This article will discuss the lectures that were given last November 12, 2015 in a public forum, “In Search of Common Symbols in Southeast Asia: Rediscovering Precolonial Cultural Heritage and its Implications to ASEAN Engagements”, organized by the Alumni, Friends, and Benefactors of the Asian Center (AFBAC) of which the members are mostly graduates of the University of the Philippines (UP) Asian Center. The event hoped to “shed light on the fundamental cultural and social bases of commonalities among ASEAN member-states; to deepen ASEAN cultural discourse by sharing studies on ASEAN folklore, mythology, and the arts; and to help promote better understanding among the people of Southeast Asia”1)In Search of Common Symbols in Southeast Asia: A Public Forum. (2015, October 09). Retrieved January 28, 2016, from http://ac.upd.edu.ph/index.php/resources/news-announcements/657-in-search-of-common-symbols-in-southeast-asia-a-public-forum . This article will give reflections to the presented talks in the aforementioned forum.
Coming into the forum, I did not have any single tinge of knowledge how symbols can be instrumental in the approaching integration of Southeast Asian countries as indicated in the community building plan of the ASEAN. In my mind, Philippines is culturally and geographically detached from mainland Southeast Asia that I did not expect that there would be commonalities aside from certain linguistic parallels that the Filipino vernacular has with other Malay languages. So I entered the auditorium looking ahead to learn more about the region. And the forum did not fail me.
The forum started with questions that lingered on my mind even after all the speakers had done their lectures. The opening remarks given by Atty. Oscar Palabyab, the first Vice-President of the UP Alumni Association, mainly dealt with how it would be challenging for the Philippines and the ASEAN member states to redefine symbols that will make respective citizens of each country to feel bonded with one another. One point that appealed to me during this part of the forum was the difficulty that ASEAN faces in terms of making the bloc a tourism hub that would showcase Southeast Asian symbols and expose them to the world. Unlike the European Union (EU) that has already established itself as a cohesive destination for travelers due to its currency unity and efficient transportation throughout the region, ASEAN still has to resolve the monetary and geographic divergences that would promote convenience journeying among tourists. This would be especially arduous due to the unfeasibility of building interhighways that would connect Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines to mainland Southeast Asia. These points allowed me to ponder on the future of the ASEAN. What might have worked in the EU may not be germane in the ASEAN. It is true that the processes of a Southeast Asian integration are taxing but ASEAN has proven time and again that it can be also inspiring. Despite the social, economic, and political differences among the member states, it has managed to foster an environment where these differences are dissolved and has stemmed to a diplomatic and beneficial relationship.
Expounded by Dr. Honey Levy Achanzar-Labor, a faculty member of the Department of Arts and Communication in UP Manila, the first lecture2)Achanzar-Labor, H. (2015, November 12). Philippine Art and Southeast Asian Iron Metal Art Form and Use. Lecture presented at In Search Of Common Symbols In Southeast Asia: A Public Forum in Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City. dealt with the connectivities of Southeast Asian iron art. This was particularly very enlightening to me as I was not aware that this kind of congruence in the region survives. Iron forging is a locally-based industry particularly among indigenous communities in Southeast Asia as evidenced by linguistic, archaeological, and anthropological alikeness observed by the researcher. The blacksmith’s influence is both sacred and secular. The art of iron forging is sacred because it includes all the four elements and it is secular because it has political clout especially in agriculture and during warfare. I found this unbelievably informative. As I try to think of other situations where I can observe the power a blacksmith possesses and how iron is such a superior metal, I strangely realize Philippine pop culture’s regard to metals and blacksmiths. In Panday (Blacksmith), a Filipino film written by Carlo Caparas, Flavio, the main character, is revered in his hometown because of his craft and his powerful sword that fights off the demon Lizardo, the antagonist in the comic series. In Naermyth, a Karen Francisco post-apocalyptic novel tackling Philippine folklore, River, a blacksmith, is still highly respected despite being a drunkard as he provides weapons to combats aswangs (malevolent creatures). In a recent trip to Buscalan in Tinglayan, Kalinga where the Butbut tribe resides and is known as fierce headhunters during tribal wars, I asked around to see if blacksmiths are also looked up to in their community. True enough, they are well-respected in the community.The second lecture4)Odal-Devora, G. (2015, November 12). The Themes of the Naga Princess and the Bird Maiden in Philippine and Southeast Asian Folklore. Lecture presented at In Search Of Common Symbols in Southeast Asia: A Public Forum in Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City. was also interesting to hear. The speaker, Dr. Grace P. Odal-Devora, also a faculty member of UP Manila, talked about how the concept of a serpent princess and a bird maiden is central as cultural icons of earth’s highest values and heavenly energies in Southeast Asian countries. Although these are common symbols in the region, I wonder of the reason Philippines has not adapted this theme. As I listened to the lecture, it appeared that the themes of a serpent queen and a bird maiden are not salient in the Philippines. I was wondering of reasons they have not resonated much in our culture. Perhaps, it is the same reason Buddhism is not a major religion here. These concepts are more pronounced in countries where Buddhism governs the general mentality. Distance may have also contributed to this since these concepts may have originated in India and have proliferated in its neighboring countries which are mainly countries in mainland Southeast Asia.
Overall, the forum was thought-provoking. It has given me a lot of insights but also a good amount of questions. There are many symbolic parallelisms among countries in Southeast Asia. It is in the will of ASEAN to use these similarities to its advantage. Thus far, the organization is focusing more on economic processes for regional integration. Although ASEAN has formulated a blueprint for socio-cultural integration, we have yet to see more manifest concretization of the plan.
By Lea Salen Peralta, ASEAN Correspondent from Philippines
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||In Search of Common Symbols in Southeast Asia: A Public Forum. (2015, October 09). Retrieved January 28, 2016, from http://ac.upd.edu.ph/index.php/resources/news-announcements/657-in-search-of-common-symbols-in-southeast-asia-a-public-forum|
|2.||↑||Achanzar-Labor, H. (2015, November 12). Philippine Art and Southeast Asian Iron Metal Art Form and Use. Lecture presented at In Search Of Common Symbols In Southeast Asia: A Public Forum in Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.|
|3.||↑||Morano, V. (2008). Aswang [Online image]. Retrieved January 28, 2016 from https://flic.kr/p/5k8Fqe|
|4.||↑||Odal-Devora, G. (2015, November 12). The Themes of the Naga Princess and the Bird Maiden in Philippine and Southeast Asian Folklore. Lecture presented at In Search Of Common Symbols in Southeast Asia: A Public Forum in Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.|