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Art History of the Philippines-Pre-Colonial Era

By Alison Kroulek  
Monday, December 24, 2007

The people of the Philippines are the heirs of an artistic tradition that dates back to long before the first European stepped foot on the island soil. Some of these ancient arts, such as wood carving, weaving and folk dance, are still practiced today. However, Filipino art has also expanded over time to include more “Western” practices, such as painting in both classical and modern styles. Today, the blend of different cultures found in the Philippines nourishes a thriving art scene.

            The earliest examples of Philippine art include carvings of gods and goddesses(anitos), ceremonial masks, and other artifacts.[1][2]  Even today, some of these ancient art forms are still practiced. For example, the Ifugao people are known for their exquisite woodcarvings, while the Badjo people of Mindanao are esteemed for the colorful weaving. Another ancient Philippines art form was the intricate, full body tattoos worn by the Visayans, who were known as the “painted people” to the Spanish.

            Another ancient art form that has experienced renewed popularity is traditional folk dance. Long before the Spanish colonized the islands, native Filipinos used dances to celebrate important community events, such as harvest and weddings.  Many of these folk dances are still practiced today. For example, many traditional dance troops keep this ancient art alive. Some of these performers, including the Bayanihan, Filipinescas, Barangay, and Hariraya groups have received international acclaim.[3]

            Of course, traditional music was and is an essential accompaniment to traditional dance. Music is another art form that pre-colonial indigenous Filipinos were accomplished in. Native cultures had their own distinct instruments and styles of music. For example, in the northern islands, traditional indigenous music has much in common with Asian gong music, and utilizes a type of gong called a gangsa.[4] The southern islands also have their own distinctive style of music, featuring a type of native orchestra known as the Kulintanga. The instrument that carries the melody in the Kulintanga orchestra is called a kulintang. Basically, the kulintang is a series different-sized gongs laid side-by-side and played with wooden sticks.[5] In the kulintanga orchestra, it is joined by other instruments such as the dadabuan(a type of drum), the agong(a bass gong), and another type of gong called the gandingan. The orchestra plays 3 major types of music, usually in the following order. The first type of musical piece is the haunting, mournful binalig. This is usually followed by the sinulog, which is evocative of passionate emotions such as love or anger. Finally, there is the tidtu, which is a piece that showcases the talent of the musicians-basically a jam session.[6] Amazingly, none of the pieces have been written down-they are passed along by the examples of elders and can only be learned by listening and then trying to play.

            The traditional folk arts of the Philippines display a tremendous amount of skill and creativity. These arts would change with the coming of the Spanish, and later the Americans. However, even though the arrival of foreign influences changed the artistic culture forever, many of the ancient native arts have thankfully survived intact.

[1] "Philippines." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 13  Nov.  2007  <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-23753>.

[2] http://www.admu.edu.ph/offices/mirlab/panublion/islas.html

[3] "Philippines." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16  Nov.  2007  <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-23753>.

[4] http://ezinearticles.com/?Music-and-Art-of-the-Philippines&id=640950

[5] http://members.aol.com/TaraCelest/kulintang_instruments.html

[6] http://members.aol.com/TaraCelest/kulintang_instruments.html

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