Photo by Michael Montalban
The waves come alive as they reach the coastline with black sand. But as birds hum, noises from machines overpower their lovely voices.
Despite this, the abundance of the sea still reaches the fishers’ nets and boats. As long as people continue to catch fish and enjoy the water, life will remain. For the children of the next generation, the waves are their hope to reach their dreams. These are their haikus.
The tradition of Haiku is focused on expressing emotionally suggestive moments of insight into natural phenomena. In Filipino literature, it is called “tanaga”—an indigenous way of telling people’s lives.
Sweatshirt, salty wind, and an accident
The weather was not ideal for biking in the middle of Cavite, but I decided to ride my vintage giant bicycle with my bags packed for a community visit in Rosario, a coastal town in Cavite.
My assignment was to create a mural about fisherfolk in Cavite province. This was a perfect opportunity to immerse myself in my home province. Coastal communities have always fascinated me, especially with my interests in boats.
After a 10-kilometer ride, I finally reached the barangay, which was in the middle of a dumpsite. I met a woman who enthusiastically shared the history of the barangay. Then, some of the residents arrived to properly start our consultation. I humbly expressed my dream project to them, and one by one, they told me about the challenges faced by fishers.
After the consultation, they gave me a chance to roam around and check the site for the mural. I saw rows of dried fish, waste, boats and houses built on top of garbage.
Coastal areas in Cavite are affected by several reclamation projects. Big companies are also extracting raw materials from Manila Bay.
On my way back, I came across a cyclist who passed out due to the heat. I stopped to help, covered the man with shirts, and provided first aid. Then the police came and called an ambulance. I talked to the man and slowly let him remember what happened.
I rode my bike and took that accident as a reminder to take care of myself, and assess if the situation is safe and okay to go on.
My haikus, and the dreams of the people of the island…
My original plan for a series of murals and films was replaced by participative artwork on the things that are relevant to fisherfolk. Seeing the mussel industry in our neighboring city gave me an idea about using mussel sacks for my artwork.
While in my studio, I gathered data and my notes about the stories of Cavite fisherfolk. I focused my narrative on family, education, land, and wellbeing. These are the haikus of every fisherfolk that faces an ongoing modernization.
What are the effects of this development on people and the environment? Is this ongoing development for people?
For Nanay Delia a resident in Rosario Cavite Coastal community, “Marami pa rin kaming pangarap, na sa kabila ng hirap ng buhay ay nakakayanan pa rin. Simula nang malipat kami dito, may nakukuha [kaming] hanapbuhay. Kaya ‘Lupang Pangarap’ ang pangalan ng lugar namin. Kaya patuloy namin itong pinaglalaban”
(We still have many dreams. Despite the hardships, life is still manageable. Since we moved here, [we] have a source of livelihood. So the name of our place is ‘Lupang Pangarap. That is why we still fight for this island’)
Revitalizing the essence of pakikipagkapwa is still my hope for inclusive development for everyone on the island. As an archipelago, waves serve as our connection with relationship and empathy.
As I conceptualized the painting on the sack, I got emotional knowing that the birds’ habitats will be destroyed by the development.
Despite difficulties in accessing the community and arranging a workshop with fishers because of their schedule and their commitment, I was still determined to continue this project and give justice to the story that I witnessed.
Through the waves, I prayed that someone would hear their stories. Saving my dreams is also saving others’ dreams. These stories need to be shared.
As a community-based artist, I believe that my art is a reflection of my relationship with the community where I immersed my spirit and wellbeing. My story is the people’s narrative, and we’re weaving it together.
Questioning (Pagtatanong), an immersion (Pakikilakbay), and my ritual…
Being an outsider, I struggled to understand their perspective. But during my time on the coastline of Naic in Cavite, I learned that if you ask, they will provide. I can say that people on the island are really generous. I saw a group of men very busy preparing for their fishing departure, and another fisherman introduced me to the owner of the empty boat.
As I was permitted to install my artwork on a boat, I noticed a group of teenagers conducting their activities nearby. I always include a participative approach in my work, providing an avenue for opportunities and giving the audience access to explore their curiosity.
I invited Irish and Althea, residents of the island, to help me write the haiku on the sack. I could see interest in their eyes with each stroke and drop of paint. The letters and their meaning embodied their spirit as the next generation of people on this island. The hope on their innocent faces reflects in the waves that touch their feet. These are their haikus—their dreams are a part of this wave
During the golden hour, as clouds formed and painted the sky, the island became their source of haiku—a dream.
While installing the sack in the boat, I found myself asking questions like, “How long have you been here? How was life on the island?” One of the teenagers said that the boat I borrowed was
his grandfather’s boat. I became interested in Kyle’s story, a resident of the island, as he told me that the boat always wins in racing competitions.
I am always open to the possibility that this is a ritual of going back to my own self. Their story is my story. In my experience of becoming part of this wave, I witnessed one community that shares stories of dreams, wins, despair, love, and hope.
This is a shared experience as a kapwa tao and being in the island as tao as they welcome me bilang tao, and which reminded me by the poem I wrote: “Ibigay mo ang sarili mo sa iba, huwag mo na isipin ang oras na mawawala, hindi na mahalaga ang minuto na makukuha, ang mahalaga mabuksan ang posibilidad na may pag-asa.” (Give yourself to others, don’t think about the time that will be lost, the minute that will be gained is not important, the important thing is to open the possibility with hope.)
Mga Tanaga ng Alon (Haiku of the Wave)
Coastal communities in Cavite face ongoing modernization due to its growing economy. This development, however, will affect the lives of locals as well as lead to biodiversity loss and rising sea levels. Climate change is also aggravating the impacts of this development, affecting the adaptive capacities of communities
The artists and advocates behind the project aim to empower the coastal community by reclaiming their identity as custodians of the environment and develop the youth’s potential through art and poetry to become agents of change in their communities.
Providing creative spaces for the youth helps them express their narrative, and realize their dreams. The youth’s creativity is essential as a tool for meaningful change. It encourages civic participation and sociocultural involvement.
Haiku of the Wave is made possible by the collaboration of Save Your Dreams Ph, and the local residents of Rosario, Ternate, Bacoor, and Naic Cavite, and media partners Green Dreams of Generation, Pilipinas Journal, and with the support of cultural organizers, Climate Tracker Asia and Oxfam Philippines. To support this advocacy, you can message Save Your Dreams PH on Instagram.