Rediscovering ethnicity thru GONGS and BAMBOO

By Karen V. Bermejo

They differ in traditions, but they become one in music.

Ethnic groups representing Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in the recently concluded First International Gongs and Bamboo Music Festival have one thing in common: the music of gongs and bamboos represent their way of life.

Close to 5,000 people witnessed the 3-day concert event held at Maasin Gym and hosted by the Municipality of Maasin on February 23 to 26.


Performers from Maasin Central Elementary School.


Of the total 178 performers, some of them were members of the Panay Bukidnons.

The tribes are composed of the upland areas of Calinog, Lambunao, Janiauy and Maasin in Iloilo; Tapaz and Jamindan in Capiz; Valderrama, Bugasong and Lawaan in Antique; and some parts of Libacao, Aklan.

Their traditions are composed of rituals accompanied with musical expressions made from the combination of bamboo, wood and metal instruments.

Their agong or the gong made of metal is played by beating the rim using a thin bamboo stick. Aside from beating, they also create music through kadul or striking the bossed area of the gong with a rubber-padded beater.


The Bagobo tribe has about 10,000 members and is considered the largest out of the 10 ethnic groups in Davao.

“The sound of gongs and bamboo represent the significant happenings in our tribe like the weddings, the bountiful harvests, or even funerals,” said Herminia Ortiz, deputy mayor of Bagobo Plata from Davao City.

Ortiz, along with her five other fellow Bagobos performed their basic rituals for the people of Maasin and other spectators.

Even Maasin Mayor Mariano Malones and other guests joined them on stage to show how engaging their social dances are.


As home to the different ethnic groups in the northern part of Luzon, the groups from Cordillera try to preserve their unique culture in every performance they share.

During their performance in Maasin, the group showcased the way of life in Kalinga.

The boys were in their traditional bahag while the girls were wearing embroidered costumes. They portrayed how peace pacts are made, how men in their tribes court a girl and how wedding rituals are conducted.

Highlighted in the drama of their performance were the various uses of bamboo as musical instruments.

They also performed the music created by their group leader Benjamin Mucon, Sr.

(Main pic) Cordillera Music Tutorial and Research Center

Members of Cordillera Music Tutorial and Research Center perform a Kalinga song during the First International Bamboo Music Festival at Maasin, Iloilo.


Dubbed “Tunog-tugan,” the festival was also able to gather ethno music artists from Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei.

Among the foreign groups that performed were the Khac Chi Bamboo Music composed of the award winning Vietnamese/Canadian couple Chi Khac Ho and Bic Ngoc Hoang; the Ensemble Moderu Palu from Sulawesi, Indonesia; and the Prasarnmit Performing Arts Alliance of Thailand.

“Despite the multiplicity of languages that are spoken among nations in Southeast Asia, they remain one in music,” according to

National Commission for Culture and the Arts Director Felipe de Leon.

The reason why the First International Gongs and Bamboo Music Festival was born is to showcase the uniqueness of Southeast Asian music represented by the gongs and bamboo, he added.
He noted that gongs and bamboo create distinct sounds that represent the culture of the Southeast Asian people.
The festival was organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) through the Musicological Society of the Philippines in cooperation of the University of the Philippines Center for Ethnomusicology.*


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