Waway Saway: Hero of Talaandig

Manila Bulletin

MANILA, Philippines - He is an imminent artist in indigenous communities of Mindanao, promoting his tribes music and art. Being a teacher of Talaandig School of Living Traditions in the highlands of Sungko, Lantapan, Bukidnon, he serves as a guide of the youth into a better life by means of music and art.

His early beginnings
Waway is a native son of Talaandig tribe. He belongs to the large family of Chieftain Datu Kinulintan. Waway was born into a family of seventeen. Distinct to many indigenous children of their tribe, he was given the opportunity to attain a college degree in Agriculture at the Xavier University of Cagayan de Oro. It was there that Waway realized that his calling was more than just to stay in the university. He became so eager to look for the desires of his heart and work it out.

And so it was that in the early 90s Waway joined a band of bohemian musicians. The group travelled to different places including Manila and Boracay playing different world music.

"Nakita ko na ang musikang tinutugtog namin ay kahalintulad din ng musika sa lugar kung saan ako nagmula. Nakita ko din po na maging mga palamuti ay parehas sa aming lugar. Kaya napag-isip isip ko na bumalik kung saan ako nanggaling," Waway said.

Realizing that people around him appreciated indigenous art more than he did, Waway decided he needed to go home to know his tribe more. It was there that he knew and re-learned his tribe's art, beliefs, and traditions, and found out that the Talaandig have long been fighting to reclaim their ancestral domain and cultural integrity. His brother, Datu "Vic" Migketay Saway, now the supreme chieftain of the tribe, was a prestigious leader known among indigenous networks, NGOs, and government agencies. He was instrumental in the setting up of the Talaandig School of Living Traditions (SLT). Soon word got out that this little Talaandig community led by Datu Vic Saway kept most of their artistic traditions alive through the SLT. Invitations for performances poured in, and Waway, backed up by a formidable urban experience, led the Talaandig artists to the outside world, along with Bae Magila, the tribe's dance teacher.

International voice
It wasn't till he stayed and built a family and home in Sungko that Waway's voice reached far and wide. His dedication to his tribe, color, artistry, sense of humor, and leadership made the country and his own community take notice of the simple, once-unknown musician who, like many indigenous people, barely acknowledged his indigenous roots. He became tribal chieftain of the arts. There was no going back to the city.

Grounded in his indigenous origins yet with a contemporary artistry and outlook that has brought him to Europe, USA, and everywhere in the Philippines, Waway leads a pack of young Talaandig musicians and visual artists, who often gather around his bamboo home and the adjacent workshop area to make drums, flutes and rainsticks, paint, play music, and create earthcraft jewelry, stonecrafts, and other butingtings (knicknacks).

He discovered painting with soil and clay and nature dyes in the late 90s. "Ang akong mga gitudluan mas hawod pa sa ako karon (The students I taught are now better than I am)," Waway says. Waway is known for using and popularizing soil and clay as paint material, thus accounting for the earth colors of all his paintings.

His first music CD was recorded in the heart of Mt. Kitanglad, Bukidnon's highest mountain. "Nature was my recording studio," Waway proudly confides, "and the birds, insects, and the rustling leaves were my back-up musicians." His recording equipment consisted of a walkman mini-disc recorder and a huge line-in microphone donated by a friend in Europe. In December last year, equipment made its way to his cold mountain home from a friend in Taiwan-a Christmas present. Barely two months later, Waway recorded the music of his co-Talaandig musicians and mass-produced the CDs from the new CD-dubbing machine. To date, his home studio has produced six albums of Talaandig traditional and contemporary music

His home in Sungko is also home to many outsiders, several of whom have come all the way from Europe to visit the community musician who is also a great storyteller. His stories and his amazing sense of humour drew many artists, journalists, and cultural workers to the small Talaandig community.

Headed to film
Waway is also a father of four children, with another one on the way. He is closest to Ellahi, to whom one of his music albums is dedicated. His wife, Jessica, and the kids help him with the butingtings. Ellahi and Badu entertain the visitors with their squabbles and laughter, and RJ helps in the kitchen although they are rarely home, spending time playing with neighborhood kids and swimming in the river. Except for Maya, the youngest, who is barely two years old, the other kids play the drum along with them, displaying remarkable virtuosity at such a young age.

Not content with so much talent, Waway now ambitions to make films about his community. Inspired by Moro filmmaker Teng Mangansakan who made his first three documentary films about his own community in Pagalungan, North Cotabato, Waway vows to pursue filmmaking. "His films are very simple but touching. What is wonderful about it is that the film is about his own family, his own community. Many films have been made by other people about the Talaandig. It's about time a Talaandig makes one about his own community."

Emanuel Bagual is a freshman college at UP Diliman taking up Community Development. He was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize in 2009.)