The Pangalay dance of the Sulu Archipelago

The Pangalay is a dance of the people of the southern island of Mindanao: The Tausug, the Badjao, and the Samal. The basic form of the dance mimics the movements of a person wading through water, as the people’s culture revolve around the seas and rivers. In fact, the Tausug derive their name for the words “tao” or people, and “Sug” which means current; hence Tausug means “people of the current”.

Tita Ligaya Amilbangsa & Alun-alun Dance Circle
Tita Ligaya Amilbangsa & Alun-alun Dance Circle

In the early 1990s, I met the Pangalay master, Ligaya Fernando Amilbangsa (in the center), as she was tasked to develop the arts and culture programs of Marikina City. I have long known about her, as I had read her book “Pangalay” (published in 1983), which is the accumulation of her almost 30 years of study of the pangalay dance and other customs of the Tausug people from the Southern Philippines.

Tita Ligaya came across this ancient dance tradition when she met, and later married, Datu Punjungan Amilbangsa when she was still a student at the FEU (Far Eastern University).

Now a days, she devotes all her time in promoting this dance form to the rest of the Philippines and the world, with her group the Alun-alun Dance Circle.

My wife and friends have joined her cause, and studied under her tutelage.

With a Pangalay dancer in Jolo
With a Pangalay dancer in Jolo

I’ve never studied under Tita Ligaya, but I did learn to dance the pangalay during my stay in the island of Sulu. The Tausug people were always looking for reasons to perform this dance; from staged events, weddings, and to community get-togethers. With that experience, I was able to participate in several performances of the Alun-alun Dance Circle, as a stage manager and performer.

This photograph was taken in Jolo, 1999. With me is a pangalay dance and student from the MSU (Mindanao State University), Jolo, Sulu.

Celebrating with Tita Ligaya
Celebrating with Tita Ligaya

This 2015, Ligaya Amilbangsa was honored as one of the recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for her tireless work in preserving and promoting the Pangalay dance, in the Philippines and abroad (http://www.rmaf.org.ph/newrmaf/main/awardees/awardee/profile/359). My family and I joined in celebrating her award, and in this picture are my daughter and Tita Ligaya’s daughter, Grace.

Mag-igal sa Kulantang
Mag-igal sa Kulantang

My artworks that celebrate the Pangalay:

Mag-igal sa Kulantang
1995
Acrylic and hand-crafted gongs on wood

Pangalay
Pangalay

My artworks that celebrate the Pangalay:

Pangalay
2013
Metallic gel pen on black paper

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