The Metropolitan Theater’s (MET) latest production is under scrutiny for cultural appropriation. On National Indigenous Peoples Month. “Alay nina Alice at Agnes,” which debuted on Oct. 16, was met with much criticism due to its misuse of the bahag.
The show is composed of dance performances by National Artists for Dance Alice Reyes and Agnes Locsin as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Order of National Artists. The first section of the show titled “Igorot” features women in bahag—traditional Cordilleran garb exclusively used by men. The traditional clothing worn by Cordilleran women is the tapis, which is a woven piece of cloth tied around the waist and secured with a sash.
The production’s comments section was quick to point out the misuse of the bahag, pointing out the fact that only men are supposed to wear it. The production was also criticized for not doing the appropriate research required to respect the culture that the performance was inspired by.
Tawid ti Igorot PH, a Facebook page that promotes Cordilleran culture and the arts, also called out the performance through a post. Aside from the obvious misuse of the bahag by women, it also noted that the garments used during the performance were generic and unrepresentative of any of the six provinces of the Cordillera.
It continues to say that while the version of the bahag shown in the production is still in use in Baguio and some parts of the Cordillera, it must be used appropriately.
The post then calls for institutionalizing protocols and penalties to serve as boundaries in order to preserve the way the culture is shown in both local and international settings.
The National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) has also taken notice. NCIP-CAR regional director Atty. Atanacio Addog has voiced out his stance on the matter in an interview with a local news station.
“I was about to draft a letter to the producers and the NCCA, kasi parang paulit-ulit nalang. We have made the previous calls from previous events na we are condemning the improper usage. Pero bakit parating ganito na lang ang nangyayari?” he said.
(I was about to draft a letter to the producers and the NCAA, because this issue has become repetitive. We have made the previous calls from previous events condemning improper usage. So why does this keep on happening?)
He then went on to say that he will be conferring with the community’s elders on how to move forward on the matter.
As of writing, the MET nor the national artists have yet to release a statement in response to the controversy.
While artistic freedom is valid, it shouldn’t impinge on sacred cultural practices and traditions. October is National Indigenous Peoples Month, and protecting our indigenous countrymen and their culture should always come first.