliw Awards Foundation, to name a few.  

Aside from local and foreign recognition, the ensemble has been supported by ARMM Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman. Recognizing the contributions of artists in promoting peace and social awareness, his administration has been taking initiative to assist them. He also believes in keeping traditions alive as symbol of the country’s pride. 

Hataman? invested in socially-relevant activities. “Nabuhay uli ang paging MORO at pag-angat ng kultura,” said Anak-Mindanao partylist Rep. Princess Sitti Djalia Turabin Hataman.                     


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