Miriam College

Instilling Pride in Indigenous Culture

Asian Folklore.Christine de Vera photo 1

Christine de Vera

“The Philippines is a veritable hotspot for festivals,” according to Christine de Vera, a faculty member at Miriam College’s Center for Applied Music. “They range from religious to cultural festivals, from the significant to the absurd, from small town to big regional celebrations, and from local to international patronage. “ These festivals can be important income-generating activities, but Ms. de Vera believes this economic imperative must be balanced against cultural sensitivity. That goal inspired her to incorporate her research on the Lang-ay Festival in Bontoc, the capital city of Mountain Province, into Miriam College’s leisure and travel management program.

Ms. de Vera trained as a classical pianist, and her love for music sparked her interest in ethnography. “The 90s were a great time to be in the world of arts, music, and culture in the Philippines,” she recalled. “The environment was abuzz with so many opportunities to create and perform music, but more alluring was the call of research on Philippine music.” She began traveling to Bontoc in 2000 to study the local music and, as part of this field research, she and her colleagues studied “all aspects of cultural observances within the environment.” In 2009, Bontoc residents invited her to their Lang-ay Festival, a weeklong festival in April that highlights local music, dance, costumes, and cultural symbols.

Street dancing during the Lang-ay Festival.

Street dancing during the Lang-ay Festival.

A clear purpose motivated Ms. de Vera as she developed a teaching module on the Lang-ay Festival for Miriam College students. “I want to accomplish one important aspect in their education as students and, subsequently, as professionals in their field: cultural awareness and respect.” She hopes students will see that “indigenous cultures are very much alive and part of the present and that they are dynamic and constantly reconfigured by the people who own them.” As students prepare for careers in travel and tourism, she wants them to recognize the importance of applying ethical standards to efforts to showcase cultural heritage and practices.

The Asian University Digital Resource Network (AUDRN), launched in 2009 with the support of the United Board, unites 12 Philippine colleges and universities in developing innovative curricula on Asian cultural heritage. It has helped Ms. de Vera crystallize her ideas and share them with other educators. “My materials have been digitally disseminated in the AUDRN network so that they are able to contribute to relevant discussions and, hopefully, solutions,” she said. “More importantly, I see the AUDRN as a network that can provide feedback and help us determine what will apply to the larger educational system.”

(First published in Horizons in June 2015)