WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: The call of the kudyapi. By Gail Ilagan

“May I help you?” I asked. 

“I’m good, thanks,” said the man as he turned to face me, a twinkle to his eyes and a warm smile on his face. “Ug dili ko Americano. I’m German.” He sat himself down on my seat. I found myself smiling back at his audacity. We were now at eye level but I was suddenly the guest in my office, standing as I was on the wrong side of my desk.

“What’s your name?”

“Hans Brandeis,” he said.

“Well, Hans, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’m Gail Ilagan,” I held out my hand across the table.

“We’ve met before?” He asked, taking my hand for a brief shake. Finally, I said something to throw his confidence a bit.

“Not face-to-face, no. I was in the alibata forum years ago. We exchanged some on certain threads. I looked up your website,” I explained. “What brings you here? What are you looking to find?” I waved him back to the books. Friends – especially virtual ones who suddenly become real – are entitled to a measure of familiarity.

He went back to the shelves. “Oh, I am interested in anything and everything. You have this article on the kaligaon, for instance,” he said, holding up a copy of Tambara volume 23.

“I’ve got an index,” I said, walking over to the shelf where I kept the copies. “Is there anything in particular that you’re searching for?”

“Thanks, but this actually works for me,” he called after me. “I’m interested in the two-stringed lute.”

“Nope. Don’t have anything on that.”

“That’s all right. There’s not much on it,” he replied. He followed me to the worktable and took out a heavy volume from his bag. “Here’s what I’ve been working on. It’s in German, so maybe you can just look at the pictures and read it like it’s a comic book.”

Daunting. The author’s engaging self-deprecation couldn’t take away the fact that the two-inch hardbound tome he placed on the table in front of me could double as a dangerous weapon. It looked like – oh, Lord – someone’s lifework. For a moment, I was humbled by the thought that I might not be able to appreciate what I would find there. A German and a lute. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin?

I opened the book.

“Hans? How long have you been working on the two-stringed lute?”

“Since 1993. Before that I came to the Philippines for different reasons. I researched the kudyapi all over Mindanao and Palawan. Thirteen trips so far.”

So this is the kudyapi. This is part of my cultural heritage. Hans Brandeis knows more about it than I do. Hans Brandeis, German scholar, has spent more time and effort than anyone else to bring the kudyapi to the rest of the world.

He said he’d wanted to be a psychologist. But he entered the university at a time when the emphasis was on test construction and statistical innovation. All he wanted, on the other hand, was to understand people and what moved them. He found both in musi
c. Hans went on to be trained as an ethnomusicologist. He was among those who pioneered world music that introduced the use of indigenous musical instruments to modern recordings.

“Does the kudyapi play well in accompaniment or is it strictly a solo instrument?” I asked.

“More for solo. Here, let me show you.”

He took out his PDA and played a video of a Manobo virtuoso plucking away, lost in the rhythm he was making. Heady stuff. This guy didn’t look like he was high on pot, but he was dancing and repositioning the instrument in ways I never thought possible, all the while playing beautiful music. It is always a delight to see someone so totally in the moment, doing something he does best and not at any time missing the beat. We all should have moments like that.

Hans told me about a translation he did of a song. It was about a young lady pining to find a mate, get married, and take leave of her parents’ home. In that order.

Then he showed me another recording. It was of a Tasaday man in his twenties this time. Hans said this was the best player he had ever come across. The frantic emotions chasing through the intricate movements the man was making belied the seemingly relaxed pose he took while playing. I started to say something, but I was called to the phone.

I came back and Hans told me about his trip to see and record the Tasaday at play. “I’m waiting for your question,” he said, twinkle to this eye.

“Hans, the best way to get people to tell the answer is to make them ask the question,” I kidded. “So go ahead and ask.”

“Are the Tasadays a lie?” he played along.

I raised my eyebrow for his answer.

“You know what, you look like one of my Tboli friends,” he said. “Here, let me show you.” He twiddled with his PDA and held it up for me to see someone who could have been my sister looking back from the screen. I had to smile at that again. I’m not from anywhere near where there are Tbolis. My ancestors were from the highlands of Panay, but it’s always been a comfort for me to have a face that could pass for a native anywhere in these islands. I think I was about ready to give Hans Brandeis an honorary degree in psychology.

“What’s the answer to the Tasaday question, Hans?” I reminded him.

“Oh. Well, I always tell people that no man is ever a lie.”

Make that a postgraduate honorary degree.

He told me he was going to Tamayong the next day where, for the price of two work carabaos, he might get to record Obo Manobos playing the kudlong. The hopeful uncertainty evoked visions of this giant of a man chasing after the natives all over the mountains.

Kudlong, kudyapi, kotyapi, ketyapie… Root word is Indian (Sanskrit?) “kachappa” meaning turtle or a kind of tree. He mused about finding tortoiseshell resonators and testing the wood used for ancient kudyapis.

Meanwhile, Tamayong is where Lumad Datu Diarog was murdered last year. Months after that, a spate of encounters between government forces and the NPA displaced the residents of the community that Hans was going to visit. This is actually the first time I’ve heard that the Lumad residents are back in that village which sits on the border of Rev. Apollo Quiboloy’s New Jerusalem. I’d cancel a day trip up there last November on account of the displacement. Then, a week before Christmas, the Philippine Army reported having overrun an NPA satellite camp near there. So would it be safe for a German researcher to head on up a contested territory where all sorts of security threats have recently turned up?

My query with the authorities was met with a request for the general details on Hans and his mission to the hinterlands, which I provided. I added that Hans spoke perfect English and could hold his own in conversational Visayan. The reply that came back said, “”Ge. Murag Manobo man diay siya. Puede siya didto.”

“Hans, when do you see the end of this?” I asked, leafing some more through his book.

“I started with a passion, but now fifteen years later I just want it to end,” he admitted. “Why do you think is that?”

“Oh, boy.” I smiled back at him. “You don’t get the answer to that one for free.”(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to n [email protected] This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)