Period play 'Ang Paglangkub sa Yawa' reimagines witch hunts in early colonial Cebu

Photos in this article courtesy of Minxie Villaver, Emman Mante and Lab Teatro-University of Cebu
Photos in this article courtesy of Minxie Villaver, Emman Mante and Lab Teatro-University of Cebu

WHEN we think of witch trials, we often associate them with Salem, Massachusetts. However, many cultures around the world have their own stories of witch hunts and the persecution of those accused of practicing witchcraft. Although we hear little to no such stories in the Philippines, or they may have been lost in documentation, we do know how poorly the Spaniards treated our ancestors, forcing them to convert to a new religion and demonizing their ancient gods and idols.

A Cebuano play reimagines what would happen if the witch trials occurred in the early Spanish colonial Philippines.

'Ang Paglangkub sa Yawa'

"Ang Paglangkub sa Yawa" is a period play set in early colonial Cebu that draws inspiration from the religious uprisings of the Tamblot and Bangkaw Revolts in Bohol and Leyte during the 17th century, as well as the witch trials that took place in other Spanish colonies.

Emmanuel Mante, who is the play's director, said that "Paglangkub" is also inspired by "The Crucible" by American playwright Arthur Miller.

"The reason why I chose this play is that I think it is very relevant, how fake news, misinformation, disinformation and how things on social media can be fabricated today," Mante said.

The play also wants to cast a light on intolerance and hysteria.

"These things can harm a human being's false ideals that can create cruelty," Mante added.

"[Paglangkub] has a subtle way of compelling people about what's currently happening in the past and how it can also repeat it in the present," he added.

'Lost culture'

Minxie Villaver, who is the dramaturg of "Paglangkub," said that the play aims to showcase the powerlessness of women in colonial past, the abuses of colonizers, the importance of separation of church and state, and the dangers of fake news and colonial mentality.

"I would say the play mostly reveals the rich culture we painfully lost. This is a part of history that is barely discussed in the classroom. By showcasing colonial abuses, the play critiques the pervasive xenocentrism among our people and how that came to be," Villaver said.

Villaver is a local history buff, Cebuano language teacher and professional writer and editor. She also founded Karakoa Productions, a local arts company that aims to educate the world about precolonial Visayan culture.

She said "Paglangkub" differs from other local plays in that it is rigidly researched.

"I angled and anchored the story in the most logical way the witch trials could happen in Cebu... Most importantly, I wrote the lines in such a way that encourages love and pride for the intricacies of our native tongue," she said.

On casting

"Paglangkub" boasts of a stellar cast from different ways of life in Cebu, who came together to bring their culture to the forefront.

A rigorous audition process happened in Cebu City in late 2022, with a turnout of 90 auditionees.

"That gave me a wide range of selection... it was so easy on our part to choose the cast," Mante said.

Aside from auditionees, cast members also include students from the University of Cebu.

"The actors are really a pleasure to work with. I really made sure from the beginning that they could commit," the director said.

'Connecting to our roots'

As for the reaction the play hopes to evoke, the dramaturg expects a lot of anger and grief from audiences.

"But the reaction I'm really hoping for is an epiphany from the lessons that the reimagining wishes to convey and a yearning for the culture and language we've been losing," Villaver said.

In a time where cultural heritage is threatened by globalization and modernization, "Paglangkub" reminds its audience of the importance of preserving and celebrating its identity.

"We should be vigilant about the misinformation and disinformation; that is the message I really want to send to the audience," Mante said.

The director also wants to highlight the Visayan language used in the play.

"It is a celebration of the language. It is important that we promote it. We keep on saying, 'Oh, Cebuano theater,' and yet others are staging musical plays from Broadway, but what about our play? When we say Cebuano play, it is a story about us, the Cebuano language and the audience," Mante said.

Future of Cebuano theater

Villaver hopes that the play would inspire more Cebuano writers and artists to embrace their Visayan identity in their art and contribute to Cebuano literature.

"Though far-fetched, I hope that this play inspires Cebu to produce more plays about Cebu itself to contribute to Cebuano literature — our people's very own stories," Villaver said.

She also hopes the play inspires aspiring Cebuano writers and artists, in general, to embrace their Visayan identity in their art and spur a revival.

"I dream that we become more comfortable to face our realities and use our own native language to create meaningful, relatable art and spark immediate changes in our society, instead of aimlessly seeking the approval of foreigners. Cebuanos and Filipinos as a whole need the healing power and impact of theater way more than these First-World foreigners do," she added.

Mante hopes that his play would spark other creatives to write original Cebuano plays and adaptations and develop more Cebuano talents.

"Please watch [Paglangkub]. It's historical, it's something from the past, and we always learn something from the past, and the mistakes of the past di gyud na siya dapat mabalik sa present. Kay kon mahitabo na siya, it means we have not learned history," Mante said.

"Besides that, enjoy also and be a thinking audience besides an audience who is a recipient of entertainment," he added.

"Ang Paglangkub sa Yawa" is a powerful reimagining of a forgotten part of history that is sure to spark important conversations and reflections. It is a testament to the richness and complexity of Cebuano culture, and a call to action to embrace and celebrate heritage.

"Paglangkub" is part of UC's Panagtipon 2023, a month-long celebration of Cebuano plays. One can watch the play from March 29 to April 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cebu Coliseum.

Tickets for the play are available at the UC Main College of Arts and Sciences, UC Main Senior High Arts and Design, and UC Students Cultural Services. For inquiries, one can message Lab Teatro-University of Cebu on Facebook.


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