by ksa_hp ()

It is said that Philippine Theater and Drama only started upon the arrival of the Americans after the revolution. Whether this is true or not, we can leave it to the experts to argue it out. The main point is to find out just what makes a play uniquely Filipino.


But before we come to an understanding of “Dulaang Pilipino” or Filipino Theater Drama, we must first take a look at the basic types of Filipino plays. There are three general categories:

  • Mga Katutubong Dula (Ethnic Plays)

    The Filipino Ethnic Plays or “Katutubong Dula” are plays based on old Filipino folklore and old traditions. They show the country’s indigenous culture and traditions. The play, Pamanhikan (Courtship), for example, focuses on the courtship rituals in the pre-colonial times.

  • Mga Dula sa Panahon ng Kastila (Plays from the Spanish Era)

    Plays from the Spanish era have a decided influence from the colonizers. A lot of them revolve around Catholic festivities like Senakulo (Passion of the Christ), Pinetencia (Penitence) and Flores de Mayo (May Procession). Some also portray the strain between the Catholics and the Muslims, like the play Moro-Moro (The Moors).

  • Dula sa Panahon ng Amerikano (Plays from the American Era)

    Finally, the American era ushered in the “sarsuwela” or plays with singing and dancing. The sarsuwelas in this era were mostly used as subversive propaganda and had themes about patriotism and revolution.

    The most famous of these sarsuwelas are those made by Severino Reyes, also known as “Ama ng Dulang Pilipino” or “Father of Philippine Drama”. His most popular works are: Walang Sugat (Not Wounded, 1902), Paglipas ng Dilim (After the Darkness, 1920) and Bungangang Pating (At the Mercy of the Sharks, 1921).

    He is also known for sarsuwelas about love like Anak ng Dagat (Child of the Sea, 1921) and Dalagang Bukid (Country Maiden, 1919).

Compared with other countries, Philippine theater or drama is still very young. Though the Philippines has churned out quite a number of excellent playwrights through the centuries from Francisco Balagtas to Nick Joaquin, it’s safe to say that Philippine Drama is still in the experimentation stage.

A lot of playwrights have come taken to mixing a lot of the elements of the different types of plays into one-of-a-kind performances.

A good example of this is a play staged by Dulaang UP a couple of years ago, Orosman at Zafira. Originally written in the 1850’s by Francisco Balagtas, one of the best poets and playwrights in the history of Philippine Literature, this komedya or comedy tells the story of strife enveloping three kingdoms in the south and the madness of young love in the midst of war.

Dulaang UP did a pretty good job in taking a text from the 1850’s and transforming it into something the generation today can appreciate. A musical, ethnic music was given a twist by adding drums and electric guitars. The dialogue, though in formal Filipino, was lyrical, intense and cut straight through the heart.

The lights and costumes, of course, also contributed to making the whole play amazing. They were able to mix ethnic costumes with modern twists (one of the lead males sported a mohawk).

Orosman and Zafira is a good example of modern Philippine Dula because it weaves together elements that are uniquely Filipino (language, ethnic culture, history, etc.) without alienating the greater majority of those who just want to see a play not for intellectual pursuits but just to have a good time.

Plus, it puts back the name of Francisco Balagtas on the lips of a generation in danger of forgetting about it.

In a nutshell, Philippine Theater or Drama, is about bringing to life the dreams, hope, triumphs and travails of a nation still trying to make sense of its past and find its identity. In fact, search for identity and displacement are popular themes in modern plays today. 

Much like Zafira who falls in love with the enemy of her people, Philippine Theater and Drama is all about voicing out the modern Filipino’s need to try to find a compromise between all the conflicting things that makes a Filipino uniquely Filipino.Philippine Dula is all about Filipino life, about being katutubo, kastila, amerikano, rebelde (rebel) and – ultimately Filipino.

But that’s just my opinion. Like all plays, everything is subject to interpretation.




Musical Plays:


This traditional dance was brought over from the Mindanao archipelago by the Suluks and does not originate from Bajau tribe in the Semporna district. The intermingling relationship between the Bajau and Suluk in those early days resulted in the dance becoming a living heritage of the Bajau community residing in Semporna. The phrase "daling daling" actually originated from the English word "darling". The main characteristic of the dance is the interchange of quatrains between the male and female dancers and is usually performed as an entertainment in various occasions.

This type of dance is one of the most well known traditional dances in Sabah as well as throughout Malaysia. It belongs to the Kadazandusun tribe. This ritual dance serves varied functions such as thanksgiving for bountiful paddy planting and harvesting, prayer against evil spirits, honouring the spirits as well as to cure illness. The movement and rhythm of this dance is elegantly soft and slow. The dancers, male and female, will face each other, move their feets in small movements and move their heels up and down to the beat of the music. While dancing the dancer will spread up their hands and move it up and down just like a bird spreading their wings to fly. The Sumazau is usually performed during festive occasions and gatherings.



This is an original traditional dance of the Bajau. The Limbai dance is performed during a wedding ceremony. It is an act of welcoming the bridegroom and his entourage and to invite them to the bride’s house. The melody and rhythmic movements of the dancer will accompany the bridegroom to the bride's house and would preceed the "ijab-qabul" or wedding ceremony. The graceful movement of the dancers’ wrists will sway their shawls to express their warm welcome to the party concerned.



This is the traditional dance of the Dusun Lotud ethnic group from the Tuaran district where it is also known as "Madsayau". The Sumayau is the main element of a special chanting ceremony or "Mengahau" as it is called in Dusun. It is not performed in ordinary celebrations. A "Monolian", an elderly female priestess who is also a ritual specialist, would lead the dance ceremony. It is a rule of the tradition that this role is held only by the descendents of the previous "Monolian".

"Mengahau" is a big affair and is usually celebrated for 5 days and nights. The purpose of this ceremony is to venerate the "gusi-gusi" (a type of antique jars believed to possess spirits) by chanting ancient ritual verses. It is also conducted to honour dead family members, similar to the "kenduri arwah" (feast for the departed) commonly observed by the Muslim Malay community.

As soon as the music starts, the dancers would sway towards the dance floor. Every movement of the hands would be in harmony with the rhythm of the music. However the movement of the feet are slower as compared to the hands. One simply walks with very small steps in an unhurried manner. The pace of the dance increase with applause from the audience.




This dance belongs to the Murut’s tribe of Kuhijaw (Kwijau). The "Magunatip" word is derived from the "apit" word, which means "trapped". In this dance one must master and show their agility and dexterity in jumping and putting their feet between the clapping bamboos without being trapped. This dance does not usually require any instrumental music because the rhythmic clapping and stamping of the bamboos produce a loud, harmonised, beat and interesting sound or rhythm. This dance is usually performed to highlight any festive occasion.




Initially "adai-adai’ was a song sung as a "pantun" or a quatrain by a group of people. Instead of having an ordinary musical instrument to accompany the song, a natural sound or beat is formed from paddling a boat or stamping the paddle against the side of the boat and striking a "buyong" or "keduit" (a jar made from gourd or clay). This dance belongs to the Brunei tribe in Weston, Sabah.