Epic Chanter, Traditional Craftsman, Teacher of Indigenous Knowledge

August 25, 1942 – August 31, 2021

Leopoldo Cataluña Caballero, also called ‘Polding’ or ‘Paino’ (his mountain name), came from a long line of epic chanters and babaylan. He was a master epic singer, traditional craft maker, political leader, customary law judge and arbiter, and a proficient teacher of Panay Bukidnon indigenous knowledge systems and practices.

Paino was the third of eight children of Demetrio Caballero and Preciosa ‘Anggoran’ Cataluña of Calinog, Iloilo. Anggoran was the first chanter of the Panay Suiguidanon epics project initiated by the University of the Philippines-Visayas (UPV).

As an epic singer, Paino knew at least ten titles of the long narrative chants collectively known as the ‘sugidanon’ in Central Panay. With his brother, 2000 Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) awardee Federico ‘Tu-ohan’ Caballero, he chanted the title “Amburukay,” which recounts the story of Labaw Donggon and his entanglement with the muwa (a hairy, enchanted being) called Amburukay.

Besides the sugidanon, he was also an experienced singer of other traditional forms of vocal music such as the ambahan (joust), talda (repartee), and dilot (love song). Being the son of a medium, he was also aware of other types of chants such as those used in babaylan rituals and practices.

Paino was also a versatile craft maker specializing in traditional swordsmithing as well as hilt-carving and sheath-designing. His mastery of local weapon designs such as the sanduko, kinampit, and binakuko for blades, linaywan for spears, and accessory implements such as the kalasag was remarkably sophisticated. He could also craft different types of hilt designs, special among which was the sapot. He was also adept at crafting musical instruments such as the subing (mouth harp), sugang-gang (bamboo buzzer), and the tambol (drum).

Paino was also a respected leader. He had wide experience in local politics, first as a barangay councilor of Brgy. Masaroy in 1963-1969 and Brgy. Garangan in 1984-1985, and barangay captain of Brgy. Garangan from 1986-1987.

Being knowledgeable about customary laws, he was an efficient and sought-after arbiter who successfully settled personal disputes and family feuds in the community. He also became a team leader of the 6th Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) from 1987-1996.

In 2004, he was selected as a member of the Council of Elders of the Panay Bukidnon community of Garangan, Masaroy, and Agcalaga (GMA), recognized by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). With this designation, he represented the indigenous Panay Bukidnon elders and culture bearers in various regional negotiations and national dialogues that fostered the promotion and safeguarding of indigenous peoples’ rights as well as ensuring the future of other indigenous communities amid the impacts of development projects in the community.

Throughout his life, Paino contributed to the promotion of Panay Bukidnon culture. He was once a consultant for Panay Bukidnon culture to the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group in the late 1990s, and assisted and collaborated with prominent culture scholars in documenting traditional knowledge systems and intangible heritage. Because of his involvement in these groups, he had the opportunity to participate in various local and national conferences on culture as a representative of indigenous peoples.

Besides these activities, he also served as a cultural advisor for sugidanon in the Hirinugyaw-Suguidanonay Festival which showcases the vibrant local traditions of the municipality of Calinog through culture-rooted theatrical productions.

His engagement with the youth, however, was one of his most significant contributions and enduring legacies in the field of culture. Spurred by the drive to keep local culture thriving, he taught Panay Bukidnon children the sugidanon in the GAMABA Training Center at Garangan starting in 2001.

Paino also served as a resource person on binanog (hawk-eagle) music and dance tradition in the Enhanced School of Living Tradition (E-SLT) or Balay Turun-An at Calinog, where he generously taught youth musicians in the art of instrument performance, imparting his knowledge on the nuance of binanog dancing as well as playing of musical modes which include talda, dalunga, and tinagbak to accompany the dance.

In 2019, he served as a consultant to and performed with the Kinabon kang Panay Bukidnon, a group of young indigenous performing artists, which was declared national champion at the National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA).

Paino died at 79 due to COVID-19. He was married to Rosita Silva Caballero (also deceased) and is survived by their eight children who strive to keep the Panay Bukidnon culture thriving.

“The death of Leopoldo Caballero has left a void in the Panay Bukidnon Community which can never be replaced. We thank him for his contribution to Panay culture and his inspiration to the cultural workers, researchers, IP advocates, and Panay Bukidnon youth,” UPV wrote on its official Facebook page.

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