The Philippines’ Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery
“Just as important as their cultural projects and programming in Naga City, the Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery ensure that the marginalised people living outside on the peripheries are also included in their initiatives.”
The Agtas are the aboriginal Filipinos who have been driven out of their lands to live on mountain tops and far-flung lakeshores. The Savage Mind Bookshop and its offshoot, Kamarin Art Gallery, have reached out to the Agta people of Lake Buhi to provide a means for them to create art, preserve their language and history, and ensure that their heritage and culture are not erased by the country’s rapid industrialisation.
- Interdisciplinary collaboration
The Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery have collaborated with the local government units of Buhi and Iriga cities, publishers, embassies, Filipinos living overseas, local parishes and organisations, local schools and colleges, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the media to work together to preserve the culture and heritage of the Agtas, promote their artworks and publish their neglected history and stories.
- Preservation of indigenous culture and heritage
Working closely with the Agta people of Lake Buhi, the Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery have encouraged them to showcase and preserve their histories and traditions through the lens of their art and culture by recording their oral literature to be published and making sculptures.
- Creating sustainable income streams
The Kamarin Art Gallery donates the materials for the Agtas to use for their sculptures. The completed works are then displayed, marketed and sold at the art gallery, with all the proceeds going back to the indigenous artists. There are plans in place to transcribe and publish the recorded oral literature of the Agtas by the Savage Mind Bookshop and the local governments of Buhi and Iriga cities, with the royalties of these publications to also go back to the Agta people.
Savage Mind Bookshop was founded in 2018 by the writer and deputy director of the Ateneo de Naga University Press, Kristian Sendon Cordero, to address the lack of a cultural hub in Naga City in the Bicol region. It has become a much-needed and much-celebrated arts centre and a cultural space. It has also launched the works of local and regional Filipino artists and shone an important spotlight on the plight of the Agta people of Lake Buhi.
The bookshop has collaborated broadly with different organisations in order to achieve its goals of promoting and preserving the heritage of the Agta people. Firstly, it collaborated with the local government units of Buhi and Iriga cities, which have funds allocated for culture and the arts. Secondly, it tapped into foreign embassies, such as the Czech embassy, which has funded eight books of translations of European masterpieces into the Filipino language. Thirdly, it has linked up with Bicolanos living overseas, who have donated funds, sent books and adopted the indigenous communities to support their art and cultural projects. Lastly, it has collaborated with local parishes (such as the Parish of Our Lady of Soledad in Tambo, Buhi, Camarines Sur), organisations (such as Project Susog, Buhi), schools, colleges and universities in the region, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the media as well as leaders of the indigenous communities for further direction and support.
Preservation of culture and heritage
Just as important as their cultural projects and programming in Naga City, the Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery ensure that the marginalised people living outside on the peripheries are also included in their initiatives. On 12 December 2020, Cordero visited Lake Buhi for a community dialogue and presented gifts to the Agta people. In Ibayugan, the team at Kamarin Art Gallery met and talked with more than 150 indigenous members of the Buhinon Agta group. The meeting was done to ascertain the needs of the tribes.
The Agta (Negrito) people are a semi-nomadic, hunter-gatherer group who live around Lake Buhi and in the nearby Mount Iriga. They live primarily in the forests near the rural barangays of Lake Buhi, Iriga and in Baao, Camarines Sur. The ones near Lake Buhi live by fishing and farming. In spite of their industry, they are among the poorest communities in the region. They have a low literacy rate and their youth are no longer interested in preserving their culture. Theirs is also an endangered language because only a few people now speak it. Thus, it is important to retrieve and record their oral literature—riddles, songs, proverbs, folk stories, epics —for posterity. Once recorded, this oral literature can then be transcribed, printed and translated into Filipino and English for wider dissemination, with all the royalties from the publications to go back to the Agta communities.
The Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery will work on the project this year, with funding from the local governments of Buhi and Iriga cities. Councilor Gigi Vargas wants to preserve the use of the Rinconada language. She also wants to publish children’s books in the Agta languages, to be written by authors from the tribe itself. Moreover, the Savage Mind Bookshop and the local government plan to carry out a cultural mapping and rewriting of the local histories to preserve the culture and tradition of the indigenous people.
Creating sustainable income streams
During their conversations with the representatives of the Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery, the Agta community leaders and local artists voiced a need for materials for their sculptures. The bookshop and gallery met this need by donating materials (wood, stone, chisels, hammers, saws) to facilitate the communities’ creative work. They also encouraged the Agta communities to continue using local motifs in their art, since these native images speak to us about the soul of the tribe.
A family belonging to the Agta tribe of Lake Buhi welcomes the delegation from the Kamarin Art Gallery for the distribution of materials to be used for sculptures. The art gallery also distributes food and medical packs to the tribe after every tropical cyclone that occurs in the province of Camarines Sur. Photo credit: Savage Mind Bookshop.
The sculptors of the Agta tribe in Lake Buhi deliver their sculptures to be sold at the Kamarin Art Gallery in Naga City. Photo credit: Kamarin Art Gallery.
This support has created sustainable income streams for the Agta communities, not only by helping them to develop their creativity and confidence but also to help them establish their independence and identities as respected artists. The completed sculptures are marketed by the bookshop and gallery using social media and exhibited at the art gallery, with the proceeds from the sales going back to the Agta communities. The Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery also intend to open a new gallery in the neighboring province of Albay. To be located in the Ayala Center shopping mall, this branch will also exhibit the sculptures of the Agta communities, again with the proceeds of the sales to go back to the Agta people.
Moreover, the Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery have continued with their donation drives to also bring food and medicine packs for the Agta communities as well as school supplies for the children. They also donate books in English and Filipino that are carefully curated by the tribe for cultural sensitivity and bring their needs to the attention of local government units. Having received national media coverage for their initiatives and efforts, the Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery are in a good position to influence the alignment of cultural resources in the region now and in the future.
Some of the sculptures made by the Agta tribe of Lake Buhi which were exhibited and sold at the Kamarin Art Gallery. All proceeds from the sales are given back to the indigenous artists. Photo credit: Kamarin Art Gallery.
The Savage Mind Bookshop and Kamarin Art Gallery have also included the students of Camarines Sur in their work of preserving the culture and heritage of the indigenous people. The students are invited to lectures and art exhibitions and receive free books from the bookshop. Both the bookshop and the art gallery believe that all hands should be on deck to support the country’s first Filipinos in preserving their heritage and history.
|Danton Remoto was a Fulbright scholar at Rutgers University and a British Council scholar at the University of Stirling. He was a resident fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the MacDowell Arts Colony, as well as a literature fellow at the Cambridge University Summer Seminar. His latest book is Riverrun, A Novel, from Penguin Random House. He has also worked as Head of School-English and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham Malaysia and Head of Communications at the United Nations Development Program, as well as Dean and President of The Manila Times College. He also had a daily radio-TV show that ran for six years and he has been writing columns for the Philippine press since 1990. He is writing his second novel as well as his memoirs.|
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