'Helobung' brings indigenous culture closer to Filipino-Americans

'Helobung' brings indigenous culture closer to Filipino-Americans

Oct 26, 2023

The audience at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia was transported to Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, also known as the land of the dreamweavers, as "Helobung" danced to the beat of their music.

The music, dance, and the costumes were a way of the Phili

ppine indigenous T'boli tribe to tell their stories, and their unique culture to the world.

"What makes this so meaningful is they hail from Mindanao and they flew in from the Philippines," said event organizer Dr. April Manalang. "What's even more spectacular is Hampton Roads is their first stop."

Filipino-Americans recently welcomed Helobung in Virginia Beach for an Indigenous People’s Day celebration, where they gave a sneak peak of their performance.

Helobung, which means “endless joy” is a Community Dance Troupe from the Tboli tribe in the Mindanao group of islands.

The group is comprised of five dancers and musicians performing a set titled “Tales, Tunes, and Threads of the T'bolis.”

The performance introduced and shared the T'boli's cultural roots and signifiers.

In it, the dance troupe shared their traditions and the symbolisms of what they wear, what they do, and the colors they use.

One of the things they explained is why they touch the drums before and after dancing.

"It is to pay respect to the spirit of the drum," said Helobung director and choreographer Michael Yambok. "When we dance the whole day we don't feel tired because of the guidance of the spirit of the drum."

Those who witnessed their performances said they learned more about the culture in the Philippines and of its indigenous peoples.

Among them is Dhol Tuason, founder and artistic director of Sayaw Diversity, a FilAm dance group based in Richmond, Virginia.

She said that as a cultural dancer herself, watching a dance group from an actual tribe in the Philippines is very meaningful.

"Seeing the culture, the music, the dancing, it’s really a whole, total experience of seeing the music, where they come from and sharing the tradition," said Tuason.

Helobung is part of a public diplomacy initiative of the U-S State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, called “Center Stage.”

The said project also receives funding from the federal government.

As part of their U.S. tour, the dance troupe also performed at the folk festival in Richmond, considered one of America’s largest folk festivals.

Helobung has also performed in Yakima in Washington, and their last stop will be in Oahu in Hawaii.

"It's a spectacular, vivid, touching tribute to our living and vibrant indigenous Filipino culture," said Manalang. "I couldn't be more proud, elated, and again it is an honor and privilege to be here."