Cebuano Art and Culture

The Arts in Cebu

Cebu’s liturgical art manifests its deeply rooted Catholic tradition. Relief or three-dimensional santos or holy images, murals, and paintings for altarpieces, gold and silver vestments, and altar accessories have always been Cebuano expressions of religiosity that are stylistically similar with those of Bicol. Cebuano folk art includes basketry and the hand-crafting of jewelry and musical instruments. Basketry was developed by the inter island trade which regularly demanded cargo containers. Baskets and planters are made of cocomidrib, rattan, bamboo, or sigid vine. The island’s furniture industry is related to this art. Chairs of rattan and buri ribs are fashioned using basket-weaving techniques. Mactan produces guitars and ukuleles from langka or soft jackfruit wood.

Cebu’s abundant shells and coral can be transformed into ornaments, some of which are set with precious metals. Popular Cebuano arts of the 19th century like sinamay weaving, dyeing, and pottery (especially the alcaaz or water jars of fine red clay), have since declined. Such is the creativity of local artisans, however, that new crafts, e.g., stoneware, are constantly being developed.

Painting:

Painting was the first secular art that appeared in the mid-19th century. Initially unsigned and undated, they were personal rather than professional. Gonzalo Abellana of Carcar, Canuto Avila from San Nicolas, Raymundo Francia of Parian, and Simeon Padriga were early painters and sculptors who actively participated in the period of transition from religious to secular art. Aside from their works, Cebuano masterpieces include Diosdado Villadolid (“Diovil”)’s finger paintings, Oscar Figuracion’s paintings of the Bilaan community of Davao, Julian Jumalon’s lepidomosaic art, Silvester “Bitik” Orfilla’s historical mural entitled Ciudad del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus (City of the Most Holy Name of Jesus), and Carmelo Tamayo’s tartanilla series. Aside from these painters, others contributed to the flourishing of Cebuano visual arts in the 20th century: Mary Avila, Jose Alcoseba, Vidal Alcoseba, Virgilio Daclan, Sergio Baguio, Emeterio Suson, and Jesus Rosa. Martin Abellana is the “dean of Cebuano painters.” Though primarily a figurative-impressionist, his later works nevertheless show a desire to reconcile the figurative and the abstract. Notable of his works are The Farmer’s Son, Job Was Also Man, Rocks, and Korean War.

Cebu and the Central Visayas have also contributed to the Manila art scene such artists as Manuel Rodriguez Sr. and National Artist Napoleon Abueva, who are distinguished for their pioneering ventures in Philippine graphic arts and modernism in sculpture, respectively. An important catalyst in the development of the Cebu art scene was the founding of the Cebu Art Association (CEARTAS) in 1937 by Julian Jumalon, in association with artists like Oscar Figuracion, Jose Alcoseba, Emilio Olmos, Fidel Araneta, and others. CEARTAS promoted community awareness of the visual arts as well as the exchange of ideas among artists.

In the postwar period, the older practitioners were joined by younger artists like the Mendoza brothers (Sofronio, Teofilo, and Godofredo), Romulo Galicano, Gamaliel Subang, Fr. Virgilio Yap, Jose Yap Jr., Tony Alcoseba, Gig de Pio, and Mardonio Cempron. Some of these artists-notably, Sofronio Y. Mendoza (“SYM”) and Romulo Galicano- later moved to Manila and foreign countries to gain a much wider reputation and audience.

Today, Cebu has what is probably the largest community of artists outside of Manila. Although many of the young practitioners for landscapes in the Abellana style, they are also influenced by various modern styles in the country, like those of Jose Blanco of Angono and the late Vicente Manansala, as well as from abroad. Today’s crop of artists includes Isabel Rocha, Mariano Vidal, Boy Kiamko, Fred Galan, Wilfredo Cuevas, Manual Panares, and Rudy Manero. The town of Carcar, hometown of Martino Abellana, has produced a new generation of artists led by Gabriel Abellana, Martino Abellana Jr., and Luther Galicano.

The opening of the Fine Arts Program of the University of the Philippines (UP) College Cebu, the first formal fine arts school south of Manila, has dynamized the Cebuano art scene. Soon after its founding, Manila Artist Jose Joya initiated in 1978 the Annual Joya Art Competition, which has showcased new talents from UP Cebu, such as Raymund Fernandez, Javy Villacin, Edgar Mojares, Arlene Villaver, Janini Barrera, and Karl Roque. Although present-day Cebuano art is concentrated on painting, sculpture has had its noteworthy practitioners in the past, notably Fidel Araneta and Ramon Abellana. Today, young artists like Jet Florendo are making their own innovative expression in this art form.

There are support institutions and networks in Cebu that keep interest in the visual arts alive. Apart from the Cebu Art Association and UP Cebu’s Fine Arts Program, Cebu City has a good number of art galleries and painting exhibits are regularly held in such places as Casa Gorordo Museum, College Assurance Plan (CAP) Center, and the City Museum established by the city government in 1992. The city has a fairly large number of art patrons and collectors. The city’s private collections are varied, ranging from the antique collections of Lydia Aznar-Alfonso, Leocadia Binamira, and Ramon Arcenas, to the philatelic collection of Victorino Reynes, the Shell Collection of Asela Franco, the photographic collection of Galileo Medalle, and the lepidoptera and lepidomosaic art collections of Julian Jumalon. A good number of local art patrons, however, have collections of modern art, creating a market which enables local artists to survive. Cebu is well on its way towards becoming a viable center for contemporary art and no longer is it necessary for local artists to move to Manila to practise and develop their art.

Cebuano and Visayan Music

Rarely can a Visayan be found, “unless he is sick, who ceases to sing except when he is asleep”- thus remarked 17th century Jesuit chronicler Francisco Alzina on the prodigious activity of Visayans in the field of music. He noted, with much amazement, not only the fact that Visayans seemed to be singing all the time but that they played musical instruments with such dexterity, they could-by just playing such instruments as the kudyapi (guitar of lute) and korlong (fiddle)- “speak and make love to one another” ((Alzina 1668, III:64, 678-69).

The field of Visayan and Cebuano music is vast. This is indicated by the array of native musical instruments in the Visayas, which include percussion tubes called bayog and karatong, drums called guimbal and tugo, ribbon reeds called pasyok and turutot, lutes or buktot, violins or litguit, jew’s harp or subing, clarinets or lantoy, flutes of tulali (Takacs 1975:126-27). Ubiquitous too was vocal music since songs called ambahan, awit, or biyao were sung for many purposes and occasions. Songs included saloma (sailor songs), hila, hele, holo, and hia (work songs), dayhuan (drinking songs), kandu (epic songs), kanogon (dirges), tirana (debate songs), the balitao romansada (song form of the balitao) as well as religious chants, courtship and wedding songs, lullabies and children’s songs, and songs that accompanied various types of dances ad performances.

Spanish colonial rule exposed Visayans to Western music traditions. Alzina (1668, III: 66) notes that in the 17th century Visayans could already play Spanish musical instruments with “notable skill.” The Spanish guitar called sista in Cebuano, superseded indigenous string instruments akin to it and became so popular that the Visayas, particularly Cebu, has acquired a reputation not only for guitar players but for the manufacture of fine guitars. Other instruments, like the alpa (harp), also became widely diffused in the Visayas.
The Spaniards also introduced the Christmas carol called dayegon and a more Latin touch to the serenade or harana. Catholic liturgical music and associated religious songs also became an important part of the music tradition of the Visayas. Little is now known of Cebuano composers of early liturgical music and no adequate study has been undertaken on the adaptation of this music to the Visayas or of its influence on secular music in the region. While there was a tendency towards rigidification in liturgical practices in the Spanish period, artistic cross-fertilization undoubtedly took place. After all, the early missionary accounts themselves frequently cite how the Spanish missionaries appropriated native songs and reformed their content to facilitate the communication of new messages. At the very least, Catholic liturgy- with the important role played in it by songs and chants- nourished the native passion for music. American rule also introduced new musical influence into the Visayas, particularly through the public schools, the stage (as in case of vaudeville or bodabil), the phonograph, movies and radio.

The first half of the 20th century saw a flowering of Cebuano music composition. A major factor was the rise of Cebuano theater in the early 1900s, with the sarswela or musical play as the most popular dramatic form. Hence, there was a demand for music-and-song performances. Teatro Junquera (later Oriente) in Cebu City showed Cebuano sarswela and Spanish zarzuelas, Italian opera, and American-style bodabil in the early 1900s. Plays by Buenaventura Rodriguez and Florentino Borromeo were staged with a complement of as large as a 32-member orchestra. Off-theater, there were open-air plays staged in Visayan villages as well as neighborhood performances of the Cebuano balitao. Then, one must also consider that, beginning with the Spanish period, the social calendar was filled with religious festivities that created occasions for musical performances. Hence, it was a standard for a town, and even many barrios, to have a local orchestra or band.

In later years, Cebuano movies and radio programs also stimulated the creativity of composers and performers. The 20th century saw the advent of the music recording industry in the Philippines. In the 1920s and 1930s, Cebuano songs and singers were recorded on phonograph discs. In 1929 for instance, the premier Cebuano singer of the time, Conception Cananea, had already cut 27 songs for Disko Odeon while her husband, composer Manuel Velez, had 12 songs recorded. (Velez also owned at this time the Santa Cecilia music Store in Cebu City, which sold musical intruments, sheets, and phonographs). In 1931 there was an Odeon Palace in Cebu City selling phonograph records of compositions by Velez, Brigido, Lakandazon, Piux Kabahar, Hermenegildo Solon, Rafael Gandiongco, Ben Zubiri, Domingo Lopez, and Tomas Villaflor. Lakandazon, a Tagalog who married a Cebuana and settled down in Carcar, Cebu, was an all-round music man who played several instruments, acted as local bandmaster and music teacher, and composed music for Cebuano sarswela.
Songs composed during this period included “Sa Kabukiran” (In the Mountains) by M. Velez, with lyrics by Jose Galicano, “Rosas Pandan” and “Kamingaw sa Payag” (Loneliness of the Heart) by Domingo Lopez, “Salilang” and “Dalagang Pilipinhon” (Filipino Lady) by Celestino Rodriguez, “Wasaywasay” by Piux Kabahar, “Aruy-aruy” by Tomas Villaflor, “Garbosong Bukid” by Hermenegildo Solon, and “Mutya sa Buhat” (Pearl of Labor) by Rafael Gandiongco. The prolific character of the prewar and immediate postwar period can be inferred from the large number of Cebuano composers: Vicente Rubi, Emiliano Gabuya, S. Alvarez Villarino, Diosdado Alferez, Manual Villareal, Dondoy Villalon, Vicente Kiyamko, Estanislao Tenchavez, Ramon Abellana, and the Cabase brothers (Siux, Sencio, Narding, and Mane). In addition, Cebu produced excellent performers and singers: the couple Manuel and Concepcion Cananea-Velez and their daughter, Lilian Velez, Eulalia Hernandez, Teodora Siloria, Presing Dakoykoy, Pablo Virtuoso, and Pilita Corrales.

In time, the growing dominance of Western music and the promotion of Tagalog music (favored by the fact that Manila is the capital art and entertainment) eclipsed Cebuano music composition. Musical activity, however, has remained active in Cebu through the work of such composers, teachers, and performers as Pilar B. Sala, Rodolfo E. Villanueva, Ingrid Sala-Santamaria, and the Cebu Symphony Orchestra. Promotional activities by such groups as the Cebu Arts Council, Cultural and Historical Affairs Commission, Cebu Arts Foundation, Cebu Popular Music Festival which has done notable work in encouraging Cebuano composition of popular songs, and local music schools and radio stations have encouraged composition and performance in Cebu. There are indications that Cebuano music composition may again be entering a new energetic phase in its history.

Dance

Cebuano dances are varied. This variety features the colorful surtido Cebuano of Bantayan, the maligonoy of Consolacion, the la berde and the ohong-ohong of Carcar, the sampaguita of San Fernando, as well as the pasa doble. In Sibalon, Negros Oriental, San Antonio of Padua is honored with the gapnod dance; and in Cebu the sinulog and Pit Senyor is performed by devotees before the image of the Santo Nino. Children dance and sing the yuletide pastores, a portrayal of the shepherd’s adoration of the Child Jesus.

The Cebuano penchant for mime is demonstrated in the mananagat, a dance about fisher folk at work, and the dalagang gamay or “little maiden” in which a girl, singing and dancing with a handkerchief, plays at being a lady. More unique are the la berde wherein a boy dances not with one but two girls, and the maramyon, another pantomime which is accompanied by the singing of dancers or the audience. The ohong-ohong dance of farmers similarly invokes audience participation. Performers of these dances are costumed as in other Visayan dances; the women in patadyong, camisa, and panuelo, and the men in barong tagalog. Generally, the outward flings and extravagant movements in Cebuano dances manifest the carefree and fun-loving outlook of the Cebuano.

The traditional Cebuano dances have been preserved even if their popularity has declined. Though the balitao was a prewar favorite popularized by Pedro Alfafara and Nicolasa Caniban, and later, by Antonio and Pacing Bohol, it is rarely performed today because of the general preference for Western dance. There are hopeful signs, however, that traditional dances like the balitao and sinulog will not only be preserved but creatively adapted by contemporary Cebuano choreographers and dancers. Opportunities are provided by festivities like the Sinulog Festival in Cebu City and the work of school-based dance groups, like those at the University of San Carlos, Southwestern University, University of Cebu, and University of the Visayas. There are as well groups dedicated to the promotion of modern dance forms. The Cebu Ballet Center, established by Fe Sala-Villarica in Cebu City in1951, was the first institution outside Manila to promote training in classical ballet and has produced such artists as Noordin Jumalon and Nicolas Pacana.

The indigenous matrix of Cebuano drama is formed by a host of dramatic and quasidramatic performances associated with religious rituals, like the paganito or pagdiwata ceremonial worship, as well as festive occasions, like the pamalaye and kulisisi debates and the pangasi drinking sessions. Such survivals of precolonial practices as the sinulog, the Cebuano dance of worship, and the balitao, the song-and-dance debate, contain mimetic elements of rudimentary drama.

Theater

Formal theater had its start in the Spanish period. Early plays include a comedia, written by Jesuit Francisco Vicente Puche, presented in the Cebu Cathedral on the occasion of the inauguration of a Jesuit grammar school in 1598 and a Bohol play, presumably in Cebuano and thus the first recorded Western-style vernacular play in the Philippines, on the life of Santa Barbara in 1609. The Catholic religion, with the celebration of the Mass and the rich array of church-related pageants and performances, inspired theatrical activity in the Visayas and elsewhere in the Philippines.

There were then twin streams of theater in the region, one associated with indigenous practices and the other tied to Catholic religious life. Secular theater in the modern manner did not become significant until the 19th century. The moro-moro or komedya, or what came to be called linambay in Cebuano, an elaborate costume play dramatizing plots drawn from European metrical romances, began to take root in Cebu, first in the Cebu port area and later in surrounding towns and villages. It reached the height of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The last two decades of the 19th century are particularly important. The komedya flourished with the works of such turn-of-the-century playwrights as Salvador Gantuangco, Rafael Regis, and Benigno Ubas, and others working in various parts of Cebu and the Central Visayas.

Religious plays were staged, such as Augustinian Antolin Frias’ one-act Spanish play, La Conquista de Cebu (The Conquest of Cebu), 1890. Later, Cebuano priests Juan Alcoseba, Ismael Paras, and others also wrote and staged religious and doctrinal plays. The sinakulo, a dramatization of the Passion and death of Christ, did not become as popular in Cebu as it did in the Tagalog provinces. Nevertheless Cebu’s Lenten and other Catholic rituals have never lacked dramatic flair. In performing the kalbaryo, devotees climb Ditta, Talamban, as though following Christ’s path up Calvary. A spectacular procession in Bantayan Island highlights the semana santa. Sugat (meeting) dramatizes the reunion of the resurrected Christ and the Blessed Mother, an integral part of the Easter Day celebration in Minglanilla. Nativity plays called tambola and pastora are staged during the Christmas season, at the end of which the Los Tres Reyes pageant graces the feast of the Three Magi.

In the 1880s, the Spanish zarzuela was introduced into Cebu, performed first by visiting Spanish troupes from Manila and later by local aficionados. Such Manila-based zarzuela companies as those of Navarro and Balzofiori performed in Cebu in the 1890s. From Cebu City, the sarswela spread to other places like Carcar and Barili in southern Cebu. In the early 1900s events of the sarswela were incorporated into the minoros or opereta bisaya, a shortened and localized form of the komedya.

An important event was the establishment in 1895 of Cebu’s first permanent playhouse, Teatro Junquera on Colon St. Later called Oriente, this theater became a focus of theatrical activity. It was here that Vicente Sotto staged his Ang Paghigugma sa Yutang Natawhan (Love for the Native Land), the first Cebuano language play in the modern, realistic manner, on 1 January 1902. Sotto went on to write other plays and his example was quickly followed by other Cebuano playwrights, creating a period of intense dramatic activity in Cebu and other places in the region. Playwrights of the “golden period” of Cebuano theater from 1900 to 1930 included Buenaventura Rodriguez, Piux Kabahar, Florentino Borromeo, Celestino Rodriguez, Vicente Alcoseba, Alberto Ylaya, Silverio Alaura, Jose Galicano, Francisco Labrador, Jose Sanchez, Zacarias Solon, and Victorino Abellanosa. Composers, actors and other theater artists included Sabas Veloso, Sebastian Lignatong, Antonio Kiyamko, Eulalia Hernandez, Concepcion Cananea, Manuel Velez, Isabelo and Jose Rosales. Plays were staged in makeshift, open-air stages, cockpits, warehouses and city playhouses.

There were also attempts to organize theater artists into professional groups, the earliest attempt perhaps being Vicente Sotto’s Compania de Aficionados Filipinos, 1902, and troupes that went on giving Cebuano playwrights exposure over a large geographical area.
Cebuano theater artists also played an important role in early attempts in the prewar period to produce Cebuano movies. They also supplied talent to the making of soap operas and musical variety programs in Cebu’s radio stations in the postwar period. However, the advent of these new forms of mass entertainment-movies and radio- also led to the eclipse of Cebuano theater.

The postwar period failed to recapture the high creativity of the early 20th century. Old plays continued to be staged, paricularly during town fiestas; new playwrights emerged; and some of the older artists, like Emiliano Gabuya and Leox Juezan, continued pursuing the art by bringing their companies of performers to towns and villages in the southern provinces. There continued to be avid audiences in the towns to the plays of writers like Diosdado Alferez, Lorenzo Alerre, Galileo Varga, and Anatalio Saballa. The linambay lived on, albeit fitfully, in the rural areas. Yet, there was a slackening of theatrical activity as plays in Cebuano lost the prestige of the days of Buenaventura Rodriguez and Piux Kabahar.

Today, theater has become an occasional activity, kept minimally alive by colleges and universities staging annual plays, by local art associations, and by dedicated theater persons. These urban institutions and individuals have also played a role in presenting to local audiences modern Western plays in English, such as those by Tennessee Williams, Bertolt Brecht, or Neil Simon. Cebuano theater still has to fully break out of its postwar stagnation. There are interesting signs, however, beginning with the 1970s and 1980s, of renewed interest in Cebuano-language with the revival of Cebuano sarswela by university theater guilds, the efforts of playwrights and theater artists like Rodolfo Villanueva, Delia Villacastin, Claudio Evangelio, Allan Jayme Rabaya, and Orlando Magno, and the work of nationalist cultural organizations linked to other groups in the country dedicated to the promotion of a “national theater movement.”

Reproduced from Wikipedia 2006

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