I happen to have a few Lumad artist friends, who live in a high valley in the foothills of Mt. Kitanglad. They belong to the Talaandig, one of Bukidnon’s 7 tribes. The Talaandig have, unlike most Lumad tribes in Mindanao, been enjoying a recent revival and flourishing of their indigenous art and culture. Unlike the latter, who have been eroded by acculturation in varying degrees, they have remained largely resilient over this cultural onslaught, and have even used it to promote their identity. I’ll be dedicating a few posts about them, and this time, let me share a craft of theirs that’s close to my heart: flute making.
Bamboo flutes are a common instrument among Mindanao’s indigenous peoples. The Tagabawa of Mt. Apo have the Lantuy, the Maguindanao of the Central Marshes have the Palendag, the Mandaya of Davao Oriental have the Tuwali and the Bunabon. The Talaandig, meanwhile, call it the Hulagtéb. The bamboo used varies depending on location and availability, though a favored bamboo is the Bagacay (Bambusa atra), for its small diameter and thin wall, and long internodes. Of the examples I’ve seen, the lip-valley is the favored mouthpiece type, a simpler version of the utaguchi of the Japanese Shakuhachi.
The Hulagtéb, meanwhile, is made differently, using a variety of bamboo not unlike the Madake bamboo of Japan albeit smaller in diameter, and using a sideblown configuration, much like the Indian Bansuri. These days they most commonly use 5-hole versions, which closely echo an oriental scale and add a note for extra flexibility (they use their flutes for actual performances), though I’ve been told the original Hualgtéb has 4.
What elevates their flute from the others I’ve seen is the way they use the bamboo’s shaft as a canvas, how they etch images onto the shaft right after hole drilling. One of the best makers etches hair-thin lines less than a millimeter apart, using nothing more than a needle-sharp metal tool, a fine eye, and patience. The resulting instrument is astounding to look at, even more to play, as the flute’s notes are carried off by the cold wind to the rest of their home valley.
Of course, they don’t keep their flutes to themselves. Aside from being heard in recordings of their music and songs, the flutes are for sale, and some pieces have made their way overseas. I have several of their flutes, the oldest being a 4-hole Huglateb signed by the maker as being from 2005, which I found in a random shop in Metro Manila. Looking at that flute with its larger, blockier etched lines, one sees the evolution of their craft, how over the years, they have slowly been perfecting their craft, refining their technique, creating beauty out of what is essentially grass.
Through their craft, the Talaandig have forged a means of telling their stories, of expressing themselves, and of connecting with the world. Through its practice, they strengthen their self-identity, which is most essential in a time where ancestral lands are under constant threat from external agents, where the Lumad are sadly losing sight of themselves, blinded by foreign culture, enforced exogenous ignorance, and to a large extent, greed.