'Reading' songs and nurturing culture in the Philippines

Preserving cultural heritage, including access to and use of ancestral lands, can be a real challenge for indigenous communities. A range of cultural memory recall and music workshops with the indigenous Ata of the Philippines aims to empower communities and validate legal claims related to the Indigenous People’s Rights Act.

Ata children and elders inside a nipa hut during a workshop where bamboo musical instruments were used as percussion.

The Ata*, a coastal people living on the Boracay Island of Visayas in the Philippines, have long sought to validate their ancestral land claims. Even though the Certificate for Ancestral Domain Title was provided by the government, some individuals and businesses continue to claim the Ata land as their own. To support this legal challenge and simultaneously document the Ata’s language and cultural practices, Dr Maria Christine Muyco is conducting participatory action research that emphasizes collective inquiry and experimentation grounded in experience and social history.

Muyco uses cultural memory recall and music workshops to record indigenous practices. People are encouraged to share their culture through storytelling as well as playing musical instruments. In addition to providing a valuable cultural record, this process also serves to pass on local knowledge and practices to members of the community.

It is not only historical knowledge being preserved. New talent is also nurtured as members from across the community are encouraged to compose new music, all of which is professionally recorded and subsequently distributed to villages for communal use and public listening.

Muyco hopes that the stories and songs will serve as “voices of cultural value and in some ways [provide an opportunity to] protest against injustice” to help ensure their cultural self-definition, identity and ultimate survival.

Further information
Associate Professor Dr Maria Christine Muyco
E-mail: [email protected]
Composition and Theory, College of Music
University of the Philippines Diliman

Meet the Expert
Associate Professor Dr Maria Christine Muyco is a Music composer, Philippine Studies scholar, Ethnomusicologist (Ph.D. Philippine Studies, University of the Philippines; Studies in Ethnomusicology and Dance Theory (Non-Degree) at the University of California. Los Angeles (UCLA); M.Mus. Music Composition, University of British Columbia; B.M. Composition, University of the Philippines). Research participants: Boracay Ati Youth Choir and elders

*identification based on how they call themselves in their songs


CD cover of Music of the Ata/Ati of Boracay in their struggle for Land and Celebration of Life sung by the Boracay Ati Youth Choir.


Researcher during workshop days and government session about land.

Published: 09 Mar 2017

Contact details:

University of the Philippines-Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Development LGF Phivolcs Bldg., C.P. Garcia Ave., University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City

(632) 927-2567; (632) 927-2309
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