“Orosman at Zafira” and Divorce
For its 35th season, the Dulaang UP of the University of the Philippines is putting on a series of productions kicking off with Francisco Baltazar’s “Orosman at Zafira”, running up to August 29 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater at UP-Diliman’s Palma Hall.
For those who remember having to slog through Baltazar’s epic poem “Florante at Laura” in high school, “Orosman” is the same in flavor; the dialogue is heavy reading in archaic Tagalog and hard to follow, although the narrative, as brought to life by cast members, can be comprehended from the talented and excellent performances.
Reed screens decorate the set and are moved around to create spaces, emphasize separation, and otherwise indicate location. At the beginning, the title of the play is cast upon the screens in light, which fades and shifts to a rainbow of coruscating lights.
Suddenly a woman’s low, husky tones ululate in distinctly Filipino cadences, followed by the doom-doom beat of tribal drums. At those sounds, something primal surges within, a call of the race deep within the blood that hearkens to the rhythm of forebears as the reed screens separate to reveal the singer/narrator, Zelima (played superbly by Tao Aves), clad in flowing robes, mourning the deluge that has overwhelmed their land: “Sa aming bayan, dilubyo sa aming bayan. Tatlong pacha, isang kahariang mahal; nagalit ba ang dakilang Allah, at nangyari na ang dapat na mangyari?”
Then unfolds the story of power and wealth, love and sorrow, life and death, played out in dance and song and words. The women of Baltazar’s “Orosman” are powerful: Tasy Garrucha enchants as Zafira, princess of the Marueccos tribe, while Jean Judith Javier’s Gulnara, the beloved of Sultan Mahamud, Zafira’s father, convincingly portrays a complicated love. Both turn warrior upon the assassination of the sultan; do not be misled by the flowing gowns and the soft voices; the dulcet tones turn harsh with anger, the gowns stripped to reveal men’s clothing while staves and other weapons are waved at the moment of battle.
As the drama unfolded, I realized that the spirit of warrior women still lives in Filipinas today. Infidelity is endemic in our culture and is cause for much heartbreak in relationships. Our laws are biased towards men, who can only be charged with concubinage upon submission of proof that they have set up a household with a woman not their wife. Women, on the other hand, only have to fail once and be caught in a tryst with their lover to be charged with infidelity. Is that fair?
There are also no strict safeguards for battered women and children, despite the Violence Against Women and Children law which was only passed a few years ago. What recourse is there for Filipino women in the present day to escape from the trap of loveless marriages scarred by infidelity and violence, the wife-beating husband in the arms of another woman, often providing no support for the children?
House Bill 1799 is one such solution. Called the “Divorce Law” and proposed by women lawmakers who are among our modern warrior women, it provides a better option than the costly and lengthy annulment that is the only means at the present for unhappily married Filipinas to be emancipated.
Have you noticed how the proponents and supporters of the bill are women and progressive men, while its opponents are traditionalist men? The reactionary male lawmakers and their like-minded fellows who seek to keep women entrapped at their convenience are selfish and fail to take into account the feelings of the women who yearn for freedom and the chance to start life anew, perhaps find a man who will truly love and cherish them. Why can’t they let go?
These hidebound fogies see women as property, theirs to bind and loose at their whim, blind to the rights of women to live their own lives as they see fit, while they engage in affairs left and right. That is not fair or moral or right. If a marriage is not working, for whatever reason, why not accept that fact and take steps to set both parties free to start anew? That is better than for unhappy couples to stay together for the sake of appearance – that is hypocrisy.
Baltazar’s women took matters into their own hands when it came to love and war. Today’s women need to keep to the law of modern society; wielding swords and bows are not an option. Yet Filipinas are not without weapons – we have our brains to think and our bodies to act to support a law that is long overdue and that will give women that which are our rights and should not be withheld by those who wish to retain their power over half of the population.
As examples of strong and loving women, Zafira and Gulnara are inspirations. Some of the other cast members include Jay Gonzaga (Orosman), Kevin Concepcion (Aldervesin), Roeder Camañag (Boulasem), Acey Aguilar (Zelim), Neil Ericson Tolentino (Mahamud), and veteran Ronnie Martinez as Ben-Asar, Mahamud’s vizier. Directed by Dexter Santos with original music by Carol Bello, “Orosman at Zafira” is a must-see. Call Dulaang UP at 926-1349 for tickets and playdates. ***
Photos from Prof. Amy Bersalona of the UP-Diliman College of Arts and Letters/Dulaang UP.