Guardians of Tradition: The Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan [Review]

by Mae Astrid Tobias, Rommel E. Joson (Illustrator), Renato S. Rastrollo

Guardians of Tradition: The Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (2012, Adarna House) is the first local non-fiction children’s book I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing. I have a two-year-old daughter who I am raising to be a reader, and so I thought it would be a good idea to include non-fiction books in her budding library, starting with this one.

After the very short time it took me to read it, I realized that Guardians of Tradition is a very wonderful and informative book that every Filipino child should have and read. In this day and age when technology has become so integrated in our everyday lives, when children – toddlers barely out of their diapers, even – lug around gadgets and tinker with electronic devices in their waking hours, it is remarkable to see a child who enjoys books and reading more than shuffling through his or her parents’ tablet or mobile phone. Not that there is a scarcity of reading materials for the child to devour; bookstores are chock-full of books for children of all ages to choose from. But to actually have a book that talks about the Filipino culture, with the aim of preserving age-old arts and traditions, and to write it in a way that it would cater and appeal to the young ones, is so refreshingly brilliant.

Guardians of Tradition is basically about the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GaMaBa), an award bequeathed by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), as empowered by Republic Act No. 7355, to select Filipinos who have, through the years, kept their respective traditional arts alive through consistent practice. The text, as crafted by (the late) Mae Astrid Tobias, is simple enough that a child would be able to understand and appreciate it fully. The photos of the awardees accompany the text and give the young reader an idea of how these exceptional Filipinos look like, and the illustrations of the boy Kiko and his Philippine eagle friend, Banog, make the work more child-friendly. I am imagining that kids who are of school age – pre-school to grade school – would be able to understand the book more than, say, my daughter who is only two years old, but I don’t think it would hurt either to introduce them to the Filipino culture as early as their parents can.

The information contained in this work is invaluable in the preservation of the Filipino arts. Before reading it, I wasn't even aware, myself, that these arts exist - more so, that there are individuals who have been doing it their entire lives, and are therefore masters at it. I am amazed at the richness of the Filipino culture, and I admire these GaMaBa awardees for their passion.

My favorite feature of this novel work is the fact that it is interactive: after almost every entry about a particular GaMaBa awardee, there is a fun activity that the child and the parent can work on together, which is related to the art perpetuated by the said awardee. For example, in the entry about Samaon Sulaiman, recognized for his expertise in playing the kutyapi (two-stringed lute), the activity involves the creation of the child's own kutyapi using materials that can be readily seen around the house, such as an old shoebox and rubber bands. In the entry about Hadja Amina Appi, a Sama woman from Tawi-Tawi who weaves mats from pandan leaves, the activity requires strips of paper and glue for the child and the parent to create their own miniature mat. The inclusion of these simple activities makes reading the book not only fun, but it also creates ways for the child and the parent to have a few more minutes of bonding time.

As a parent and as a Filipino, I highly recommend that every Filipino parent get their child/children a copy of this book. It will not only preserve Philippine culture and tradition through knowledge dissemination, but it will also increase awareness on the part of the young readers about these traditions that are distinctly our own. For, truly, these outstanding artists are an inspiration to every Filipino – young and old alike.

Rating: ★★★★★
Book Details: Complimentary review copy from the publisher, with a lovely CD recording of the music of Manlilikha ng Bayan Samaon Sulaiman, courtesy of NCCA


About the Book:
Who are the indigenous and folk artists of the Philippines? Guardians of Tradition is full of facts about 11 of Philippine master weavers, folk musicians, performing artists, mat weavers and metal smiths whose talents and skills have earned them the title Manlilikha ng Bayan. Designed to help children recognize native Filipino ingenuity and creativity, the book includes fun activities to promote appreciation for culture and arts. Guardians of Tradition has a fun and colorful design that appeals to young readers.

For the duration of the Guardians of Tradition Blog Tour, Guardians of Tradition is available at discounted prize at the Adarna showroom in Scout Torillo corner Scout Fernandez Streets, Barangay Sacred Heart, Quezon City 1103 Philippines (Trunkline: (632) 352-6765, Fax: (632) 352-6765 local 125, Email Address:

For international readers and Filipinos abroad, an ebook version is coming soon. To order paperback copies online, visit this page.

Author Bio:
MAE ASTRID TOBIAS (1979-2009) was a Palanca-award winning author of children's books. In addition to Guardians of Tradition, her books include Blue Bananas (Crucible), Bayong ng Kuting (Lampara Books), My Forest Friends (Haribon), Bakawan (Adarna Books) and two books retelling the Ifugao traditional chant, hudhud. These are Halikpon: A Retelling of an Ancient Ifugao Chant and Pumbakhayon: An Origin Myth of the Ifugao Hudhud. Both are finalists for children’s literature and best design in the 2006 National Book Awards of the Manila Critics Circle.

She also spent several years in the field of children’s television. She served as the Manila Bureau Manager of Kabataan News Network, a project of UNICEF and Probe Media Foundation that trains young people nationwide how to produce their own broadcast quality documentaries. She also also wrote episodes for children shows like Sirit!, and ABS-CBN and Eskuwela ng Bayan, as well as worked for Philippine Junior Inquirer and Shell Foundation. She was a member of Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting (KUTING), an organization of Filipino writers for children.

Illustrator Bio:
ROMMEL JOSON is a painter and an illustrator. He graduated magna cum laude and College Valedictorian from the University of Philippines College of Fine Arts. He was also a Merit Scholar and a recipient of the Dean's Awards for Visual Awards from the Ateneo de Manila University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management. He worked in the advertising industry for several years before devoting his time fully to painting and illustration. He has received awards and citations for painting, illustration, comics, and design from various organizations such as the Philippine Board of Books for Young People (Honorable Mention), the Shell National Art Competition (3rd Place Oil/Acrylic Category), the Neil Gaiman/Fully Booked Graphic Fiction Competition (3rd Place in the Graphic Fiction category), the Adobo Design Awards (Silver) and the Philippine Araw Awards (Silver in Art Direction) and the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence Competition (Semifinalist in Oil). He is currently an active member of Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK).

Photographer Bio:
RENATO S. RASTROLLO, is a photographer, graphic artist, book and exhibit designer. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts major in Advertising from the Philippine Women’s University. With over 25 years of experience in the field of documentary photography, his works have appeared in national and international publications. Presently, he is a culture and arts officer at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

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