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The book as faux compass

By ALFRED A. YUSON, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 27, 2023 5:00 am

Only fitting that Santiago Bose’s art, pioneering spirit and organizational initiatives are allotted much space in the unique book that celebrates what he substantially represented—Tiw-tiwong: An Uncyclopedia of Life, Living, and Art in Baguio, The Cordillera, And Beyond.

Released weeks ago after a full decade of production, the 365-page hardbound assembles a surfeit of listings, collateral materials and contextual trivia that map out the carnivalesque subject area. Thanks to dedicated labor, Tiw-tiwong’s alternative compendium memorializes whatever can be associated with the summer capital and surrounding territory—with art and culture as the flag bearers.

Per the book project spearhead, artist Kawayan de Guia, the term tiw-tiwong refers to a mirage-like phenomenon resulting from inebriation.

“… (I)n some instances, especially in Ifugao where this word originated, we go home following the familiar path to our house. We see our rooftop, and this is when tiw-tiwong happens. … The road becomes both familiar and strange. We don’t know if we’re going in a spiral or into a labyrinth of shadows and foliage. In the end, we never reach home and instead end up on the roadside of another town.”

What started out as a brochure for the exhibit in the Singapore Biennale by young artists from Baguio and the Cordillera wound up receiving grants, so that the publishers are listed as Baguio Kunst Book Publishing, Partners for Indigenous Knowledge Philippines, AX(iS) Art Project and Singapore Biennale 2013. 

Editors Kawayan de Guia, Rocky Acofo Cajigan, Allan Lumbaya Cariño, Joyce Tan, Padmapani Perez, and Frank Cimatu led a total of 140 contributors, among whom are the most notable creatives long associated with Baguio.

The roster includes Adelaida Lim, Celestine Arvisu, Delfin Tolentino, Felix Perez, Louie Stuart, Rica Concepcion, Sue Llamado, Tad Ermitaño, Tommy Hafalla, Arnel Agawin, Shant Verdun, Angel Velasco Shaw, At Maculangan, Egay Navarro, Nona Garcia, Roberto Yñiguez, Rica Concepcion, Wig Tysmans, Jaime de Guzman, Juan Franco Sabado, Marta Lovina, Perry Mamaril and Sonny Yñiguez.

Of course the superstars alongside Bose are National Artists Kidlat Tahimik Sr. a.k.a. Eric de Guia and BenCab a.k.a. Benedicto Cabrera, as well as the late Roberto Villanueva and Rene Aquitania. 

In various sections, Santi’s legacy and inspirational influence are well-documented, starting with an article by his daughter Lilledeshan Bose. Similarly, Kidlat Tahimik’s storied “indigenius” achievements are spread out, as are BenCab’s. So are the contributions from the De Guia family —Eric’s sons Kidlat Jr. (the oldest and his namesake, unfortunately departed), Kawayan, Kabunyan, and their mother Katrin de Guia.

Structurally, the book takes the form of an encyclopedia, much as its spirit of kapwa simulates the benefits of inebriation. 

As such, this book is a tribute to ancestors who have passed on, a lament for things lost, but it is also a celebration and a carnival.

“Use this book like a compass. Know that it will get you lost.” Padmapani Perez initiates the injunctions before the Preface. The book is also claimed to be a Time Machine—as its pages transport a reader through seasons, cycles and layers of awareness and memorabilia.

“You could get yourself thrown from a certain 20th-century exhibit in Missouri, further back in time to an ancient ritual and then forward again to a video bar in contemporary Baguio.”

The entries are paraded alphabetically—from the Kankanaey “An-abiik (soul, generally)” through Architecture and Baguio Arts Guild (several disparate entries), Baguio Ghost Stories to Bul-ol to Cowboy, Gong, Halsema Hijinks, Pink Ponies, Ukay-ukay, Weaving, and Waiting Sheds.

Somewhere in that listing is “Boom boom chack chack man—Name given by Santi Bose to the blind percussionist at the overpass beside Sunshine Mart in Baguio City, who used a brown gasoline container and maracas as instruments.” There’s also a “Mount Clitoris—An unusually shaped hill located within Tadian, Mountain Province …”

A more serious discussion attends Ethnographic Mapping.

“The pages of this book are best read in random order.” Of course the habitually measured reader can plow on in a conventional manner—at the risk of losing out on the rhythm of the hopscotch dance.

“There is no ‘whole’ story, no straight-edged logic.” The purpose is not to confuse anyone with conflated instances of mirage, but to approach the spirit of cavort that is quintessentially Cordilleran, much like the landscape’s topography.

“Shake this book at dull, inanimate friends and objects. Use this book like the North Star. Perhaps it will point you home.” Wisely counseled, Padmapani. 

Invaluable are the book’s assortment of visuals, especially the stunning examples of artworks presented full-page. In particular, I must cite the following:

“Screaming Bul-ol No. 5” by Leonard Aguinaldo, handcolor carved rubber (ukir); “Venus” by Rishab Tibon, acrylic on canvas; “Untitled” by Roland Bay-an, oil on canvas; “Untitled (Malakas)” by Pio Abad, screenprint (of the partially deconstructed Marcos bust); “Man Sinup” by Willy Magtibay, watercolor, pen and ink on paper; and “Untitled” by Jordan Mang-osan, solar painting.

On the downside, the book’s scope forces the typography to be so minute, especially the captions, that a magnifying lens doesn’t even help sometimes, when a caption gets swallowed up by the tight design.

I also wonder about missing elements, such as any mention of University of Baguio and the Bautista family that established and continue to nourish it. Also missing is the bookstore Angel’s Trumpet run by Jorge Arago in the 1980s, with the support of Peachy Prieto and Briccio Santos. Printmaker Pandy Aviado deserves better coverage than his erstwhile partner Mike Parsons. I would also have appreciated the inclusion of Butch Perez’s photography and film work.

On the whole, however, even if there’s no supposed “whole story,” the random affections serve up the plotlines, holes and all.

Kawayan de Guia sums up the epic effort:

“With artists, writers, and cultural activists as the chroniclers of change, the book is an urgent remembering of histories and inscribing of indigenous ways of living and communal knowing…. Through the act of sharing, it also seeks to activate the transference of fragile knowledge to a generation that is yet to come. As such, this book is a tribute to ancestors who have passed on, a lament for things lost, but it is also a celebration and a carnival—a gathering of spirits, where the past, present, and future come to the party and play.”