What makes Brillante Mendoza’s Manoro (2006) interesting is its concept of “The Teacher”. It is obvious that a teacher needs to be trained and qualified enough to have a Teaching Degree in order to be recognized as “teacher”. It is also obvious that teacher should be a person wiser and older in terms of knowledge and experiences. The mainstream image of a teacher is broken and stripped off its usual positions by Mendoza in his making of Manoro.
Just like his other world-renown films, Mendoza strives to place ordinary personalities into extraordinary situations then let the twists narrate the insight of that story. For Manoro, Jonalyn–a ordinary Aeta girl who was just fresh from elementary graduation, was highly admired by the fellow Aetas for her literary skill, which was relatively competitive for the community’s average level of literacy. She seemed to be the only hope for the people to exercise their right to vote for the upcoming election. By participating in the literacy seminars, Jonalyn took on her mission to teach not only young children of the community but also the middle-aged and elderly the basic skills of writing and reading.
The film transcends the stereotypical contexts of teaching-learning by elevating itself from the site of classrooms into the poor village of the Aeta as well as the vast range of Mt. Pinatubo’s forests. While the film mainly focus on an inexperienced teenage girl trying her best to teach more experienced adults of the community how to read and write, as it goes on, Manoro starts to reveal a more complex net of meanings that govern the relationships between the young teacher and her “students”. By questioning who the teacher is in Manoro, we experienced the complex realities in every of Mendoza’s films: At one layer, it seems to be Jonalyn with her ambition to educate her people in a semi-formal teaching method. At another layer, it seems to be the Aeta elderly to educate Jonalyn informally about their own cultures.
There’s a lot of honesty in my films…they [the audience] can see and they would know that I’m speaking the truth. I don’t cover up. (Mendoza, as cited in Paragas, 2013)
Without being in a classroom or possessing a Teaching Degree, Jonalyn pursued her mission as a proud young teacher whenever and wherever she could. At home, she taught her younger brothers numeracy during meals as well as got to be relied on by her parents to check on their writings. Outside the home, she also taught the village elderly with a handy blackboard. Although the content was very basic, just as her level, Jonalyn was very serious and urging in her job. She was particularly strict when her mother could not read the letters properly. What’s more, the young teacher constantly insisted on people practice to perfect their writing and attend the election. Jonalyn was even more determined, rather than upset, when she found out that her Abong Bisen (grandfather) had not returned home from hunting. She decided to walk to the mountain with his father to “fetch him home” for the election.
Jonalyn’s teaching method resembles the usual way of teaching we see in classes everywhere in the world–which is the reason why I call it semi-formal education. Jonalyn appeared to be the centre of knowledge, the only source of skills of which most people are considered lack. In the midst of new knowledge [literacy], the older Aeta generation began to stumble on such topic that is “completely alien to their existential experiences” (Freire, 1970, p.52) and count on Jonalyn as “teacher”. In this way of teaching, the teacher therefore does not need to be old and experienced as long as he/she can pass on his/her knowledge. This detachment between knowledge and social experiences created a feeling of “absolute ignorance” (p.53) among the community members and justified Jonalyn’s position as a teacher. Jonalyn suddenly became the representative of hope and new ideology in the midst of an emerging modern economic and political atmosphere of the Philippines. It is no doubt that, in her role as a teacher, Jonalyn considers literacy and her people’s capability to vote as of a matter of significance.
However, to some others, especially Jonalyn’s grandfather, this is not necessarily the case. To him, being able to hunt and throw a feast for his community members was more important. And in the end, by asserting that refusal to vote did not make him lesser a person, Abong Bisen seems to imply a lesson of whether what is more important to his community. Together with Abong Bisen, elderly appearing throughout the movie, symbolize a different class of “teachers”–as cultural conservers. They conducted their teaching through informal daily interactions. And what had been taught were the traditional songs as well as the respect for Apo Namalyari–in general, the traditional culture.
This way of teaching is different. It relies on social experiences as the core of teaching. People with more experiences informally educate younger people. This seemingly unconventional way of education is in fact not unfamiliar at all in many tribal societies like the Aeta. Paulo (as cited in Maybury-Lewis, 1992), member of the indigenous Xavante from Brazil, asserts that:
Now I’m one of the mature men but I’m not one of the elders. The elders are still teaching us. Later when the elders have passed on, we will be the elders and we will be the ones who will do the teaching. But we’re not ready for that yet. I’m still learning. (p.138)
Jonalyn is hence regarded as a student, an inheritor of Aeta tradition. The deeper she walks into the forest, the more she immerses herself into the cultural atmosphere of the community: Jonalyn enjoyed the melodies played by the elderly with their musical instruments, practiced praying and paying respect toward the God of Mountain, ate lunch with the people and communicated with them. These were all informal activities of learning to become an Aeta.
The answer is hardly satisfying when it comes to the question: Who is the teacher in Manoro? It all depends on what kind of content is taught, who is more knowledgeable and what method of teaching it is that we need to take into consideration. Nevertheless, a clear pattern we could deduce from this net of complexity is the opposition of two different kinds of existing knowledge systems–formal schooling and traditional wisdom.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Academic: New York.
Mayburi-Lewis, D. (1992). Millennium: Tribal wisdom and the modern world. Viking Penguin: New York.
Paragas, D. (2013). The brilliance that is Brillante. Style RPA. Retrieved July 11, 2013 from here