RICE is a staple in our daily lives. Aside from being our staple food, it is also part of our lifestyle and culture.

When we move into our new house, we bring rice. We do not allow the rice container to go empty so as not to experience bad luck.

After breastfeeding, the first food we introduce to our babies is su-am, the starchy substance that rises on top of the water in our tinig-ang.

Rice is the major ingredient of many kinds of cakes and pastries, cooked as side dishes, prepared as desserts and even roasted and brewed as coffee.

The indigenous people of Cordillera ferment rice and aged it into wine for sacred offerings; the folks of Lucban turn it into decorations for their colorful Pahiyas fiesta; Filipinos offer it as gifts for the dead during Todos Los Santos.

Rice is featured in passage rites, given away as thanksgiving gifts, and for the Yakans of Basilan, it is turned into a filigree rice mask for their wedding.

Thirty selected Bukidnon adults and children of Sitio Cabagtasan in Barangay Codcod of San Carlos City, Negros Occidental are currently undergoing weekend trainings on our culture of rice, under the Schools for the Living Traditions (SLT).

The training is one of the flagship projects of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Subcommission on Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts.

The establishment of the SLT is aimed at preserving our culture in a living form by ensuring its transmission to the next generations.

The program focuses on the transmission of indigenous skills and techniques to the young, particularly in conserving and promoting the nation's historical and cultural heritage by encouraging and supporting the study, recognition and preservation of endangered human cultural resources such as weavers, chanters, dancers and other craftsmen, as well as the conservation and development of such artistic, linguistic and occupational skills that are threatened with extinction.

The Cabagtasan SLT project director is Leonisa Impil, herself a Bukidnon and a native of Cabagtasan who currently teaches Filipino at the Carlos Hilado Memorial State College in Talisay City.

Impil has been involved in a project with the indigenous people of Isabela, Cadiz, Salvador Benedicto, Kabankalan and San Carlos to source their folktales.

Eventually, she was elected as Executive Committee member of the NCCA Subcommission on Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts for two consecutive terms.

During her tenure, she established the Marikudo Ati Performing Group of Isabela.

Later, under her guidance, her successors in the SCCTA, Lorna Jimenea and Pastor Joel Francisco, also supported the SLT of the ati community in Salvador Benedicto that focused on their folk tales and that of the Cabagtasan community that revived and sustained their mat and basket weaving tradition.

At present, the Cabagtasan project aims to preserve their indigenous music and mimesis on the planting and the harvesting of rice. After all, Cabagtasan is surrounded by several breathtaking rice terraces.

Cabagtasan has a total land area of 1,129 hectares, with more than 500 settlers. Cabagtasan is also home to the Our Lady of the Mountains Mission School, a Catholic secondary school managed by the Franciscan sisters. One has to traverse the 162 steps leading to the lower campus ground to appreciate the sweeping vista of the imposing rice terraces. The school and the Cabagtasan Elementary School are SLT partners.

The final showcase and the closing program of the SLT project is slated on the third week day of July, to coincide with the nation-wide celebration of Nutrition Month.

The SLT participants intend to showcase the cycle of planting and harvesting of rice in music and movement. This writer, as artistic director of the project, attended the training, along with Verjel Catalan, the director of the Kagayon Dance Troupe of Colegio San Agustin-Bacolod, as dance animator.

Expected to attend the culmination program are the residents and officials of Barangay Cabagtasan, the city officials of San Carlos, and representatives of the National Commission for Indigenous People and NCAA.