Transcending national boundaries,
the Japan Foundation Asia Center carries out
cultural exchange programs to build up heart-to-heart
relationships between people and enrich the future of Asia.


Golden Realms: Inheriting the Panay Sugidanun

Report / Asian Literature Project "YOMU" (Philippines)

3. About the project; "Golden Realms: Inheriting the Panay Sugidanun"

The Japan Foundation, Manila and ThriveArt Org

Brief Background of the Sugidanun Epic
The Sugidanun are the folk epics of the indigenous group Panay Bukidnun, which is based in the hinterlands of the Panay Island. The Sugidanun is culturally significant in different disciplines: First, as oral literature that demonstrates the rich collective expressions of a community, articulating indigenous culture, worldviews, and cosmological imaginations; Second, from an anthropological perspective, for indicating societal structures, maritime practices, weaponsmithing, dance, agriculture, marriage practices, and other customs. It is told in Kinaray-a, one of the many languages in which literary arts is practiced in Visayas, the central archipelagic region of the Philippines.

The living practitioners of the Sugidanun trace their lineage back to several generations, as far back as what is believed to be the pre-Hispanic Visayans who lived in Panay. In fact, most of the master chanters were Binokot, or kept maidens, who are selected for their beauty and outstanding abilities; trained in dancing, weaving, playing music, and epic chanting. They resided in special huts, wore veils, and were prevented from even touching the ground when outdoors. This gendered practice of the Binokot reflects in the Sugidanun itself, where many of the heroes are women.

Grandmothers and mothers were the common chanters, sharing the Sugidanun as a bedtime story or lullaby. The epic itself evolved into a form of entertainment, often delivered by an evening bonfire or gatherings. This is one of the methods through which the Sugidanun has been passed down through generations.

Situating the Sugidanun as oral literature in Philippine contemporary Yomu culture
A.Contemporary Context
A contemporary perspective of literary arts in the Philippines would not be complete without tying it back to the nation's past: the complex dynamic between pre-colonial and colonial influences, the evolving nature of our oral tradition as propelled by technology, and how our expressions at present were shaped by our history. Now, there is even renewed interest in local folklore and legends which have been adapted into modern literature, theater, and even the moving image in the Philippines.

After all, there is no shortage of wonder and drama in the Sugidanun as literary texts that can be a source of inspiration and education for the public at large, also because it expands notions of literature beyond what is written. In the Philippines, the practice of oral literature is much older than that of literature that has been written down or read via paper and other physical materials.

The assumption that Philippine literature is equated with modern expressions in English has marginalized much of Philippine literary arts in other languages and forms.*1 Literary texts are inscribed in people's memory and bodies through performance, and the Sugidanun is a potent example of oral literature via chants and social practices. Thus, recognizing Philippine literature on its own terms, including the context of the complex web of social practices that it operates within, is crucial to understanding its significance.

*1 Cruz-Lucero, R. "Philippine Literature." Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia, 2017, Cultural Center of the Philippines Electronic Encyclopedia. Accessed October 28, 2021.

B.Recognition for the Visayan literature
Visayan literature has a rich and longstanding tradition beginning even before the Spaniards colonized the Philippines; yet institutional interest and public awareness of it in the Philippines as large is still emerging, especially compared to literature in Filipino, Tagalog, and English.

Visayan literature, in its different oral and written modes of expression, have been marginalized due to sociopolitical and economic factors that Merlie M. Alunan (2013)*2, University of the Philippines Professor Emeritus and ASEAN Poet Laureate, identifies as "the primacy given to English in the Philippine educational system from the American period and many more years after Independence, the National Language Policy installing Tagalog as the National Language, the absence of venues for publication of regional languages and the loss of prestige that these languages suffered on account of these two country-wide language policies". Despite these, literary arts thrive in the many languages of Visayas, including but not limited to Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, and Akeanon.

*2 Alunan, Merlie M., editor. Sa Atong Dila Introduction to Visayan Literature. University of the Philippines Press, 2015.

Still, due to the aforementioned factors, even scholarship and research attempts to document Visayan folk literature have also been slowed down and discouraged. Pioneering Sugidanun scholar Dr. Alice Magos, in the first installation of the Golden Realms webinar series, described how her research in the 90's was primarily self-funded,

Because of her efforts and that of other researchers such as Felipe Jocano and ThriveArt Projects' Liby Limoso, current efforts to advocate for the recognition and support of the Sugidanun persist. Chanters of the Sugidanun such as Federico Caballero have been honored with the Gawad sa Malilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) award, which is given to those who have mastered a practice of intangible and cultural heritage. The aforementioned Dr. Alice Magos was also awarded by UNESCO as an International Literary Research Awardee for her work about the Sugidanun. It's internationally recognized as literature that is significant; and there is much that it can offer to reading culture. Indisputably, the Panay Sugidanun is golden, and its fate lies in the hands of the generations with the will to preserve it.

Rationale behind creating a manga adaptation of the Sugidanun
Despite the Sugidanun's rich heritage, it currently faces the risk of dying out. Practicing chanters are aging and are struggling to pass it on to younger generations. Indigenous groups and their practices are jeopardized not just by urbanization and globalization, but also by land-grabbing and infringements on their rights. Even over the course of the project implementation, one of the chanters Tay Polding passed away due to COVID-19. The manga is an effort to keep the heritage cycle spinning.

Interest in mythology (both Filipino and foreign) is in demand, with younger generations consuming it in forms of literature, comics, movies, and other mass media. The window of opportunity for The Japan Foundation, Manila and ThriveArt Org is to bridge the Sugidanun to these venues in which it can be shared. Manga in particular is a popular form in urban centers across the Philippines. It's popular as well in Iloilo, the closest metropolis to the Panay Bukidnun community. In this city many youth practice cosplay and are fans of Japanese culture, being avid readers of manga.

The demand of manga in the Philippines stems from the Philippines' long tradition of comics, localized as komiks, and other related forms of sequential image-based narratives, as a literary art in its own right. The Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia's entry about komiks*3 dates its rise to popularity as far back as the 1930's, and its flourishing industry until the 1980's. It also traces the influence of manga on Filipino komikeros (comic artists) as far back as the early 1990's, cementing the impact of Japan on Philippine komiks. Trese (2005--present), an occult thriller komiks series by Budjette Tan, was even adapted by Netflix as anime.

*3 Reyes, S. "Komiks." Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia, 2017, Cultural Center of the Philippines Electronic Encyclopedia. Updated by Flores, E. and Arguelles, J.M. Accessed October 28, 2021.

At present, komiks are well and alive in the Philippines with artists, whether they are serialized in national broadsheets or selling self-published zines at comic conventions. Komiks have also been recognized by institutions, the industry, and award-giving critical bodies. Francisco V. Coching, who is considered one of the "pillars of the Philippine Komiks Industry", was conferred as a National Artist for Visual Arts in 2014.

Modern forms of technology and entertainment can also become potential tools of preservation and retelling in manners that resonate with present audiences in literary mediums that are familiar and well-loved. The act of creating the Golden Realms manga based on the Sugidanun responds to several identified problems towards the current inaccessibility of the Sugidanun to Visayans and the world at large: its exclusion from educational curricula, the lack of institutional support for research, and ongoing exploitation of indigenous communities.

The manga itself is made possible thanks to the collaboration and involvement of the indigenous communities themselves in the content, which bolster the robust research underlying the manga's creative process. This ethical approach to creative adaptations is necessary towards the goal of the overall project of continuing the heritage cycle of the Sugidanun.

The significance and standpoint of the Golden Realms webinar series
The threat of extinction is imminent and so any efforts to continue the heritage cycle are direly needed. Golden Realms: Inheriting the Panay Sugidanun is an opportunity to generate interest in this oral literature, introducing it to Japanese audiences and opening floors for discussing Asian folklore. By diving into the rich mythology of the Sugidanun, audiences can be given footholds from which they can draw connections between Panay and their own local mythologies and literary practices.

For example, when it comes to what literature says about a group's relationship with nature, which many Asian mythologies are inclined to do, there are numerous interesting resonances. Geography informs literature, considering how prevalent maritime practices are in the Sugidanun in comparison to the literature of mainland Asian groups. Familial structures and gender roles are evident in oral literature as well, such as the headstrong Amburukay heroine or the crybaby Labaw Donggon hero. There is truly much to explore in the world of the Sugidanun, and it has long been ripe for international recognition.

The webinar series harnesses online avenues to encourage dialogue between Filipino and Japanese experts, making the discussions accessible beyond geographic limitations of the Philippines, to anyone with an internet connection. This also provides an opportunity for folklorists, students, academics, cultural workers, and Filipino bookworms to meet despite COVID restrictions.

Also, the curation of topics and speakers approaches the Sugidanun from multiple schools of thought, from but not limited to: literature, anthropology, history, ethnography, humanities, and art. This interdisciplinary perspective shapes a more holistic and nuanced picture that situates the Sugidanun's role in the contemporary, with the hope of sustaining it in the decades to come.