Felipe I. and Joseph K. Ruak are the artistic directors of the Talabwog Man Stick Dancers, a traditional Carolinian dance group in Saipan, an island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The Carolinian people migrated to Saipan more than 100 years ago, many sailing in small canoes from their typhoon-devastated island homes. The Carolinians brought their unique traditions, including the stick dances taught within village clans.
These intricate dances, accompanied by chants, involve the rhythmic striking of long poles against those of fellow dancers in a highly stylized pattern of thrusts and turns. According to the oral record, the dances came in a dream to one of the ancestors: "Deep in the dark, grey woods, the old man gathered the warriors of the clan. 'Pay attention,' he said, 'for this may be our only hope of survival. Light the fire within you and without you, light the bonfire that we may see what we do in the dark of night. Learn to fly, learn to sweep, leap, and chant.'"
More than 20 years ago, Felipe became worried that the knowledge of the dances was fading, so he formed a group with his sons and other village members. This group performed at the first Flame Tree Festival on Saipan and participated in the 1985 Festival of Pacific Arts in Tahiti. Joseph, after returning from college in Colorado, inherited the mantle of teacher from his father and began teaching dances and chants to the young people of his village on Saipan. To this day, Felipe serves as the guardian of these dances and continues to recruit young people for this traditional cultural responsibility.
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