Sacred banyan tree inspires intercultural production by Southeast Asian communities in Vancouver

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      Trees have played a prominent role in mythologies.

      For many cultures, trees symbolize the never-ending cycle of life, from birth to death and rebirth.

      One kind that has been venerated through the ages is the banyan, which belongs to the family of fig trees.

      Indigenous to India, the banyan survives for centuries, and it is associated with Brahma, the god of creation in the Hindu religion.

      The banyan is also sacred among Buddhists, for it is under the tree that Buddha is said that have rested after gaining knowledge.

      The banyan is endemic in Southeast Asia, where it goes by several names. It also occupies a special place in the mythologies in the region.

      In homage to the importance of the banyan, a production has been put together by the Southeast Asian Cultural Heritage Society (SEACHS), a Vancouver-based organization.

      Titled Banyan: An Intercultural Ceremonial Performance, the November 9 event will gather community and professional artists with Southeast Asian ancestries for an evening of music, songs, dances, and stories.

      One of the performers is Honorio "JR" Guerrero, a Filipino-Canadian singer and musician.

      Guerrero was the former lead singer of Hayp, a rock band that became famous in the Philippines during the 1980s and 1990s. Their hits included "I’ll Wait For You".

      “The theme and the idea is about all the activities that’s related to what the banyan tree means to communities in Southeast Asia,” Guerrero told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      In the Philippines, the banyan is called balete.

      According to Guerrero, the balete is known as the “house of spirits”.

      “The balete also represents a collective consciousness that is passed down and enriched across generations,” Guerrero said.

      Guerrero will be doing songs that belong to a Filipino musical genre called kundiman.

      Banyan: An Intercultural Ceremonial Performance will also see on stage Indonesian contemporary gamelan artist I Putu Gede Sukaryana; Srikandi Indonesia Dancers led by Firda Wijaya; SEACHS Vietnamese dancers and community artists along with the accordionist Ha Sam; Kathara Pilipino Indigenous Arts Collective Society performers led by Babette Santos; Canadian-Vietnamese-Chinese musician Vi An Diep; Filipino Canadian singers and musicians Jeremiah Carag, Chit and Melvin Magno; Lao-Canadian actor Anou Sinthara; Chinese-Malaysian-Canadian actress Grace Chin; and Filipino-Canadian poet Karla Comanda.

      Canada-based Filipino theatre director Dennis Gupa is the artistic director of Banyan.

      Also performing is SEACHS co-founder and president Thai-Hoa Le, who is an actor and opera singer.

      Le is a strong advocate of inter-cultural dialogues among different communities.

      SEACHS is marking its 10th year in 2019, and Banyan is one of the highlights of the group’s founding celebration.

      The show is produced in partnership with Rumble Theatre.

      Banyan: An Intercultural Ceremonial Performance will take place on November 9 at the Performance Works in Granville Island (1218 Cartwright Street), starting at 7:15 p.m. 

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