Traditional Musical Instruments from the Philippines
This article focuses on those from the Visaya’s but they are also found in other parts of the Philippines with their own varied local names, (in some cases the same name).
There were basically eight kinds of Visayan musical instruments. Four were very quiet instruments and so were played indoors at night time: a small lute, bamboo zither, nose floot, and reed jew’s harp. The other four were very loud, and therefore suitable for war, dancing, and public gatherings: bamboo or seashell bugle, metals gongs, skin-headed drums, and bamboo resonators.
The kudyapi was a kind of small lute carved out of a single piece of wood with a belly of a half a coconut shell added for resonance, with two or three wire strings plucked with a quill plectrum, and three of four frets, often of metal. The body was called sungar-sungar or burbuwaya; the neck, burubunkun; the strings, dulos; the fretboard, pidya; and the tuning pegs, birik-birik. The scroll was called apil-apil or sayong, the same as the hornlike protrusions at the ends of the ridgepole of a house. The kudyapi was only played by men, mainly to accompany their own love songs. The female equivalent was the korlong, a kind of zither made of a single node of bamboo with strings cut from the skin of the bamboo itself, each raised and tuned on two little bridges, and played with both hands like a harp. A variant form had a row of thinner canes with a string cut from each one.
Tolali or lantuy was a nose flute with three or four finger holes, and was played in imitation of a mournful human voice with shakes and trills though appropriate to wakes and funerals. Subing was a Jew’s harp—a twanging reed plucked between the lips or teeth with the open mouth as a variable resonating chamber, and since its sound could be shaped into a kind of code words understood only by the player and his sweetheart, it was considered the courting instrument part excellence. Bodyong was a conch shell or section of bamboo played against the lips like a bugle, used as a signal in war or as part of a babaylan’s paraphernalia during a paganito. Babaylan also kept time with tambourines called kalatong, a term which included war drums (gadang or gimbal), with the huge ones that were carried on mangayaw cruisers being fashioned out of hollow tree trunks with a deerskin head. Tibongbong was a node of bamboo pounded on the floor as a rhythm instrument.
The most important instrument was the agong, a bronze gong Spanish explorers encountered wherever they went ashore. Pigafetta noted an ensemble in Cebu—a pair suspended and struck alternately, another large one, and two small ones played like cymbals—and in Quipit, three different sizes hanging in the queens quarters. The natives of Sarangani buried theirs in a vain attempt to avoid looting by Villalobos; and thirty Samerenos boarded Legazpi’s flagship in Oras Bay and danced to the rhythm of one, after his blood compact with their chief. Mindanao epics provide a few details of their use. Agong were played either on the edge or on the navel (that is, the center boss or knob), slowly to announce bad news, faster (by the ruling Datu himself) to summon the people. Warships approached the enemy with all gongs sounding.
Gongs were given a larger vocabulary than any other instrument. Alcina (1668a, 4:129) considered it an evidence of the elegance of the Visayan language that there were special terms “even for the cord with which they fasten and hang it, which it would be improper to apply to anything else.” Munginungan was the boss or teat. A flat gong, or one from which the boss had been worn off by long use, was panas, including the plate like Chinese ones (mangmang). The largest one in an ensemble was ganding. Hototok was to play them on the edge with a simple stick, or sarawisaw if more than one player alternated strokes. Pagdanaw or pagbasal was to strike them on the boss with a padded drumstick called basal. (A governor or chief was also called basal, presumably because of his prerogative of sounding a gong to assemble his people.) Actual bells from Spain or Asia were linganay, and little jingle bells—like those the epic hero Bantungan had on the handle of his kampilan—were golong-golong.
Chinese gongs were little valued: ones from Sangir were worth three or four times as much, and those from Borneo three or four times that—4 or 5 pesos in 1616. Huge ones said to reach a meter and a half in diameter could fetch one or two slaves. The Bornean gong was a standard of value when bargaining for expensive goods—for example, “Pakaagongonta ining katana [Let’s price this Japanese sword] (Sanchez 1617, 9v). Indeed, assessments like pinipito or pinakapito (both referring to the number seven) were understood by themselves to mean seven gongs.
Gongs were one of four items—along with gold, porcelain, and slaves—required for any Datu-class dowry, or bride-price, and men mortgaged themselves to borrow one for this purpose. The bargaining between the two families was done with little wooden counters placed on top of a gong turned boss-up on the floor, and the gong itself became the property of the mediating go-between upon the conclusion of a successful settlement.
Source: Barangay: 16th Century Philippine Culture and Society by William Henry Scott, pages 108-109.
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