WHILE the Greeks have “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” and the Hindus have their prized Mahabharata, our ancestors have also created an epic worthy of pride and acclaim—the Hinilawod.

Hinilawod is an epic poem written by the early inhabitants of Sulod in central Panay who lived by the mouth of the Halawod River. It literally means “Tales From The Mouth of The Halawod River.”

It was first discovered serendipitously in 1955, when F. Landa Jocano, then a young college student—now a renowned anthropologist—traveled the hinterlands of his home province in Iloilo, collecting folksongs, stories and riddles.

It was during one of those trips to the market of Lambunao that he heard an old man, Ulang Udig, chanting to his grandson. The story he was chanting was the story of the tale called Hinilawod.

It tells the story of the exploits of three Sulodnon demigod brothers, Labaw Donggon, Humadapnon and Dumalapdap of ancient Panay.

Over two summers, Jocano returned again and again, and completed the recording of the 30-hour epic poem. This more than 28,340 verse epic when chanted took about three days to perform if interrupted only for sleep and meals but took three weeks when done only in the evening hours after super.

Hinilawod is thus considered to be one of the longest epics known—even longer than the “Iliad” which has 15,700 verses.

This centuries-old folk tale was first staged primarily as a dance performance in Iloilo City in March 1983 by the cultural group, Panayana, during the inauguration of the Cultural Center of Western Visayas on the campus of West Visayas.

In 2010, Hiyas Kayumanggi, a group of nation-believing imagineers, revived this unique Filipino cultural epic in a series of well received musical-theatrical performances staged at the Luce Auditorium of Silliman University.

Now, audiences in Manila will have their chance to see this oral epic—a jewel of Filipino pre-Spanish culture as it will be presented at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP Main Theatre) on September 3 and 4.

In preparation for the Manila screening, the Hinilawod cast had a chance to be mentored by distinguished performers and acting coaches, Robert Seòa and Isay Alvarez. The real-life couple has both carved a niche in the performing industry and won various recognitions here and overseas. The couple has also made a name in the mainstream media as TV/movie actors, concert performers and recording artists; and now, as educators.

“We were impressed after we saw Hinilawod,” states Isay. “Other countries may have their own plays like the Rama Hari’ in Indonesia, the operas of China’s operas and the famed Kabuki Theater of Japan. We should really have our indigenous theater and Hinilawod is it.”

Back in May, the two went to Dumaguete to conduct a three-day workshop for the Hinilawod cast. “The show mirrors the culture of our ancestors and it has a heart that is distinctly Filipino,” adds Robert. “Its cast of 70 actors are new so we conducted a comprehensive workshop to polish their performances.”

Isay sums up their experience, “They were like sponges, willing to open their hearts and minds. I think this is the key for an actor to be good: the willingness to trust, the willingness to work hard. Everyone gave their very best.”

For tickets, call Creative Futures Inc. at 374-4822, 0915-4172280 and 0917-8992945, or email info@creativefuturesinc.com and visit their website at www.creativefuturesinc.com.

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