by: Ma. Christina Perez
"Isinay" is derived from the prefix "i" meaning "native, resident, people of" and
"sinai," a place believed to have been inhabited by the early people of northern
Luzon. Isinay refers to a group of people who in the pre-Spanish period were
considered homogenous and who occupied the present-day area of Nueva Vizcaya.
Today, the Isinay inhabit three municipalities of that province: Dupax del Sur,
Aritao, and Bambang. These areas are bounded by Quirino and Aurora on the east,
Nueva Ecija on the south, Pangasinan and Benguet on the west, and the Nueva
Ecija on the south, Pangasinan and Benguet on the west, and the Nueva Vizcayan municipalities
of Bayombong, Quezon, and Ambaguio on the north.
These areas are generally mountainous with elevations rising as high as 1,500 m (Census 1975:xix). Timber resources and vast virgin forests occupy the eastern portion. During the Spanish period, the Ilocano and other outsiders migrated to this area. The 1975 Census of the Philippines shows that the Ilocano-speaking people have now dominated several places in Nueva Vizcaya. In Dupax del Sur, there are 3,959 Ilocano residents as against 2,865 Isinay; in Bambang, 19,903 Ilocano against 1,769 Isinay; in Aritao, 16,372 Ilocano against 200 Isinay. Constantino (1982) reports a solid Isinay population in Kayapa. Of the 5,664 native speakers, those that are not found in Nueva Vizcaya are distributed in the various areas of Metro Manila.
Isinay as a language has three variants spoken in the three municipalities of Nueva Vizcaya (Constantino 1982:4). The Isinay dialects spoken in Dupax del Sur and Aritao differ primarily in a few lexical items. The differences of these two dialects with that of the Bambang dialect are phonological and lexical. The Isinay language used in formal writing is based on the Dupax del Sur dialect.
Physically, Isinays are predominantly a Malay blend but with a high percentage of short peo-ple, fair complexioned, with rounded big eyes, natural hair, high cheek bones, well shaped nose and widened lips. Women are physically more buxom than men.
Isinays are known to be religious people. Often they are religious leader in the commu-nity, observing the daily oracion and pasyon during the holy week. Many of the Isinays so-cial customs are quite distinctive. They are mark-edly conservative and adhere to the old and prac-tices. An evidence of this is their stern disap-proval of inter-marriages between members of their tribe and neighboring folk (especially the Ilocanos). With regards to the custom on preg-nancy and childbirth, meticulous care is taken to insure the welfare of a women during the period of pregnancy, pansisipe. A lot of do's and dont's are strictly followed especially after giving birth. For a example, the woman is ad-vised not to take a bath for ten days, and care-fully selects the food she will eat-lest the young born child will be affected.
With regards to the Isinays socio-economic activities, 80% of their sustenance is derived from agriculture. They harvest twice a year and plant vegetables in between seasons. 5% are fisherman who just rely on fishing in the river. They use their old way of catching fish like tabuu (using net), panipit (using bamboos) and manual ways of catching fish. 5% are carpenters and laborers, 5% are raising animals like pigs and broiler chickens. As for the middle class Isinays, they manage their own ranches and raise their carabaos for market.
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In 1572, one year after the capture of Manila, the Spaniards entered Cagayan Valley on the north coast. The Spanish conquistadores made contacts with the natives of the region whose major economic activities were agriculture, fishing, and domestication of animals (Casino 1982:140). Those that settled in the coastal areas were skillful boat makers. Some Isinay traded with the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Borneans.
As in other towns colonized by the Spaniards, the encomienda system and forced tribute
were established in Isinay territories. As may be expected, these moves were
met with valiant resistance. To this the Spaniards responded promptly and harshly
by beheading some of the natives, exiling others to Mexico, and sentencing
the people to forced labor. By 1600 the Spaniards had successfully established
their foothold in the region by setting up 50 encomiendas centered on 12 mission
centers administered by the Dominicans.
The conversion of the Isinay to Christianity was not an easy task. The Spaniards were greeted with fierce attacks, resistance, especially from the wilder tribes occupying the central and innermost portion of the Cagayan Valley. In their work of evangelization, the Dominicans coming mostly from Pangasinan solicited the support of the Augustinians from Pampanga and the Franciscans from the Tayabas missions. To make it easier for these missionaries to control the area, the upper valley, the Isinay homeland included, was separated from the lower. The upper valley became Nueva Vizcaya (Casiņo 1982:142). Soon the Isinay were "reduced" like the Isneg, the Itawes, the Kalinga, the Ibanag, and the Gaddang who had been previously settled in rancherias or settlements or in larger pueblos.
As in the rest of the Cagayan Valley, the economic activities of the Isinay during the early colonial period consisted of hunting, farming, and trading. They produced taro, yam, rice, and corn. Such was the fertility of the land that the valley became the practical choice of the Spaniards to establish the tobacco monopoly, which began in 1781 and lasted for nearly a century.
But the high quality of tobacco produced in this region was not translated into economic upliftment of the people, who were prohibited from planting food crops for their own subsistence. Guards and clerks were employed to implement strict rules and regulations. Payments were delayed and substandard tobacco leaves were burned. The long and risky trail towards Cagayan Valley isolated the area from Manila and Central Luzon, which further resulted in underpopulation of that area. As early as 1850, the Ilocano started to immigrate into the valley.
It was not only the Spaniards who were satisfied with the tobacco production of the valley. During the American period, tobacco from Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya gained official recognition from the American government and was classed as standard. To support this industry, the Americans also allowed more immigrations of Ilocano into the valley. These immigrations continued, especially after WWII.
Today, there are four highways linking the valley to the rest of Luzon (Casiņo 1982:145). Improved transportation and communication facilities help the people transport their goods to different parts of the region. Tobacco continues to be a major agricultural product. Today, however, Cagayan Valley has become one of the most important centers of the logging industry. Nueva Vizcaya, which has 19 sawmills, has become one of the leading timber producers of Luzon. Likewise, greater mining activity, led by the Acoje Mining Company, contributed greatly to the industrialization and urbanization of Nueva Vizcaya.
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During the pre-Hispanic period, the Isinay in Dupax del Sur planted seeds in individually owned seedbeds in the latter part of July or first week of August; plowing of the rice fields began in August; and transplanting in late September or early October. Men, women, and children used a sharpened stick to make holes into which the rice seedlings were transplanted manually. After transplanting, walls in the fields called tan-nang were built. Fields were flooded with water for four to five months. To guard their plants from tulin (brown rice birds) and dama (black rice birds), they put up scarecrows called tinahutahu. A variation of the tinahutahu was the owu characterized by its rattling sound similar to the Benguet clappers.
For harvesting, the Isinay used a rice knife called ganilang to cut the rice stalks. Each harvester tied his/her own bundles of rice plant referred to as sim botoh and would leave them in the fields to dry for about three weeks. These then were stacked in conical piles and were left there for a month before bringing them to the e-ang or granary.
During the Spanish period, lands which had hitherto been allocated for food crops were transformed into tobacco producing farm fields until the Cagayan Valley including Nueva Vizcaya became the leading producers of high quality tobacco. Today, the Isinay's main economic activity is agriculture. They produce more rice than they need. They also cultivate sweet potato and cassava to add to their carbohydrate requirements. Vegetables are harvested and are sold in the Baguio market. Poultry and piggery remain as secondary occupations while hunting serves as a casual occupation, particularly among groups close to the forested areas. The Isinay also raise cattle and goats for their protein needs. Tobacco cultivation is still important to the economy of the region. Added to this, Nueva Vizcaya caters to timber requirements of the local building industry and to the export of plywood. While logging has brought untold wealth to some, it has denuded what were once virgin forests and caused ecological imbalance.
The local industries involved in community, social, and personal services tend to concentrate on three areas: education, personal and household services, and public administration and defense (Census 1980:XXIX). Workers in the manufacturing industry are mostly engaged in the manufacture of wood and wood products. textile, wearing apparel and leather, food beverages, and tobacco.
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As a result of the Spanish policy of attraction which encouraged the natives to live around the plaza complex, much of Isinay culture was lost because of acculturation. This is evident in the absence of native terms for traditional leaders and structures of governance, except for the word pangilu, which is equivalent to president.
Today, under the presidential system of government, the political affairs in the 15 municipalities of Nueva Vizcaya, including the municipalities of Aritao, Bambang, and Dupax del Sur where most of the Isinay live, are carried out by three of the four types of local government units (Philippine Yearbook 1989:70-73). These local government units are supervised by the Department of Interior and Local Government.
The barangay is the basic unit of government. It consists of not less than 1,000 inhabitants residing within the territorial limit of a municipality, administered by elective officials headed by a punong barangay. The barangay serves as a primary vehicle of the national government for the delivery of goods and services at the community level.
The municipality is an aggrupation of a number of barangays and is a subsidiary of the province. One of these municipalities is the seat of the provincial government found at the town proper or poblacion. The municipal government has two types of officials: the elective, which include the municipal mayor, the vice-mayor and the Sangguniang Bayan members; and the appointive, which include the municipal secretary, treasurer, assessor, budget officer, and a planning and development coordinator.
The largest governmental unit is the province. The province of Nueva Vizcaya has 15 municipalities in its jurisdiction. Officials of the provincial government are the governor, the vice-governor and the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan who are elected, and the following appointed officers: provincial secretary, treasurer, assessor, budget officer, engineer, agriculturist, and a planning and development coordinator.
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Social Organization and Customs
Customs of the early Isinay concerning marriage reflect their high regard for elders. Parents were responsible for choosing spouses for their children. There were times when parents entered into child betrothals even before their children were born. This practice was called the purung. The announcement of the purung was accompanied by a ritual attended by parents, relatives, and friends. In this gathering, guests would offer a prayer to the souls of the dead relatives of their host. Food such as rice wine, rice cake, and meat were served to the people. After eating, the agreement was revealed to everyone. This public announcement was done so that whoever backed out of the agreement would be required to shoulder all the expenses incurred on the day of the purung.
BLANKET. This detail of a blanket woven by the Isinay, reveals kinship with the Cordillera
groups. The design was produced by the tie-dye method called ues pinutuan.
(Galang 1935, Philippine Journal of Science, National Library Collection)
Like other tribal groups, the Isinay followed elaborate procedures for a marriage (Constantino 1982:300). The first stage was the sending of a letter called patayav to the girl's parents expressing the intent of the man to marry their daughter. This patayav was wrapped in a white embroidered handkerchief together with betel nut chew, cigarettes, tobacco, and wine. It was delivered by a couple chosen for their ability to convince people and for their willingness to
to accept the responsibility of advising the couple to be married.
In the girl's house, the patayav was opened and read as those present partook of the wine, the cigarettes or tobacco, and the betel nut chew. The girl's parents discussed between them and their relatives whether or not to accept the proposal. If they accepted, matters concerning the laar, the ritual where the marriage proposal was formalized, were decided, such as the food to be served to the guests, the albasyadores (go-betweens) of the two parties, and the date of the laar. The laar was always done at night to ensure the availability of the guests.
On the day of the laar, the albasyadores of both parties dominated the entire proceedings. First, they paid their respects to the hosts. Next, a few prayers (one "Our Father" and one "Hail Mary") were offered to the souls of the relatives of both parties. Then, the albasyador proceeded to express the love of the man he represented a statement which opened the discussion between the albasyadores. There were times when the man himself was asked to speak but he was properly coached by his albasyador. In this meeting, the participants outlined the details of the wedding and the wedding festivities. The man had two options. He could offer a dowry which consisted of a house and lot, a piece of farmland, a carabao, and some amount of money. If he could not afford this, he could render service for some months or even years before the marriage. On every holiday and feast day during this period, the man had to give presents to the girl. Aside from the dowry or service, the man's party was expected to provide the wedding accessories of the girl, which included an umbrella, jewelry (like earrings, necklaces and rings), and the clothes to be worn after the wedding.
The 15 days before the wedding was called the pavatar. During this petiod, the couple went to the priest or the judge to apply for a marriage license. The priest also saw to it that the couple were both baptized in the same church. On the day before the wedding, the couple went to church to confess their sins. Meanwhile, preparations were made for the wedding festivities, such as building temporary sheds and cooking the food; the gifts agreed upon by the man's party during the laar were delivered to the girl's house.
One distinct feature of the Isinay wedding ritual were the musicians hired to accompany the couple from the house to the church, to play the march music from the church door to the altar, and to accompany the newlyweds back to the wedding festivities at the girl's house.
Upon arrival in the house, the bride and groom were welcomed by guests with showers of rice, flowers and coins. The couple then proceeded to the house altar to pray, while the guests sang the Salve. After prayers, the couple danced, so that others may follow. Food was served. After eating, the paragala or the offering of financial help were given to the couples as they danced the inbestida. A paratagay was assigned to pour wine for each donors. Then all the gifts were collected and wrapped in one bundle, which the newlyweds then carried on their heads while performing the final dance.
Of the old Isinay marriage practices, only the inbestida or the dance of the couple after the wedding ceremonies and the paragala or the gift giving by the relatives and guests are still observed. The other practices are now rarely followed (Constantino 1982:9).
In earlier times, during the wake of a dead husband, the widowed wife covered her head with black cloth and sat on the floor, always facing a corner of the house (Constantino 1982:330). She ate in a coconut shell and slept on a chopping board as pillow. She did not get up from her bed until everyone in the house had risen.
The day after the burial was called the day of the bath. On this day, all the relatives and friends of the dead person went to the river. As the people left the house, they sprinkled ashes by the door, so that they may see the footprints of the spirit of the dead that would accompany them to the river. The widow was the last to take a bath and as she went down to the water, she removed all her clothes and allowed the current to carry these away.
On the night following the day of the bath, the nine-day prayer offering began. The ninth night was called asiyam. The following morning, the widow and her children started to wear black clothes and would do so for one whole year. Children would put on black necklaces to prevent the spirits from affecting them.
Today, the following practices are still followed: the use of the paldas (black cloth) to cover the head of the widow; the prayer novena; the festivities of the asiyam; the cleansing bath called omos; and the pangipas or removal of the black cloth covering the head or arms (Constantino 1982:9).
FOREST DWELLER. This lone habitation, cogon roofed, cane-and-palm-leaf sided, was
photographed in the forest east of Dupax. Nueva Viscaya in the 1920s. (National
Archives of Washington DC, GCF Books Collection)
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Religious Beliefs and Practices
Before their conversion to Christianity, the Isinay believed in spirits which inhabited their material and spiritual worlds. But unlike many other tribal groups, whose spirits were invisible, some of the Isinay spirits could actually be seen.
Otley Beyer mentioned several Isinay spirits that were believed to inflict harm on the people. The banix, the spirit equivalent to the karangat of the Gaddang, appeared in different forms: as a ball, as a jar, or as a headless man rolling on the ground. An Isinay would avoid looking a banix in the face, as this could cause a man's death. Looking at the banix could also make one's hair stand on end, make one's face turn white, and cause the body to tremble and the legs to weaken. The itirong looked like a human being but had a long tail. It fought with people and ate the bodies of its victims. The spirit called bruka appeared with red skin and in red clothing. It possessed a man/woman or took the form of a human being as a disguise to eat its victim. The mangkokolam, like the asuang of the Gaddang, was a spirit which looked like a human being with cat's eyes. It had a thin, hairlike tongue which was very long and which was thrust into the victim's bodies to eat its livers.
The Christianized Isinay of today believe in life after death-the good souls go to heaven while the bad souls go to hell. Those who die without being baptized enter the dark purgatory which they refer to as kinto limbo or fifth limbo.
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Architecture and Community Planning
During the Spanish period, the colonizers attracted and, at times, forced the natives to settle around the plaza complex, which was dominated by the Church and its belfry and the civil/military government buildings. Around the central plaza, all the social activities of the province and the town were held. The Spanish officials gave importance to the traditional leaders or native elite by giving them the areas around or closest to the plaza. Thus the big houses or the bahay na bato were constructed beside churches or municipal buildings. However, there were few native Isinay, regardless of social status or political influence, who were able to settle close to the plaza complex. This proximity to the colonial center facilitated and intensified the acculturation of the Isinay to the dominant culture.
Today, the Isinay would still live around the old town centers, but their beyoy (houses) have changed. Most of them now live in single houses. A few occupy duplexes, improvised shelters like the barong-barong, and other collective living quarters (Census 1980:xxxi). Half of these dwelling units are roofed with cogon/nipa; the rest use galvanized iron, anahaw and other makeshift materials. Exterior walls are made of wood, plywood, bamboo, sawali, tiles, concrete, brick, stone, cogon. and nipa.
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The body of collected Isinay literature consists of riddles, proverbs, and narratives in the form of tales, legends, ghost stories, fables, and oral histories.
In Aritao and Dupax del Sur, the term lohmo (lakmo in Bambang) is used to refer to riddles. (Constantino 1982:7). Isinay riddles describe different kinds of objects and things and are very popular among the children and adults. Examples are:
There is no generally accepted term for proverbs or maxims. Several terms are used
to refer to this form of folk speech: memos an baba (wise words), oloran, tongtong
or the English derivatives like proberbiyo or proberb (Constantino 1982:8).
Examples of Isinay proverbs are the following:
Generally, the Isinay use the word estorya or istorya to refer to any story. Two
native Isinay words are also used. One is sussur, which is pronounced as sussur
in Aritao, sutsut in Dupax del Sur, and tudtud in Bambang; and the other is appoyaw.
Some natives differentiate between the two terms, saying that sussur refers
to stories that have empirical sources, while appoyaw refers to purely fictional
stories. Bida, derived from the Spanish word vida or life, is also used to
refer to stories (Constantino 1982:7).
One story narrates the origin of the name of Dupax town (Constantino 1982:134). In earlier times, the town was abundant with deer and became a haven for hunting. People often engaged in feasting and eating meat obtained from the hunt. After this, they would lie down on their back. One day, a group of missionaries came to the place and asked the name of the town. The people answered "dopah" which means lying down on one's back, thinking that the missionaries were asking what they were doing. The name was changed to Dupax, as the missionaries did not know how to pronounce the word "dopah."
The name of Bambang town came after the successful Christianization by the Spanish missionaries (Constantino 1982:154). Before the coming of the Spaniards, the town of Bambang was inhabited by the Bungkalot and the Ivilao who had been fighting each other. One day, a Spanish missionary named Padre Juan Campa arrived to introduce Christianity to this place. The people hurled spears and knives at him. However, their weapons only stuck to the priest's umbrella. Soon after, Padre Campa began preaching and taught them how to be good Christians. The people buried their weapons in the ground. After that, the town was named Bambang.
Also from the town of Bambang comes the origin of Magat River which is formed by the confluence of four rivers: the Meet, the Abuat, the Matunu, and the Nambunatan. A popular tale in Aritao narrates the story of a mermaid in the Magat River (Constantino 1982:88). This mermaid was always heard washing clothes in the river at midnight. For fear of offending the mermaid, the people never left their houses to look at her. One day, a girl got sick after taking a bath in the river. Many folk doctors tried to cure her, but no one could ascertain the cause of the illness, until a folk doctor from another place arrived. The healer talked to the child to find out what she did in the river. The child told him that while bathing, she caught a fingerling, played with it, and when it died, she threw it back to the river. To appease the mermaid who was offended by this incident, the healer prepared an offering consisting of a male and a female white chicken, rice cooked in coconut milk, tobacco, and betel nut chew all of which he took to the river at nightime. Days after, the child slowly got well again.
Other popular Isinay estorya are: "Tale of the Turtle and the Monkey," "Prince Juan of Two Spans," "The Deer and the Snail," "Juan the Oracle," "The Princess of the River Marange" from Aritao; "The Legend of Ping-ao," "The Story of the Ghost in Abannatan," "The Princess of the Dampol Bridge" from Dupax; and "The Dog That Knew How to Talk" and "Juan, the Pitch-Coin Player" from Bambang.
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The Isinay have indigenous instruments like the tuali or flute, and Western-type instruments like kutibang or singco-singco, a small homemade ukulele.
The kutibang or singco-singco, and the tuali, bamboo flute, are two instruments played by the Islnay musicians. 1960. (Francisca Reyes-Aquino Collection)
The general term used to refer to songs is kanta (Constantino 1982:8). However, there are also terms for particular types of songs. A special group of songs which have a melody that never varies is called anino.
These songs are sung by parents and relatives of newlywed couples after the wedding ceremonies and are meant to give advice. Here is an example:
|Lullabies are called baliwaway (Constantine 1982:8). Here is a popular Isinay baliwaway:
Christmas carols are called kantan si dubiral or songs for Christmas (Constantine
1982:8). Here is a popular carol entitled "Lavin Marble" or "Lovely Night":
A popular dance in Nueva Vizcays particularly in Dupax del Sun is the Isinay inbestida,
performed during wedding celebrations (Reyes-Urtula 1981:58). While dancing,
relatives and friends of the couple give their contributions, either in cash
or in kind, to the newlyweds. This gesture is reciprocated by assigning a paratagay
who pours wine into the glass of the guest offering his or her gift.
DANCE. Wedding receptions are big among the folk. The Isinay inbestida is one more
version of the Philippine wedding dance where money is gifted to the couple.
Dupax, Nueva Vizcaya, 1962. (Francisco Reyes-Aquino Collection)
The beginnings of Isinay drama may be traced to the ethnic rituals, some of which
are still performed in Isinay communities. An example of this is the mal-mali
ritual. Although the souls of dead persons go to heaven or hell, the Isinay believe
that their spirits still influence the lives and activities of beings on earth.
When someone is sick, it is believed that the patient is greeted by the spirit
of a dead person. When this happens. a mal-mali ritual is performed where
prayers and other gifts are offered to the spirits to cure the sick. Sometimes,
when a spirit wants to say something, it speaks through the body of a human being
it possesses. This is called manunggan.
A popular dramatic form among the Isinay is the estoke or istoke, a native term adapted from the Spanish estoque which means rapier or narrow sword (Constantino 1982:11). This theater form is the Isinay version of the moro-moro or komedya. An example of this estoke is the Bilay Don Juan Pugut Si Reynoar Escocia (Life of Don Juan Pugut of the Kingdom of Escocia), one of the two known works of Pablo Larosa, an Isinay from Aritao who was born on 16 Oct 1896 (Constantino 1982:433). This drama was publicly shown in Aritao once before and once during WWII.
Larosa's play presents the warring kingdoms of Escocia ruled by the Christian King Gedrino and of Turkey ruled by a Moro Emperor. Driven by a desire to expand their respective territories, a great battle is waged between the Christians and the Moros. As expected, the Christians, led by Princess Laudamia, emerge victorious. Soon after, the Moro Emperor sends another mission to Escocia and a second battle ensues. The Christian army runs away from the fight, leaving their king unprotected. The King nearly falls into the hands of the Moros, if not for the mysterious Juan Pugut who orders his army of giants to defend the kingdom. The battle culminates with the conversion of the Moros into Christians. Larosa weaves into this story the subplot centering on the disloyalty of Queen Jimena, wife of King Gedrino, who falls in love with Count Eleno. For sometime, they are able to keep their illicit affair from the king's knowledge, but not from Don Juan, the son of King Gedrino and heir to the crown of Escocia, who witnesses their dandestine meetings. The Queen plots to eliminate Don Juan by pretending to be sick and pressuring the doctor to say that she can only be cured by the blood of Don Juan who should be shot immediately in the middle of the palace. When the king arrives from the Kingdom of Macedonia, he learns of the Queen's condition and orders his generals and counselors to shoot Don Juan in the middle of the palace. Don Juan agrees, as it is his "fate at birth" to follow his king and father. At his execution, Don Juan makes his horse run around three times. On the third round, he is flown by the horse to the seventh layer of the clouds. For 10 years, he stays in the forests of the kingdom of Milandres and succeeds in defeating the legendary and terrifying sorcerer who surrenders all his powers to him. He also fights and defeats Belengon, the human-eating viper, whose skin he now uses to conceal his identity. Upon the advise of the sorcerer, the prince returns as Juan Pugut to the kingdom of Escocia after 10 years and presents himself as guardian to Princess Laudamia. True to his work, Juan Pugut saves the princess from a gigantic serpent. His real identity is revealed to the princess, who immediately falls in love with him, much to the king's dismay. Despite the king's refusal to recognize his love for Laudamia, Juan Pugut orders the giants from the forest to help defend the Kingdom of Escocia when it is abandoned by the soldiers. The kingdom is saved and the king finally recognizes his mistakes. Juan Pugut introduces himself as Don Juan, and Queen Jimena and Count Eleno are sentenced to burn at the stake.
Larosa's play dramatizes not only the struggle for power between a Moro kingdom and a Christian kingdom, but also the conflict between the good and the bad Christians, the latter characterized by immorality and deceit.
Like other komedya, the play employs a clown called bulbulagao, who provides the comic relief in the play, especially during scene changes, and helps the lead characters articulate the moral truths presented. G. Zafra
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