Potri bursts into the kitchen where her grandmother Rimparac is preparing dinner. Potri is an athletic and attractive 16-year-old college freshman, while Rimparac is a 72-year-old woman.
Potri: That's it! Just as I thought! Now, all of them are happy. They want me to marry anybody who can afford my dowry. Grandmother, you must help me! I don't want to get married.
These are the opening lines of the play, 'Kiatukuwan' (Revealed) - performed by the all-Maranao theatre group Odiata, which means 'dialogue' or 'deep discussion'. It is the story of three Maranao women of different generations struggling to make sense of their lives - balancing culture and religion with their own present situation. One of them is the defiant Potri, who sees herself a contemporary woman all set to conquer the world.
The Maranao people, a Filipino ethnic group, are from Mindanao, a predominantly Muslim region. They make their living by making traditional artworks, wood and metal craft. According to tradition, elite Maranao women were once kept in special chambers or 'lamin' before marriage, and presented regally at the wedding ceremony. Being kept in the 'lamin' may have contributed to Potri's rebellious nature. She recoils at the thought of being clothed and adorned with jewellery to magnify her beauty and nobility and, therefore, her marketability as a bride. Boxed in by such rules, Potri is now pushed by her unwanted marriage to put up her own rules against the dowry.
Potri's impending marriage prompts her grandmother Rimparac to confess that her own forced marriage, to which she agreed in order to save the family, had failed. The confession encourages Potri to challenge her mother Bolawan's pretence that peace and wealth reigned in the family.
The confrontation between the three women triggers a funny mix of revelations, conflicts and crises. Mixing humor and misfortune, Kiatukawan represents the real life dilemmas faced by Filipino women today. Sittie Jehanne Mutin-Mapupuno, the playwright-director and the force behind Odiata, dramatises her understanding of the impact of oppression on women, as well as that of the machinery of oppression, such as dowry and other social conventions. In essence, she illustrates the link between the development of the individual and her political self-determination; it reaffirms that 'the personal is also political'.
The play runs the risk of creating a controversy, especially among the conservatives. But controversies have always been a vital element in the process of change. Kiatukawan could very well be the first play to be written and directed by a Maranao woman in the Maranao language, one woman - at the very least, gained confidence in being what she is.
But Mutin-Mapupuno is not alone. Theatre group Sigay, comprising women from the Kagan community, is challenging traditional notions of sexuality.
When Sigay was casting for its play 'Pasaya' (Beloved), it decided that a woman would play the role of Casil, the husband. This was in keeping with the mores of Islam, which prohibited a man and woman who are not husband and wife to play roles that displayed intimacy. It was also the reversal of something that was done in theatre productions in the West where men dressed up as women to play female roles.
However, at some point in the rehearsal of 'Pasaya', an interesting development took place. The Kagan women decided that Casil would be played by a man. And so, during the premiere performance of the play in December 2005 - in a fishing farm in the tiny village of Piso in Banaybanay, Davao Oriental's rice granary - it was a man who played Casil. Sigay found a Muslim male who agreed to play the role in spite of the religious prohibition. Even the theme of the play - spousal abuse of women - challenged societal norms.
Most significantly, the play initiated a process of change in the Kagan women's consciousness. The actors found their own ideas on sexuality being challenged during the course of the rehearsals.
Though, defying religion, they cast a male in the role of the husband, they made it a point that 'husband' and 'wife' would not as much as touch one another in the duration of the play. While the Kagan women did challenge the religious precepts of their predominantly Muslim community, they were not willing to overtly disobey a religious norm. If anything, this makes an even more poignant statement on the emerging equation between religion, theatre and the community.