MAKATI CITY (24 March) – Though for only a short while, I was able to drop by the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new social enterprise in Cotabato City on March 18, led by no less than the incumbent city mayor, Atty. Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, as the guest of honor.
Beyond its acclaimed feat of “brew and books,” Café Mindanaw is indeed a showcase of Mindanao coffee and foods, books and old photos, traditional music and artifacts. In short, it is a perfect place to nourish one’s body, mind and spirit combined together.
While savoring native cuisine for free, the most refreshing for me was the rare presence of Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan-awardee (National Artist) Bapa Mael as he fascinatingly serenaded the jubilant visitors with the mystical sound of his ‘palendag’.
Also called ‘pulalu’ (among the Manobos and Mansakas), ‘palandag’ (among the Bagobos), ‘pulala’ (in Bukidnon), and ‘lumundeg’ (among the Banuwaens), the ‘palendag’ is a kind of bamboo flute in the Philippines, the largest being used by the Maguindanaons. Being a lip-valley flute, it is regarded by music experts as the toughest of the three bamboo flutes (the others being the ‘tumpong’ and the ‘suling’) to play due to the way one must shape his or her lips against its tip to make a sound. Accordingly, the construction of the mouthpiece is such that the lower end is cut diagonally to accommodate the lower lip and the second diagonal cut is made for the blowing edge.
What’s the secret behind the melancholic sound of ‘palendag’?
In the parlance of Maguindanaon and other vernaculars, ‘palendag’ literally means ‘wailing,’ ‘lamentation’ and ‘crying for grief’. It symbolizes the cry of the bamboo stalk (which was turned into a flute) as it was cut off from the bamboo ‘tree’. It symbolizes complaint of separation and longing for return to one’s roots. It represents uneasiness for being driven away from one’s comfort zone and the corollary desire to regain this lost comfort. Simply put, it is a litany of unwanted rupture and yearning for union.
In Islamic mysticism (‘irfan), this flute’s lamentation is a symbol of the soul’s sorrow at being parted from the Divine Beloved. This is exactly the subject of the first poem – “The Song of the Reed” – of the four-volume Mathnawi-ye Ma‘nawi (Spiritual Couplets), which is the Persian magnum opus of the classical Muslim poet-mystic Mawlana Jalaluddin al-Balkhi, better known in the Western world as ‘Rumi’.
Rumi thus sings:
Listen to this reed, how it makes complaint,
Telling a tale of separation:
“Ever since I was cut off from my reed-bed,
Men and women all have lamented my bewailing.
I want a breast torn asunder by severance,
So that I may fully declare the agony of yearning.
Everyone who is sundered far from his origin
Longs to recapture the time when he was united with it.”
The reed (flute) also reveals that it expresses its sorrow to everyone, and everyone attentively listens to but none is capable enough to understand the secret behind the agony:
“In every company I have poured forth my lament,
I have consorted alike with the miserable and the happy:
Each became my friend out of his own surmise,
None sought to discover the secrets in my heart.
My secret indeed is not remote from my lament,
But eye and ear lack the light to perceive it.
Body is not veiled from soul, nor soul from body,
Yet to no man is leave given to see the soul.”
For Rumi, the reason behind this failure to perceive is the human beings’ wrong assumption that the reed’s sound is just sound wave, where in fact it is a glowing fire! And one cannot truly perceive fire unless he himself is set ablaze:
This cry of the reed is fire, it is not wind;
Whoever possesses not this fire, let him be naught!
It is the fire of love that has set the reed aflame;
It is the surge of love that bubbles in the wine.
The reed is the true companion of everyone parted from a friend.
Its melodies have rent the veils shrouding our hearts.
As we are yet to be set aflame by the fire of love for the Beloved, let me end this marginalia through the words of no less than Rumi himself:
Whoever is not a fish is soon satiated with His water,
He who lacks his daily bread, for him the day is very long.
None that is inexperienced comprehends the state of the ripe,
Wherefore my words must be short, and now, farewell!
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at [email protected], or http://www.mlimba.com and http://www.muslimandmoney.com.]