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Actresses Lui Manansala and Sue Prado relive their Bikol ties through poetry

ASIDE from actors Enchong Dee and Jaime Fabregas who are easily recognized as actors from the Bikol region, the other readers, like actresses Lui Quiambao Manansala and Sue Prado have also relived their Bikol ties through the Himati: A Bikol Poetry Reading Program, a project of Savage Mind: Arts, Books, Cinema and Ateneo de Naga University Press.

Conceived as a digital platform by Savage Mind founder Kristian Cordero and film educator/critic Tito Genova Valiente, the Himati project was first launched in April 1, 2020 as part of the National Literature Month Celebration.

Now widely popular in the social media, the program has generated more than 100K views in Instagram, Twitter of the celebrity readers including the FB pages of the bookshop and the university press. The Himati project has also been featured in the Headline Pilipinas, a noontime radio program in DZMM, TV Patrol Bicol, Business Mirror, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the Philippine Graphics. While initially intended to invite Bikol actors and read Bikol poetry, Cordero and Valiente were surpised that other non-Bikolano actors have also manifested their interest and support in the project. “While we thought we will only have this project for the whole period of the lockdown, I guess with the number of actors who have agreed to join this project, we can utmost have this program stretch until August in time for the Buwan ng Wika celebration, said Cordero.

Lui Manansala is part of the large Quiambao Clan in Bacacay, Albay. The family moved to Manila in the 40’s together with her older brother and sister, the much lamented actress Ama Quiambao. While Sue Prado’s maternal lineage is from Libmanan, Camarines Sur.

For her episodes, Lui Manansala read the works of poets Jun Belgica, Raffi Banzuela and Eustaquio Dino. Belgica and Banzuela are two contemporary poets from Daraga and Camalig, while Dino is one of the post-war writers who served as editor of the newspaper An Parabareta in the 30’s.

Asked about her experience in reading and recording the episode for Himati, Ms. Manansala shares: “After sending me a video of Jaime Fabregas’ poetry reading, Kristian asked if I was willing to read for Savage. He got an instant reply: “Yes, all the time.” No ifs and buts. Then he emailed three poems that he thought would fit me. I went through the three poems. Wow, I was quite intimidated. What does this word mean? How do I pronounce it? Bikol is not my native language. But that’s the language I use when I speak with my mother and my Bikolano Quiambao relatives. I immediately messaged my cousin who was born and raised in Albay to coach me. Her reaction: “Hararumon na Bikol. Ibang Bikol dialect.” In other words, she couldn’t help.

I tried to put this reading in the backburner but to no avail. The deadline was getting near. Announcement posters about my scheduled reading were out in the FB page of Savage. I felt it was Kristian’s way of gently reminding me to submit my 1st reading.

No backing out now. Pressure. Pressure. I finally got the courage to send Kristian an SOS. I told him: “Ang lalim ng Bikol; kailangan ko ng pala.” Kristian was kind enough to translate some words I didn’t know and to send me voice files of the three poems.

First, I opted to record was Jun Belgica’s Soneto 2. Video recording was done during the wee hours of the morning when everybody was asleep and no unnecessary noise could be caught by the recording. I had to do the set up myself. (No cameraman. No DOP. No soundman. No production designer or art dept. No director. And no Make-up.) Lighted ceiling lights. A table lamp with a warm light for added lighting effect. The phone camera on an octopus tripod. The laptop where I’d read the poem set on top of piles of books. I saw to it that I wouldn’t have to be looking down while reading the poem so both camera and laptop must be at eye level. I chose a space in the house with a plain white wall to serve as my background.

Now actor on the set. Before video recording, I had to rehearse the poem over and over again until I got into the groove, until I got to feel and visualize the elements and meaning of the poem. It took me more than 10 takes, I guess. Glad that this was not an actual shooting for a production. I didn’t want to be branded as “cause of delay”. I sent several versions of the Soneto 2 reading for Kristian’s approval. Finally, April 20, my first Bicol reading was up in FB. I am proud to be described as a Bikolana, now reading poetry of and for my kababayans.”

For Ms. Sue Prado who won the Best Supporting Actress in the Gawad URIAN for the film Himpapawid, the experience reading the Bikol poem of Jaya Jacobo is something that she urgently needs in this particular situation when the world as we know is rapidly changing due to this pandemic. Ms. Prado shares: “Jaya Jacobo’s ‘Kansyon ni Oryol is a poem one reads with the heart. Having read it in Bicol, I actually ‘read it from memory’- hearing my grandmother, mom, and her siblings chattering away in my warm childhood memories. I have never really spoken the language until Jaya’s poem fortuitously found me.

Asked about the place of Bikol in her memory, Ms. Prado, thinks that Bikol, as a place and language, grounds her. And since her mother’s family hails from Libmanan, Camarines Sur, her reading is her homage to her mother. “And with deep gratitude to Savage Mind, Jaya Jacobo, and to every soul who lovingly toiled in the creation of this collaboration, it also presents a glimmer of hope amidst this seemingly endless twilight we are all treading through,” the actress said.

Aside from Jaya Jacobo’s poetry, Ms. Prado will also read a poem by the late Bikolano poet, playwright and cultural worker, Carlos Arejola. More episodes will be uploaded every Monday and Friday through the Savage Mind and the university press’ FB pages. As of this writing, the Philippines’s top kundiman diva, Carmen Camacho from Catanduanes and former senator and mediaman Eddie Ilarde of Iriga City are now also on board. Both Camacho and Ilarde are expected to read some Bikol lyrical poems.

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