Diatonic harp in the Philippines is a subject that needs further study to determine the full distribution pattern of the instrument today. This thesis deals with only two specific linguistic regions of the Cebuano-Bisayans and the Ilocanos. Other locations, especially the Bicolano area in southern Luzon, have never been explored to find the extent of contemporary harp practice still in existence. I found limited evidence during this thesis research to assert that there is a Bicolano harp tradition.
This study proves that there still are people in the Visayas who make harps and play harps for both personal entertainment and in limited public performances. Bisayan harps were compared to the better known Ilocano harps, and through this comparison it is apparent that definite generic differences exist. General points of differentiation of Bisayan harps from Ilocano harps include; somewhat smaller sizes, mostly hollowed log resonators, wooden tuning pegs without string guides, the use of a greater variety of woods, a greater variety of aesthetic ornamentation, the use of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic icons, and the overall heterogeneity of the Bisayan genre.
How this separation of genres came about is, unfortunately, highly conjectural. Research points to historical differences in patterns of regional socialization, beginning with the Spanish colonial regime onwards, as one part of the overarching theory. Pre-Hispanic cultural differences between linguistic culture groups were also factors in how the process of transculturation might have progressed.
Posited is a premise that Bisayan harp making took on more subtle features inherent of Bisayan culture than did Ilocano harp making. This is seen especially in the use of the kabayo ornamentation, possibly the structural dominance of hollowed log resonators, and the traditional use of the harp to accompany the topical song/dance genre called balitaw which has roots in ancient courtship ritual and forms of topical spontaneous versification.
Pre-Hispanic musical and literary genres, such as balac (refer to Alcina quote on p.18), were accompanied by indigenous instruments for the poetic versification in the Visayas. Alcina documented the koriapi (kudyapi boat lute) in the Visayas as an important instrument used for this type of entertainment. This instrument was played only by males, and was very popular with the Bisayan population in the early 17th century. (Kobak 1977) Further, the koriapi was primarily of a one piece structural design. Thus the pattern of harp use with balitaw in the Visayas suggests parallels because of the hollowed log structural characteristics and performance practice which is still dominated by males. The latter is problematic because women also play harps in the Visayas.
The perception of the structural component of the harp's neck as "kabayo" in the Visayas and "arco" in Ilocos shows a split along linguistic lines. The kabayo motif is seen on the CCP Museum's Maranao kulintang from Mindanao (see fig. 3.9), in Manobo fiddles (interior Mindanao) and in other Southeast Asian areas, such as the hobby-horse tradition in Indonesia. This could point to the horse feature being more characteristic of cultures in the southern Philippines. The kudyapi was not known to be integrated into northern Filipino societies at the time of Spanish conquest. No contemporary research is available concerning the kabayo as a cultural icon on Luzon, besides the fact that many jeepneys exhibit the horse as a hood ornament.
In an interview at his home, José Maceda intimated two ways which the harp might have evolved in the Visayas, one, that harps made there were a trickle-down imitation by the regional population of a more aristocratic type of diatonic harp seen in homes of Spanish hacenderos and ilustrados in the 17th to 19th centuries. Two, that individual priests may have introduced designs of regional Spanish (or even German) harps from areas of their own personal ancestry into the isolated areas where they were stationed. Thus structural and ornamental differences might have occurred this way. Documentation shows that priests did influence parishioners by their own tastes in music or liturgical dramatic arts, such as in the Cebuano linambay (Mojaras 1985), nativity scene pastores, and the Moro-Moro comedia liturgical plays. Thus, both suggestions by Maceda are plausible but do not account for the variety of zoomorphic ornamentation seen.
Musical instrument makers under Spanish rule were obligated by a standard of craftsmanship to comply to a specific quality of craftsmanship in Spain and in Latin America. If this was also true in the Philippines, these requirements carried the most weight in areas where the Spanish had a major presence. The most extensive Spanish governmental presence was on Luzon from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
Priests were the authoritative power in isolated provinces in the Visayas and may not have enforced the same rules of craftsmanship to their parishoners. The main reason why Jesuits were banned from all Spanish territories in the 18th century was because of their dominance over the "Indios."
One must also admit that in nearly 400 years since the introduction of the harp to the Philippines, the original prototype, or prototypes, could have undergone much adaptive change. For instance, the type of hollowed log harp common in the Visayas could have been common over most of the Christianized islands at one time. Concerning the one problematic harp in the Central Bank Museum, if the curator's history is to be believed the harp is over one hundred-fifty years old and an Ilocano harp. At one hundred-fifty years it was the oldest harp examined, predating any found in the Visayas. This harp could have been built in and brought from the Visayan region at one time, considering the generic characteristics stated before. Another possibility is that there were always, at least, two harps models built on Luzon from the onset of colonization (hollowed log harps are extant in Latin America), and the smaller, heavier, hollowed log harp lost favor to the larger Ilocano types now seen, but remained the mainstay in Cebuano areas.
Whether the homogeneity of Ilocano harps, in general, is due to a traditional 17th century design or is a contemporary adaptation in the 19th and 20th centuries which was essentially standardized, is unknown due to the lack of extant harps to compare and specific organological documentation available from the 16th to 19th centuries in the Philippines.
There are two hypotheses: that harp in the Visayas is primarily a populist tradition derived from trickle-down cultural diffusion, or that harp was disseminated into isolated areas through Church liturgical practice and then regionally adapted by syncretic means. The second is the most provocative. Spanish aristocratic influence in the Visayas was sparse, with priests being the most powerful Hispanic administrative authority in isolated areas. Transculturated traditions in the Visayas, like the harp, when combined with other assimilated traditions, like balitaw, tend to suggest a more populist orientation. Thus, harp use on Luzon could have developed separately from the populist harp of the Visayas.
Included in this discussion is the different status seen between Bisayan and Ilocano harps within the Filipino society as a whole. Historical documentation shows that there was always a stratified dicotomy of harp use by Filipinos. Both populist and ilustrado harp practices were documented as coexisting on Luzon at least by the 19th century. The tradtion found in Ilocos now does tends to emulate the upper class ideal with large beautiful harps often played by little girls and school teachers. This symbol is not however mutually exclusive because some men play harp and there does appear to be an isolated rural tradition that was not fully explored.
Most early documentation described both an elitest amateur tradition of harp dominated by women players, and a populist harp tradtion, with men dominating as performers in the convents. The Philippines is still highly stratified economically, the opulent coexisting with the extremely impoverished.
So when viewing popular perceptions of the harp in Filipino society, the hegemony, represented by commercial mass media, must be dealt with separately from the isolated and disenfranchised population who are the main tradition bearers of the harp in the Visayas. Many people of this social class are hesitant or even afraid to assert their own cultural values to the educated elite for fear of being chastised. The general perception of the itinerant harp player who performs in the street or house to house types him as a beggar. Therefore two levels of symbolism occur concerning the harp, one as a feminine and positive anachronistic symbol of the colonial past, and the other as symbolizing the disenfranchised itinerant. The former symbol dominates in the establishment status quo while the latter is virtually unknown to most Filipinos.