What immediately caught my interest was the word “Busong”. It has a special place and meaning in my culture. In Orang Suluk or Tau Sug, it means retribution, a curse, or divine punishment for people’s disrespect of their tradition, culture, and ancient belief.
In the Malay world, the word refers to an edema believed to be caused by a curse from someone’s ancestors. It is often associated with black magic. To cure someone with “busung”, a shaman has to be called to recite some chants or administer treatment.
I found my seat at the middle of the cinema. I forgot what number it was. Inside, the air conditioner was blowing cold air like the Arctic. I was shivering, but I decided not to mind the cold. It was my fault anyway for not bringing a sweater or jacket.
When the film was about to roll, they dimmed all the lights inside the cinema. The big screen in front of me started to come alive. As if on cue, everyone immediately became quiet. I couldn’t hear a single sound from anyone’s lips. In my tiny space I relaxed quietly, my eyes focused on the screen. I didn’t want to miss any single bit.
Busong tells the story of a girl named Punay (played by Filipina actress Alessandra de Rossi) who was born with mysterious wounds all over her body and whose feet had wounds so raw they keep her from walking. Her brother, Angkarang, carries her around, and together they roam the island in search for a cure. Along the way, they meet three people. Each of them also had their own sad stories to tell.
Busong’s storytelling is slow-paced, almost lyrical you’d feel like watching a poem unraveling itself on reel. And in the backdrop you’ll find Palawan. So mysterious, so unbelievably beautiful it makes you wonder if such a place really exists.
Busong’s director is an internationally acclaimed, multi-awarded filmmaker from Palawan. I was only introduced to him less than an hour before. But he didn’t seem to be a stranger to me at all. He told me that in Palawan, his tribal name means the ‘hunter of truth’. I also found out when I researched online later that it means ‘hit it with a powerful pierce’ in Malay, Indian and Tagalog.
In a way, the film is like the director’s name, capturing your interest at first and then hitting you next with the powerful truth.
I didn’t know until I was told that he was actually Aureus Solito, the director of the multi-awarded film Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. That film was one of the wittiest, most astounding I’ve seen in 2005.
Busong is similarly astounding, but in a different way. In Busong, you’ll smile, get angry, and maybe cry at the same time.
Busong is not just the story of Punay and the people she and her brother meet while looking for a cure. It is also about Palawan, a land that is now in danger of dying because of people’s abuses. Busong is a silent protest over massive destruction of the environment, of people’s ancestral lands, and of native culture in Palawan, which, according to Punay, is a mountain that, like her, is bleeding and in pain. Thus the film is a warning to natives that if they don’t resist cultural invasion, they will be cursed by their ancestors accordingly.
Palawan’s predicament is not unique, as it happens to most places touched by colonialists. Once colonialists come in, they don’t just rob people of lands; they also strip and crush native culture, replacing it with their own.
The beauty of the film is not only in the big things, but also in the tiny details, such as that line from a man who says his pain has become too big it has grown enormous like the sun. The touching way in which he delivered this explains the gravity of his emotions. Even a person who isn’t familiar with the plight of natives in Palawan will understand.
I wasn’t very surprised that the cinema was almost filled during the screening. Everyone seemed to have connected with the place and the characters. Perhaps most everyone understood that Palawanons are interconnected with Sabahans in many ways--by culture, by ancient beliefs, by a shared sea and ancestors.
Watching the film, I felt myself immerse inside Punay’s and her brother’s world. Everything I saw reminded me to always keep myself intact and deeply connected to my origin and identity.
I love you, peace. Let’s sail together. Layag Sug!