Artist Club
Lost youth on canvas
(by Sherma E. Benosa (Manila Times)  9/10/2009)

When I saw Eli Avellanoza’s painting and digital renditions of traditional Filipino games on his website several months back, I recognized myself in them at once. Between the playful colors and over and beneath his fluid strokes, I could see fragments of my childhood and hear the laughter of my youth.

I did not even have to look at the paintings’ titles. I knew them by heart. Sungka, luksong tinik, luksong baka, patintero, siatong, sipa—I played them all as a young child.

Filipino symbols

Avellanoza, a painter cum digital artist whose works are mainly on Filipino symbols like kudkuran (coconut grater) and banga (pot), started drawing as a young child, but it was only when he joined the Samahang Makasining when he was still a second year agriculture student at Central Luzon State University (CLSU) that he turned to painting. Samahang Makasining is a school-based organization of visual artists in CLSU in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija. “I want my artworks to be very Filipino,” he shares.

When Elito Circa, then chairman of the association, invited him to join an exhibit about traditional games, he was sort of “forced to paint those kinds of subjects.” But then, while on the exhibit, he started having a change of heart. “I realized that I should continue doing those kinds of paintings because [painting about our traditional games] is a form of preserving them. I also want to promote and create awareness on our traditional games. Many kids no longer know about them, especially those born in the digital age,” he shares.

Eli has been inactive for two years, but he now plans to have a comeback. This time, he plans not only to work on traditional games but also traditional toys like the tirador (slingshot) and the sumpak. He has done a digital rendition of a toy he played as a child, trak-trakan (car toy made of tin cans), and is now working on sketches related to the subjects he plans to work on in preparation for his planned comeback in the arts scene.

“I realized that traditional games are a reflection of my childhood so I’ve made it my personal commitment as an artist to continue working about them. It makes me feel young because my paintings send me back to my childhood.”

The games we played

Our traditional games form part of our national heritage. They give a glimpse of who we are as a people. They mirror the lives of our ancestors and, for those of us who were lucky to have played some of those games in our childhood, they give us a connection to traditions of old.

But besides being a form of entertainment, traditional games had a socializing role in the Filipino community. According to Armando Malay, one of the first Filipinos to document traditional games in the country through his book Games of the Philippines, “Filipinos like to play games, one index to their sociability. Games bring members of the family together after their respective chores have been done in the neighborhood; they strengthen the ties that bind families.”

Traditional games also allowed parents of very young children to attend to their chores because they did not have to spend lots of time tending to their children. Maximo Ramos, in his book The Games Children Used to Play has this to say: “What kept our parents’ nursery budget at bottom level was that we were our own babysitters, expertly amusing ourselves with pastimes of our own devising.”

But more than just their practical benefits, traditional games also serve as a national identity. This was best articulated by Circa: “Traditional games are a symbol of the race that plays it. They are our national identity. They mold artistic minds and hearts.”

Preserving the games of our childhood

But our traditional games are slowly getting lost. As today’s kids are becoming more and more adept with technology, spending more time with their electronic gadgets and even getting their own accounts in social networking sites, the less they are able to play outdoors. And as there are now more fancy toys in the market, the less they are able to enjoy the games that their elders played in their youth. Many of today’s children don’t even get to make their own toys anymore.

But the loss did not just come as a result of modern technology. The popularity of many of the country’s traditional games has been diminishing even decades ago. In her book A Study of Philippine Games, Mellie Leandicho Lopez has quoted E. Arsenio Manuel as repeatedly lamenting in his series on traditional games published in Sunday Mirror Magazine from 1960 to 1961 that “Philippine games are disappearing.”

Bent on preserving our traditional games, Samahang Makasining which used to be headed by Circa thought of reviving the country’s traditional games through visual arts. True to its main advocacy of cultural redemption through the arts, the association proposed to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in 2001 a project that was envisioned to help revive the country’s traditional games. The project was named ‘Laro ng Lahi.’ Since the approval of the project and its successful implementation, the catch phrase ‘Laro ng Lahi’ has been adapted by many organizations with youth-oriented projects to refer to the country’s traditional games.

Thus, using traditional games as painting subjects has proliferated. These paintings serve as promotional messages as well as a documentation of the country’s traditional games. While they are effective, Circa suggests that more should be done. “We must also introduce traditional Filipino games for the whole world to appreciate . . . games that will be played alongside popular foreign games.”

Source: Manila Times (

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