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‘Mga Kuwentong Maranao’ as a timeless political satire

By Datu Ayunan

In 1974, Sining Kambayoka, the folk ensemble company of the Mindanao State University, shook up the theatre scene with its groundbreaking play “Mga Kuwentong Maranao.” Thespian Frank Rivera, founder of Sining Kambayoka, made his statement that the traditional theatre could stand up to Shakespeare and Broadway musicals. 

Premiered at the MSU in Marawi and later at Fort Santiago in Manila, “Mga Kuwentong Maranao” integrated acting with Muslim cultural traditions such as dance, martial arts, the malong, kulintang and other ethnic instruments. The heart of its theatre was the bayok or the chanting of the story, which was culled from Maranao tradition. Many Filipinos had never before seen traditional Maranao theatre. Beyond entertainment, Rivera used folkloric material to parody the Marcos regime. 

Today, “Mga Kuwentong Maranao” still dazzles audiences with its theatricality.  It was recently restaged at the Sharief Kabunsuwan Cultural Center in Cotabato City at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 

“Mga Kuwentong Maranao” tells about Pilandok, a happy-go-lucky fellow, who has a flying banig (woven mat). He became a hero when he killed the sorceress Busaon. Ironically, he married her daughter Bagaoraga. The happy marriage was ruined when Pilandok failed to get a midwife for Bagaoraga. Consequently she gave birth to a stillborn child. Maddened by her husband’s blunder, she abandoned him. Pilandok wandered into the forest, and sought help from the fairies and martial arts masters. Over time, he developed his martial arts skills which he used to fight Bombola and his rebel army. 

One day a Sultan offered a prize to anyone who could release his daughter from the spell of  the evil Busaon. By day, the princess would carry out her royal duties at the palace. At night, she would turn into a snake that hid in a cave. With the help of fairies, Pilandok freed the  princess. The Sultan offered his daughter to Pilandok for marriage. 

However, Pilandok chanced upon a conversation between the Sultan, his second wife and the princess about their plans to deceive their people to have more power and wealth. Pilandok then called off the wedding. On leaving the palace, he saw a little girl playing in the hallway, collected her and declared, “This is no place for the innocent!” 

The undertones and symbolisms of political satire are still relevant today. Pilantok’s ratty banig is a reference to the state of the country; the three gold stones represent the initial abundance of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao; three black stones symbolize the poverty and stagnation in the islands. The sorceress Busaon, is the symbol of corrupt officials. The Sultan is the illusory promise of transitional governance. Pilandok is Juan dela Cruz with a good heart. The princess, who turns into a snake, is an obvious reference to hypocritical politicians. Bombola represents the rebel and extremists groups. 

The audiences then and now are impressed by the verve of the cast and the rich production design. These are qualities that have earned honors for Sining Kambayoka, which holds the distinction of being the first regional recipient of the CCP Theater Arts Awards  in 1997 and the Lifetime Achievement Award by Aliw Awards Foundation, to name a few.  

Aside from gaining local and international recognition,  the ensemble also received supported from ARMM Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman. Recognizing the contributions of artists in promoting peace and social awareness, Governor Hataman’s administration has been taking initiatives to assist the artist groups. He also believes in keeping traditional stories alive as symbol of  the country’s pride. 

As Anak-Mindanao partylist Congresswoman Princess Sitti Djalia Turabin Hataman put it, the ARMM governor’s encouragement of socially relevant activities has elevated and kept the Moro culture alive.

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