Subjectivities regularly showcases the creative works of talented artists from across Southeast Asia. In this post, we feature a series of paintings by Federico “boyD” Dominguez, who hails from Mindanao in the Philippines. These paintings were inspired by boyD’s trip to Northern Thailand where he visited the Da-raang people of Palaung Village and Karen people of Dokdaeng Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The paintings are accompanied by the boyD’s statements on his works.
“Maz Cu Dof Auf Hkauw Pooz” (Take Only What You Need)
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Gouache on watercolor paper
34 X 70 inches
The painting is a composite and representational narrative painting about the two hill tribes, the Karen People and the Da-raang People living in Chiang Mai, the Northern part of Thailand. Both practise slash and burn agriculture and animistic rituals that reflect their relations with the spirit world and nature. They live near the forests or on the foothills.
The majority of the Karen People are Buddhists but they still practise several traditional rituals in farm- ing like the lujhti bo (translation: water ritual) which is depicted on the foreground of the painting (from the center to the right). Led by the hifhkof, a Karen spiritual leader, the ritual is performed during planting season near the source of water which flows into the agricultural lands and crops. It is done to appease the water spirit to make water flow properly into the cultivated lands.
When a child is born, the Karen people also perform the dei pautoof (translation: umbilical cord forest). The umbilical cord of a new-born child is either placed inside a bamboo tube and then tied to a tree trunk or buried amidst the shades of the tree near its trunk. The Karen people believe that once the umbilical cord is attached to the tree, the child will grow up having strong attachment to the people and the village. In addition, the forests where the umbilical cords are placed become sacred places. This birthing ceremony shows the infusion of both traditional practic- es and Buddhist ordination ritual.
In Dokdaeng Village, the creation of sacred places through rituals has been adapted by Karen indigenous people’s organizations, Buddhist monks, Christian priests and ad- vocates from the academe in their campaigns for environmental pro- tection, particularly of the forests. They call the ritual buad pa (trans- lation: sacred space or sacred plac- es) which incorporates elements of Buddhist ordination ritual, Chris- tian practices and animistic practic- es of the Karen people. The buad pa is performed in places where there are no umbilical cords on the trees. This practice is shown from the center to the left images foreground of the painting.
The image of a frog represents the water spirit and is considered as among the most sacred animals. One of the most important musi- cal/ritual instruments of the Kar- en people is the “Klo Oh Tra Oh” Frog Drum (English translation) which is a symbol of self-identi- ty. It is used to call all the spirits, especially the great spirit and also for driving away “Nat” bad spirits. There are four miniaturized images of a frog on the edge face of the bronze drum. On the face of the drum reflects the world view and images of the universe. Usually the Karen leaders or priests have the frog drums. The duck is also one of the most sacred animals because the Karen people believe that it will bring them to the afterlife.
The Palaung People or Da-raang people originally came from Bur- ma and arrived in Thailand in the 1980s. They were driven out of their ancestral homes in Burma due to the conversion of their traditional hunting grounds and agricultural lands into forest reserves and huge plantations by the Burmese govern- ment. As new settlers in Thailand, the government of Thailand has not recognized them as citizens. Be- cause of this situation, the Da-raang people are prone to human rights violations and do not have access to basic social services such as education, medical care, etc. Being stateless, the Da-raang people do not have enough lands to cultivate. To survive, the Da-raang people make handicrafts, work in the big plantations owned by the Thai or foreigners, or are hired as construc- tion workers. Some also perform their dances for the tourists.
On the extreme left and right side of my painting is my interpretation of their origin myth. As told, once upon a time there were seven pretty angels that came down to earth for a visit. One day, they decided
to take a bath in a beautiful serene lake. As they were enjoying the water, they did not notice that a hunter was nearby. Before they took notice of his presence, the hunter already captured one of the pretty angels. The other angels were able to escape and fly back to heaven where they came from. The hunter brought his captive to his prince as a gift, in return for an award. The Prince immediately fell in love with the angel and gave her much attention and wealth. For a long period of time, despite having many children, the angel continued to be very sad of what happened to her.
Time passed by and one night, the Queen Mother sympathized with the angel and gave back all her belongings, including her precious pair of wings. The angel immediate- ly flew back to heaven, her original abode, never to return. The Prince became sad, left all alone with their children and the memories of their life together. According to their creation story, the children of the Prince and angel became the de- scendants of the Da-raang People. This story is remembered through the design on their clothing. The glitters on their blouse represent the stars that symbolize their home in heaven. The belt that is made of vine symbolizes the trap that the hunter used to catch the angel. The silvery metallic belt symbolizes the things that were given to the captured angel by the prince. The beads of strings that adorn the arms of the blouse symbolize the pair of wings of the angel.
For me, what happened to the captured angel represents the con- temporary issues of the Da-raang people. Their children represent the tribe’s plight as a people from generations to generations—that is, they are still in captivity in the form of many issues and problems that they are experiencing.
“Taj hti Taj Tau” (The Absolute Being or the Great Spirit)
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Soft pastel on watercolour paper
15 X 20 inches
This work is my visual interpretation of Karen peoples’ belief that the “Ta hti Taj Tau” (the great spirit) owns the mountains, bodies of water (like the lakes, springs and creeks), and fire. The “Taj hti Taj Tau” is etched in the face of their most valuable possession, the “Klo oh tra oh” or the sacred frog drum.
“Ta Leow” (Charm)
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tempera (washed) on watercolor paper
15 X 20 inches
My visual interpretation of the “Ta leow”, a sacred para- phernalia used in many of the rituals performed by the Da-raang peoples. Made of sliced bamboo and fash- ioned into a star like item, the “Ta leow” is also hung in strategic parts of the Da-raang houses like the up- per portion of the main door, to ward off the “Nats” or bad spirits that are believed to bring sickness, miseries and misfortune.The seven spikes of the object resembles seven eyes of the spirits.
Federico Sulapas Dominguez aka boyD was born in the municipality of Maluko, Province of Bukidnon in Mindanao. He descended from the Tagalogs of Bulacan province in Luzon from his father’s side, to the Mandaya of Davao Oriental from his grandmother’s side, and natives of Surigao Del Norte from his mother’s side. He studied Architecture at the University of Mindanao and Fine Arts major in Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He currently works as a freelance graphic designer and art director, painter, illustrator and a member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP). He is married to Maria Teresa Cheng, an anthropologist and Community Development worker with three children, Rio Amir (Tsino), Montana Amir (Bubay) and Brisa Amir (Kimod). He currently resides in Krus na Ligas, Quezon City. He is also a recipient of the Asian Public Intellectual (API) Fellowship 2013-2014.