Jun 22
COMEDY BEFORE AND AFTER THE ADVENT OF PHILIPPINE CINEMA by webmaster  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Wed, Jun 22, 2005

By Serge R. Custodio Jr.

The Philippines, thousands of years ago, even before the invading Spanish conquerors landed on our shores, had three different social classes—the Maharlika , the Timawa and the Alipin.

The Maharlikas were the ruling class headed by the wealthy and powerful royal blooded sultans, rajahs, datus, lakans and gats (prince). They live with their royal families like the sultana, hara, datuna, lakambini and dayang (princess) in their royal kingdom. They ruled their constituents, called sakups.

The Timawas were the free men who lived with their families but were always ready to serve their rulers anytime they were needed. They remained loyal to their kingdom, contributing to the progress of their barangays.

The Alipins were divided into two groups—the aliping saguiguilid and the aliping namamahay . The aliping namamahay lived in their own homes with their families but worked as farmers or fishermen for the royal kingdom. The aliping saguiguilid stayed in their masters’ houses as servants or helpers.

Recreations. During those times, religious leaders called babaylans or baylanes headed the faithful in worshipping the great Lord Creator of Heaven and Earth called Bathala. The babaylan had a musical instrument made of a long bamboo reed which he blew to produce sounds to allegedly drive away bad spirits roaming around their territory to spread bad luck. The babaylan led his followers in processions while marching, singing and dancing to the musical accompaniment of the bamboo reeds, wooden drums, bamboo sticks and other musical instruments.

The bamboo reed was also useful in calling for emergency meetings, in warning everyone about the approach of enemies, in providing music while the pandita or babaylan was curing a sick person, and in presenting street theaters to entertain the royal family members and the rest of the sakups.

During this period, our forefathers already had their playwriters, directors, actors, actresses and other production members. The timawas and the alipins were utilized in their street presentations which were then branded as estilong bundok in Visayan, and buyodnon or binuyod in Surigao.

In the early 50s, this writer had personally witnessed the buyodnon in Surigao. The cast of actors and actresses not only appeared in lead or supporting roles, even as extras, but they also played other roles (in costumes) as dogs, horses, bancas, clouds, waves, birds, etcetera.

During Abundant Harvests. Soon, the bamboo reed was supported by wooden and bamboo drums, gongs, agongs, carabao horns, big shells and other sound producing instruments during merrymaking which included dancing, chanting, singing and other incantations or recitations.

Other entertainment forms included warriors during training in local martial arts using bolos, kris, swords, bows and arrows, spears, kali (arnis de mano) , and other deadly weapons in preparation for war.

During harvest seasons, our forefathers offered parts of their abundant harvest to Bathala , who was then believed to be living in the biggest and tallest tree found in the tallest mountain in their territory.

The sultan and his family members led the whole sakups carrying the load of harvested rice, corn, vegetables, root crops, animals, and other offerings to Bathala . Long processions, accompanied by musicians, marched to Bathala’s abode where the faithfuls laid the produce around the tree. Some roasted dogs and calves. Fresh harvest were offered too. They prayed, chanted, sang, danced to praise the great Bathala . After the presentations, they left the offers right there but by midnight, some unscrupulous timawas and alipins usually returned to the site and gathered the offerings and took them home.

During the street theater presentations, the royal families and their townfolks were entertained by the antics of the cast, specially by comedians. It was apparent that mistakes drew laughter. When cast members committed mistakes in acting, buckled in their dialogues, or accidentally tripped and fell down, those were occasions for gales of laughter to emanate from the audience. It was surmised that these were deliberately written into the skits by their playwrights or ordered by their directors.

The Spanish Occupation. When the Spanish conquistadores began colonizing the country, they discovered to their surprise that the Filipinos were very much educated and already knew how to read and write in the Malayan system of communications known as the Alibata , already equivalent to the Spanish or Arabic alphabet. They found the natives’ own style of writing as proven by the existence of the Kalantiao and Maragtas codes, oldest known written laws in the Philippines.

The Spaniards soon taught us a new system of writing and reading then improved street theater presentations via new songs and dances injecting the Spanish culture and arts and the Catholic doctrine. The Filipinos thus learned the European style of entertainment but still kept what was indigenous.

The guitar was introduced as an additional musical instrument. Others followed, like the pianos, the woodwinds and the percussion instruments.

The taga-bundok theater (mountain people style) that presented stories of men battling against animals, nature, other men or powerful deities was enriched by new techniques of European theater presentations. European dresses, hats, shoes, fans and other personal adornments were made available. Spanish words became part of our native language. These same localized foreign words were later used by the theater comedians. Street theater became a little formal by utilizing better stages or venues for dramtic performances.

But large parts of Mindanao remained faithful to the Islamic religion and only the residents of the shore areas were attracted by the Spanish religion.

Local folklore remained a favorite pasttime entertainment through oral group story telling. Funny stories of witty and streetwise common townfolks were handed down from generation to generation and became richer and developed into a popular series.

The Tagalogs of Luzon shared the adventures of Juan Tamad, the Visayans had their Juan Pusong. Maranaos had their Pilandok while the Tausugs of Sulu had their Abunnawas. These four known witty folk heroes are almost always witty, brave and unbeatable brainy creatures.

The adventures of Juan soon transformed into the stories of Juan Tamad (Lazy Juan). The comedy was clean. Our forefather storytellers had indeed created unforgettable and now almost immortal comic characters.

More adventures about Pilandok were written by many Filipino Muslim scholars and writers enriching their literary folklores.

Nationalistic Filipino writers continuously wove stories, stageplays, poetry, poetical jousts, the duplos, the karagatan, songs and foklores even during those dark periods of colonization, using figurative language or aphorisms to hide the real intention from the colonizing oppressors. Thus, literary forms appeared comical or just jokes but some were actually insults to the Spanish tyrants which Filipinos audiences enjoyed thoroughly.

During that particular period, the colonizing Spaniards—including both military officers and even soldiers—decided to bring their families here.

The natives were amused by the way the Spanish women dressed, thus many writers of folk songs, poems and other literary forms made fun, bordering on insult, of the Spanish ladies and their mode of dressing. And the natives lapped everything up because these tickled their funny bones as they literally likened European women walking down the streets to butterflies in the fields.

History recorded that the oppressed Filipinos, unable to fight the colonizers physically, resorted to stories and songs to make fun of and get back at their oppressors.

(To be continued)