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November 26, 2009


Mebuyan Peace Project is a group of 18 women arts and development workers based in Mindanao, Philippines. These women have worked individually or as members of other organizations in various peacemaking and theatremaking projects.

On May 18 2001, the women of these music and theater groups gathered and gave birth to Mebuyan Peace Project—a theatre and musical storytelling group. The idea is to produce artistic performances that will respond to women’s and children’s concerns in relation to the issues of personal, domestic, community, regional, and global peace.

The group aims to help develop artists and peacebuilders through trainings and workshops in:

—creative writing
—child rights
—children’s theatre
—improvisational theatre
—cultural action
—dance and movement
—environmental awareness
—gender in development
—global education
—music and voice
—music writing
—organizational development
—theatre (acting, directing, playwriting, production design, lights design)
—theatre in education
—visual arts

The group also hopes to encourage and popularize women’s arts and theatre through storytelling, music, and theater performances, and to popularize women’s and children’s issues through workshops and performances.

The group’s greatest achievement was the dance musicale “Panaw,” hailed as one of the best plays at the Asian Women Director’s Festival in New Delhi, India in January 2003.  The play, which portrayed the issue of domestic violence, prompted Wahengbam Tiken of Manipur Mail to write: “The musical presence is so powerful that there are moments when one almost felt as if the whole auditorium is enveloped in musical notes.”

The word “Mebuyan,” also Maibuyan, is the name of an ancient underworld goddess of Bagobo and Manobo mythology. Past researches on the goddess have revealed Mebuyan to be the sister of Lumabet, God of the Sky. Mebuyan refused to ascend with Lumabet to the heavens, instead, built her own world under the earth. She is known to have many, many breasts for nurturing the souls of unborn babies.

In the book “Arakan, Where Rivers Speak of The Manobo’s Living Dreams” by Kaliwat Theatre Collective, Datu Mangadta Sugkawan describes:

“When a person dies, his/her soul goes to Maibuyan (Mebuyan), the diwata (deity) of the afterlife who takes care of all the souls before they receive Manama’s (Supreme Being) judgment…. Maibuyan’s entire domain is of pure gold on which the soul could clearly see its reflection. The souls there only talk about good and sensible things. If one starts to talk, everybody else listens. There is no need for food. Maibuyan’s domain in the underworld is where the soul lives a second life after its body–the physical twin–dies.”

In early March 2001, a member (Geejay) got a call from a Manobo friend, inquiring about the group. He told Geejay Mebuyan is not a goddess, but an evil god banished to the center of the earth for having committed an evil deed. It became a worrisome situation for the group. In the end, the group decided to stick to the historic 1923 research by anthropologist Laura Watson from which the existence of the goddess Mebuyan was first heard and which was validated in 1992 through Kaliwat Theatre Collective’s three-year anthropological research and cultural action program in Arakan, North Cotabato (“Arakan, Where Rivers Speak of The Manobo’s Living Dreams,” Copyright 2003, published by Kaliwat and TFPCD).

The group acknowledges and undestands that society changes, and with it, myths and symbols change, depending on the social, political and economic conditions of the time. The group decided to want to reclaim the existence of the goddess, and in this case, the existence of the goddess Mebuyan. After all, the group does have hard copy research to back them up. So the group stuck to the concept, and stood by Mebuyan.

The good news is that a most recent research conducted by Rolando O. Bajo revealed that a similar god/dess existed among the Ata-Manobo. His book, “The Ata-Manobo: At the Crossrooads of Tradition and Modernization” (copyright 2004 Published by CARD-Davao Foundation) explains that the “souls (gimokud) travel to another world at the bottom of the earth named Sumowow, which is presided over by the powerful and almighty Moibulan, the deity of the afterlife or heaven (liwanon)….Under the care of Moibulan, all the souls experience only happiness..There is just the long, peaceful wait for the final judgment, but a wait without boredom, impatience or anxiety…At the final judgment, all the spirits rise and are judged in accordance with how each one had lived on earth. And then they all allegedly return to earth to inhabit the physical world once more — now cleansed of evil, of wordly guilt, now able to live life in peace and tranquility with one another…”

While there was no gender reference to Moibulan as being either female or male, the drawing that accompanied the description of Moibulan was that of a female deity.

In a text message to Geejay Arriola, kindred spirit Agnes Miclat-Cacayan writes:

Mebuyan…Ibuyan…Moibulan…Maibulan…Nabuyon… Her name means both mother and moon… Just sharing what i have discovered about the goddess of this land called Dabaw…

Mebuyan the Band

Fastforward to 2007.  MPP broke up into two groups—dance and music—in order to achieve artistic focus.  But before the year ended, only the music group, which resolved that it would now be a “band” and call itself Mebuyan, remained active.  This group is composed of Geejay Arriola (percussion), Gauss Obenza (guitar), Maree Contaoi (percussion), Maan Chua (guitar), and Maia Tampoy (keyboard) who joined the team in 2004.

In between the birth and reorganization, Mebuyan participated in two Mindanao theater productions.  Geejay conceived and directed “Salima,” the concert-theater on war and evacuation written by Palanca awardee Arnel Mardoquio in 2003. The musicale brought together music luminaries from various musical persuasions, including Eric Gancio, Popong Landero and Gary Granada, who then formed Earthmusic Foundation. The concert toured several conflict-affected areas in Mindanao advocating for an end to all wars.

In 2006, Mebuyan co-arranged and performed three of the eight music pieces Geejay wrote for Steven Patrick Fernandez’s “Uwahig.”  The dance drama on the conflict in post-modern Mindanao was the Mindanao theater network’s (MINDULANI) entry to the International Theater Congress in Manila.

By August, the five women were beginning to work on the music album Mga Kuwentong Bata, a repertoire of songs on the splendor of innocence and children’s rights.  After a few debates and introspection, they ventured to bring in male energy into what would otherwise have been an all-female band.

Male energy

Enter multi-instrumentalist and Davao’s hottest bassist Paolo Sisi, and percussionist extraordinaire Chico Zambrano.  Mebuyan was never the same.  And when Maia Tampoy took a sabbatical, the always-cheerful Lolong Gonzaga lent his own magical energy with the keyboard.

Winners all

Mebuyan musicians have won in reputable local competitions.  Maan and Gauss swept the first and second places at the 2007 Mothers for Peace first all-women songwriting competition entitled “Global Cooling;” Maan took the Best Interpretation award.  Shiela Labos—one of the original MPP members—won third place.  Maan was also Best Solo Artist at the 2007 Musika del Sur Music Awards while Maree reaped the Best Mindanaoan Song award this year.  Paolo and Geejay won first and second places, respectively, at this year’s Kadayawan Festival’s 2nd World Music Competition.  As a team, Mebuyan got a special citation from Musika del Sur this year for promoting Mindanao music and culture.

The artists speak

“Our music is a fusion of ethnic, pop, and alternative.  Some songs are hypnotic.  We use indigenous instruments, the vocal arrangements are remarkable, and for every album we (plan to) make there’s a theme,” says Paolo.  “Contra-kumpas,” (against the usual beat) Chico avers.  While Lolong searches for the word “refreshing.”

“I am inspired to be more passionate with my craft and advocacies as an artist,” says Maree.  “I like the idea that we started as an all-women group; even if we now have male recruits, women still make the final decision,” says Gauss.  “Mebuyan makes me give the best of myself,” Maan replies.  And Paolo reveals, “I’m more of a musician now than a technician (laughs) because I’m technical a lot of times.”

“We’ve always talked about performing our songs with a 60-member orchestra and a prestigious chorale group,” Gauss reveals.  “We’d like to go on a Philippine tour, then a world tour.”  Chico adds, “We should participate in international festivals.  We will definitely be appreciated there.”  While Paolo goes local, “I’d like us to do a collaborative show with different Davao bands.” 

And their message to the world? “Let peace reign, love and give time to your children and family, respect women’s rights, and save our environment,” a suddenly serious Paolo speaks.  “Life can be beautiful, and peace and happiness still exist,” Gauss adds; while Maan announces, “Buy our CD and support Mindanao music!”  And a flippant Maree rounds it up with, “Hello world, Mebuyan is coming to you!”

Latest Album

Mebuyan has released its second album entitled “Mga Kuwentong Mindanaw” (Mindanao Stories) in collaboration with various music artists in Davao. The album will feature the winning entries to the Tunog Mindanaw (Mindanao Sound) Annual World Music Competition where Sisi and Arriola won first and second prizes in 2008) and the 2007 Mothers for Peace Global Cooling Singout and Songwriting Competition where Chua and Obenza won first and second places.

The group plays occasional gigs at Taboan, Matina Town Square, in Davao City, Philippines, and is often invited to perform for conferences and other big events in Davao City.

Visit their web site at


*The article is lifted from the web site