For several generations now, the people of southern Mindanao and the Indonesian province of North Sulawesi have been trading goods and fishing in the porous international waters of Celebes Sea.
Once part of the ancient Sri-Vijayan and Majapahit Empires, the two island groups share many cultural practices, as if they were rooted from one big family tree in the Southeast Asian subcontinent.
Thousands of Indonesian Sangir families have made the islands and coastal towns of Sarangani Bay and Davao Gulf their home, and have become embedded into the Filipino communities due to intermarriage.
Of late, Mindanao and the Sulawesi provinces form part of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area, which aims to link the fringes of the four countries into a growth region.
So when the province of Sarangani invited Indonesia to showcase their culture in the Munato International Music and Arts Festival, it was like a homecoming of a long-lost brother.
The contingent, led by Indonesian Consul Berlian Napitupulu and 80 students in Davao City, motored to the capital town of Alabel for a cultural exchange with local musicians through music-and-dance performances.
“We are not different, because even our dialects are almost the same and similar,” the consul said in an orientation and demonstration on how to play the angklung, a traditional Indonesian bamboo musical instrument.
He described Sarangans as fast learners, because they easily learned to play the instrument.
Sealing the event is the exchange of tokens between Sarangani Gov. Steve Chiongbian Solon and the visiting diplomat, who was gifted with an exquisite portrait painted on a T’nalak textile made by Ronald Tamfalan, a T’boli artist from Kiamba.
The cultural exchange is part of the 14th Munato Festival to celebrate the province’s 24th founding anniversary.
Solon noted that for the second year in a row, it has taken an international character by featuring foreign musicians to further enhance the country’s cultural ties with its Asian neighbors.
The festivity is derived from the B’laan phrase Muna Toh, or “first people,” which settled in the caves of Maitum town during the Metal Age, based on excavated anthromorphic burial jars.
Now on display at the National Museum, the jars are described as “exceptional archaeological assemblage and unparalleled in Southeast Asia”.
The event also showcased the intricate hand-weaving tradition of the lumad tribes, such as B’laan, Tagakaolo, T’boli, Manobo, Ubo and Kalagan, as well as Moro communities, such as the Maguindanaon, Maranao and Taosug groups.