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It's All History by Jon Malek

Kalikasan, Kultura, at Kapwa at the Leaf

by Jon G. Malek

  leaf pinya
  leaf sikaran
Photos by Mark Godilano

On March 17, 2024, the Leaf at the Assiniboine Park hosted the event 7,000+ islands, Kalikasan Kultura, at Kapwa: Philippine Nature, Culture, and Community. This was organized and inspired by Aira Fusilero Villanueva and her company Fleur de Fusilero. The event, held in the Mediterranean Biome, coincided with the last day of the “the Flora of the Philippines” at the Leaf, which showcased flora native to the Philippines.

The event celebrated the connection between Philippine culture, environment, and kapwa, which can mean the spirit of embracing one’s neighbours and identity. As Ms. Aira Villanueva said in her opening remarks, “The connection between nature, culture, and kapwa is a complex and intertwined concept that underscores the importance of caring, understanding, and cooperating with our world and each other. Their relationships and interactions compel us to be responsible and compassionate towards our environment, culture, and fellow human beings.” In the last few years, Aira has proven herself to be a leader of Philippine culture and identity, fusing it with her passion for the environment.

The spirit of Kalikasan Kultura, at Kapwa was captured eloquently in the opening remarks of Dr. Dennis Gupa, Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of Winnipeg. In his speech, Dr. Gupa spoke of Tabi Tabi Po, a practice in the Philippines predating Christianity wherein one asks permission from invisible creatures or spirits believed to inhabit nature such as forest paths, mountain trails, rivers, etc. The act demonstrates a sort of reverence and respect for the environment, and Dr. Gupa encouraged the audience to consider the idea of Tabi Tabi Po in the context of environmental stewardship in Canada.

The event was opened by the one-of-a-kind land acknowledgement as performed by Ernesto Ofiaza and his trademark concert ukulele. This was particularly poignant as a traditional land acknowledgment reminds us of the sense of environment stewardship that both Indigenous and settler communities need to commit to in partnership.

The next couple hours were embraced by music and dance from the Filipino community. The Ukulele Filipino Club, established by the Filipino Music and Arts Association of Canada Incorporated (FMAACI) and the Filipino Seniors Group of Winnipeg (FSGW) first performed and was followed by students from the Keewatin Prairie Community School who performed a flowing rendition of the Bulaklakan Dance, led by Marilyn Gomez Malek (assisted by her loving husband, yours truly). This group of students was part of the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers’ Association, Inc.’s (MAFTI) after-school heritage program. Marilyn also led a short story telling session of Alamat ng Pinya (the legend of the pineapple).

A series of performances were given by the BIBAK Association of Manitoba, the Filipino Folk Dance Group, and the Winnipeg Sikaran Arnis Academy, which is celebrating their 20th year anniversary. Before the musical performances, Mr. Ramon Sales shared with the audience the activities of Caring for our Environment Manitoba (CEM), a Filipino community group that promotes environmental knowledge and stewardship. Mr. Sales and the CEM group are a frequent sight at community events across the city.

The stage was then handed to a fantastically talented group of singers and musicians: Jovelle Balani; Jobel and Khristine Toress; Joyze Colada; and Mikaelah Ramos and Daniel Santos. The performances ranged from Jovelle’s unique, soulful jazz to Joyze’s upbeat cover of Apo Hiking Society’s Panalangin, and beautiful renditions of Philippine kundiman and love songs.

The event, which nearly coincided with World Water Day (March 22), was not only a beautiful Sunday spent amidst the warm embrace of Filipino culture (and of the Mediterranean Biome) but was a reminder of the importance of the environment to life and to culture. So much of Philippine culture – practices like Tabi Tabi Po, the prevalence of sampaguita flower braids, the rich diversity of Filipino cuisine, or the tropically-minded Barong Tagalog – is rooted in the Philippine environment. More than this, just as the Biome at the Leaf hosted the event, so too does our global environment host all the richness that is humanity. It has birthed, fostered, and raised culture and it should be treated with the same respect and care to preservation as with one’s culture.

The event is evidence of the continual growth of the Filipino community in Winnipeg. Every year, more and more events are hosted within the Filipino community. This event shows the promise that the upcoming generations of younger Filipinos have in bearing the standard of their heritage, sharing it amongst themselves in the spirit of kapwa and with the wider Winnipeg community.

Many congratulations to all involved in the event!

Jon Malek is an Assistant Professor of History at Providence University College. His research is on the history of the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora. His current writing projects include a book on the history of Filipinos in Canada and a project on Filipino food and culture.