There must be something in Bohol that draws the best cultural workers to it.
I was in Tagbilaran with poet Merlie Alunan to lecture in a series called “For the Love of the Word: Workshops on Teaching Philippine Literature in High School and College” held nationwide by the Philippine PEN’s (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists and Novelists).
With PEN mainstay Shirley Lua and our host professor Rose Sarabosing from the Holy Name University, PEN hosted 90 participants with some coming from Lipa, Quezon province, Cebu, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Leyte, and, of course, Bohol.
The lecture gave us the opportunity to revisit Heritage Country, and as we shared our craft to these 90 participants, we felt that Bohol returned the gesture by infusing us with the exhilaration of the island’s culture experience.
The island’s appeal has brought in the likes of Lutgardo “Gardy” Labad (with roots from Baclayon), whose organizing prowess to put Bohol in the world culture and tourist map has paid off for the island.
Culture scholar Ino Manalo has settled in Baclayon in a large airy structure of hardwood ceilings and floors and cornices ornamented with curlicues. Ino’s home has been transformed into a veritable museum, a collection of paintings, urnas (small wooden altars) and Bol-anon artifacts.
Heritage aficionado, lawyer Lucas Nunag displays Bohol’s prodigious heritage and art in his grand yet homey resort, the Amarela. Here, in this 25-room beach residence, Lucas showcases the best that Bol-anon heritage can offer to the country, including books, furniture, altar paraphernalia like the urnas and triptychs (three-paneled altarpiece) carved and painted in wood, and perhaps the largest collection of the visual art expressions of Bohol.
The Amarela (“yellow” in Portuguese because yellow dominates the complex which exudes a sunny ambience) boasts of an art gallery that holds perhaps the most extensive collections of Boholano paintings including those of “Grand Dame” Hermogena Borja Lungay, the most eminent of Bol-anon painters.
Poet Marj Evasco, another daughter of Bohol, wrote of Nene (as Lungay is fondly called here) as “of Bohol, in spirit and soul.” Through her art, Nene depicts the province and its people, mustering in warm tints her visual stories that depict the sunny demeanor of the Boholano lifestyle.
Bohol is now a major destination not only because of the ecology- and culture-oriented bias of its tourism but because of the heritage it offers. Who hasn’t heard of the Loboc Children’s Choir? Angelic is an understatement. But the choir is but one of the many artistic organizations in music, dance, the visual arts, and literature that Bohol has nurtured. Every clan having an orchestra or rondalla in Bohol is legend, so my Bol-anon friends tell me.
Ino, a colleague back when he was with CCP, besides treating us to a five-course Boholesque dinner, served the entrée with a touching rendition of the nativity created by his puppet group, the Usbong Puppet Baclayon. This puppet group composed of youngsters from around town holds its performances in the ground floor of this ancestral home that has been transformed into a theater.
If Ino’s home is traditional Hispanized Bohol with the banggerahan openly viewed from the sala and the bedrooms kept to privacy by laced curtains, Amarela off Panglao blends, without the obvious contriving, the Hispanic with the contemporary. The high-end resort is nowhere near the insipid, box-like structures of most resorts, but is as much an eloquent bahay-na-bato as the traditional ones. Large hardwood doors, windows and parts of traditional houses have been salvaged to fit into the new designs of this grand villa and complex.
Our eat-and-run visit did not allow us to revisit the churches, these which have made Bohol world famous. But there will always be another time because Bohol’s magnetic appeal cannot be diminished.
When I spoke of Philippine Theatre and Merlie of poetry, we knew that our words rang loud to an audience that held culture and heritage sacred, evidenced by their interest to travel far to be part of PEN’s initiative to invigorate the cultural health of the Pinoy teacher. It was just fitting for Bohol to host such an event.
But who wouldn’t be smitten by Bohol? The province is the best of Filipino heritage and culture, its artists some of the country’s most significant. Like the traditional merging with the innovative, the triptychs carved as meticulously as Abueva sculptures, the Amorsolo touch in Nene Lungay’s colors, and the traditional layout in a modern resort such as the Amarela, Bohol displays the quintessential interlayering of tradition and modernity.
We ask why Bohol matters and we remember that Bohol was (and is) a nation even before Aguinaldo declared us so.