Understanding an overlooked past

Theater ReviewAnak DatuPresented by Tanghalang Pilipino

IN 1968, long before he was named a National Artist for Visual Arts, Abdulmari Imao wrote a short story called “Anak Datu,” about a community in the Sulu archipelago that was invaded by pirates. Over 50 years later, his short story has evolved into a play with music that weaves the story with the experience of the Imao family and the beginnings of the conflict in Mindanao.

Tanghalang Pilipino’s Anak Datu, the maiden production at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ new Black Box Theater, has three central narratives that are introduced in the first three scenes.

The first, set in the 1970s, is a glimpse of the Imao family, with Abdulmari Imao (played by Marco Viana) working on a painting while conversing with his wife,Grace (Antonette Go), and the young Toym Imao (Carlos Dala) playing with a Voltes V toy made from clothes hang clippers.

This is followed by the story of Jibin Arula, the Tausug soldier who was the lone survivor of the Jabidah massacre in Corregidor in 1968. His story is told through narration recited by an old man (Nanding Josef playing the elder Arula) with reenactments of the events led by the teenage Jibin (Mark Lorenz).

The third scene focuses on the original short story of Imao’s “Anak Datu,” about Datu Karim (Hassanain Magarang) and his wife Putli Loling (Lhorvie Nuevo). Before their son is born, the village is raided by pirates and Putli Loling gives birth in captivity. Her son (Carlos Dala) grows up believing that his father is a former pirate. The tale’s narration is done through song by Tex Ordonez-de Leon.

Tip: It helps to be aware that the play narrates three separate stories, otherwise the story might be confusing to follow. Reading up about the Jabidah Massacre in 1968 will also help in understanding the context of the historical elements in the play.

Playwright Rody Vera skillfully shows the parallels in the tales, as the three narratives are stories of living in a time of conflict, and the search and fight for peace.

The stories are told in separate scenes, as if reading a book in chapters that shift from one perspective and period; they do not intersect as this writer was initially expecting.

The traversestaging gives a reference to name of the Tausug which translates to “people of the current.” Projections of Abdulmari Imao’s paintings add color to the plain white stage and movable set pieces.

There are parts however, where the music drowns out the dialogue, and in some parts speech is quite inaudible if the actor is facing the opposite direction from where one is seated.

The kulintang ensemble, pangalaydance, Mindanao martial arts, and the inclusion of Muslim prayer effectively immerse the audience in Moro culture and practices.

Tanghalang Pilipino’s Anak Datu gives viewers an understanding of how the conflict in Mindanao began and how people’s lives were affected during the years of Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. The play is an exposure to Moro narratives which we need more of, despite how distant our lives may be from it.

The stories remain relevant as there are communities in Mindanao that continue to fight for peace. It is important to shed light on these neglected stories of dark periods in the country’s history.

Anak Datu runs until Oct. 9 at the CCP Black Box Theater. For tickets, contact 0915-607-2275 or e-mail — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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