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Waway Saway: Visitations from a Talaandig Artist

Waway Linsahay Saway (Christian name: Rodelio), is a byword among contemporary artists and indigenous communities in Mindanao. A teacher at the Talaandig School of Living Traditions in the highlands of Sungko, Lantapan, Bukidnon, Waway lives on his tribe's music and art.

Waway belting out a song in his mountain home

Son of Talaandig supreme chieftain Datu Kinulintang—a famous arbiter and peacemaker—Waway was born into a family of 17, his father having had three wives. And unlike many indigenous children, Waway went to college in the prestigious Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro and took up Agriculture. Pretty soon, his artistic inclinations would bring him out of the academe and into the university of life.

And so it was that in the early 90s Waway joined a band of bohemian musicians and craftsmen wrapped in stone and bead ornaments. The group travelled to Manila and Boracay playing "world music," which, to Waway, sounded like the music of his own indigenous community. At about that time, too, indigenous-inspired apparel and jewelry were becoming fashionable. Realizing that people around him appreciated indigenous art more than he did, Waway decided he needed to go home to re-discover his tribe. And so after a brief sojourn with the travelling troupe, Waway packed his bags and instruments and trekked back to his mountain community.

Waway (second from left) in Boracay

He re-learned his tribe's art, customs, 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.

Waway (right), Bae Magila (woman in center) and the Talaandig artists at the Smithsonian 32nd Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., USA

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).

Mimi and Waway's son Badu

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)," says Waway, as he watches young niece Mimi paint an image of a woman on canvas. 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 consists of a walkman mini-disc recorder and a huge line-in microphone donated by a friend in Europe. In December last year, another 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 (Kulahi hu Bugta, Dilay, Lendeng, Ang Mamulalaay ng Talaandig, Ang Tambulalatok ng Talaandig, and Intramuros Jam 2003.)

His home in Sungko is also home to many "outsiders"; several 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 humor drew many artists, journalists, and cultural workers to the small Talaandig community.

Waway and daughter Ellahi

Waway fathers 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 their father, 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."

Waway's paintings are featured in this issue's poetry section.

< download Waway's music (windows media player, 4MB) >

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