Performers and officials during curtain call, with Mayor Joseph Leconsitio (fourth from right) - AMADIS MA. GUERRERO

Singing, dancing and storytelling in the sultan’s province

The NCCA’s ‘Musikapuluan’ celebrates the richness of cultures past and present in what was Sultan Kudarat’s 17th-century Maguindanao

Performers and officials during curtain call, with Mayor Joseph LecHonsito (fourth from right) – AMADIS MA. GUERRERO

By Amadís Ma. Guerrero

Sultan Kudarat was a mighty Muslim warrior who ruled over the Maguindanao sultanate during the 17th century, and united all the Mohammedans against the Spanish conquistadores who sought to conquer Central Mindanao. He won many battles but in 1637, the tide turned against him. The Spanish forces destroyed Kudarat’s capital of Lamitan, Lanao del Sur, forcing him into the interior. Historical records say that his young wife, carrying a baby, threw herself into a deep ravine rather than be captured by the Spaniards. Kudarat died in 1671 at the age of 90, having outlasted a succession of Spanish governors general.

Fast-forward to the 1950s.

During the Magsaysay administration, Mindanao became “the Promised Land,” and waves of migrants from Luzon and Visayas, especially the latter, settled down there. Cebuano and Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) became widely spoken in the big island, along with Tagalog and Ilocano, despite the Muslim and the indigenous mystique.

Not forgotten

The great Muslim warrior was not forgotten. In 1973, Sultan Kudarat province was carved out from Cotabato, ironically in an area where Hiligaynon-speaking Visayans outnumbered the native Muslim population. The province lies west of North Cotabato and north of South Cotabato. The governor now is Datu Pax S. Mangundadatu, and on the façade of the new, opulent Provincial Capitol is a symbol of Christian-Muslim unity: the cross and the crescent.

One of the main urban centers of the province is Tacurong City, with business establishments on both sides of the wide, spacious national highway; Tacurong is a 90-minute drive from General Santos City. The mayor is Joseph L. Lechonsito, a medical doctor and a Visayan exuding Ilonggo amiability.

Tacurong’s Cultural and Sports Center was the site of the recent “Musikapuluan” (Music Across the Nation) of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), an extravaganza of singing, dancing and storytelling at the sultan’s province, held in partnership with the City of Tacurong, Department of Education Central Mindanao and the Book Nook Koronadal.

Dance as spectacle: the “singkil,” always a crowd drawer – AMADIS MA. GUERRERO


The event was witnessed by a multitude of students in uniforms, who screamed when greetings were made in their own language, whether Hiligaynon, Ilocano or Muslim. Tagalog (Filipino) was the lingua franca, along with English. One contingent of turned-on students waved their hands in unison and, at a given signal, switched on the lights in their mobile phones, lending a glow to the occasion.

Speakers stressed the need for the youth not to be indifferent to culture, for Philippine culture is rich, it is alive and well (“buhay na buhay”). “So set aside your cellphones,” one program host said.

What followed was a panorama of Philippine art, culture and entertainment, from ancient to contemporary times, through song, dance spectacle, video and storytelling. Music needs dance, literature and many more forms, one speaker noted. The featured artists were Talandig Artists, Teatro Ambahanon, Maguindanaon Dayunday Artists, Koronadal Hinugyaw Cultural Dance Troupe, Marbel Youth Choir, Ilonggo Pop, Book Nook Koronadal Storytellers, and Coalixon (Hip Hop, Tacurong).


The videos, hosted by Sen. Loren Legarda with humanities professor Felipe M. De Leon Jr. as resource person, heightened audience appreciation of the live presentations. Shown were Lenten rituals, religious images being lovingly prepared in Pampanga and Bulacan; pre-Islamic rituals and belief systems, rituals of the indigenous peoples; and Muslim visual art and architecture (okir), among other vivid images.

There was culture as commitment (pamamanata), culture as protest (Joey Ayala), and culture as entertainment or pag-aaliw (Ai Ai de las Alas), and finally music and dances for nation-building. The storytellers focused on fellowship, the importance of family, the need for festive occasions and they cautioned the youth against vices such as drunkenness.

“Musikapuluan” was a captivating mélange of the music, dances, literature, history and the rituals and practices of Filipinos of all shades, whether Christian, Muslim, indigenous peoples (B’laan, T’boli, et al). The message was loud and clear: Padayon! (Forward). So it’s forward Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat Province, Central Mindanao and, of course, the whole Filipino nation.