A Cycle of Being and Becoming in Mindanao
December 15, 2003
CHRISTINE F. GODINEZ-ORTEGA
To the well-informed, Mindanao’s rich and diverse arts and cultures, whether folk or contemporary, are recreated throughout the year in traditional arts festivals alongside the growing number of activities by contemporary artists and writers who understand, and enjoy best, today’s Mindanao.
How ironic that through these traditional arts festivals, the lumad, descendants of the early migrants to Mindanao and marginalized today always take centerstage for it is a “public” time for them to celebrate life. Coupled with their “magic” or “technique” in controlling evil and the unknown through ritualistic dances, it is also a time of thanksgiving for nature’s bounty. Here are some highlights.
As of our last count, there were about 13 traditional lumad arts festivals throughout the year spread around the island, from the Kagayhaan in Cagayan de Oro City to the Kaamulan festival in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, the Kalingan festival in Surigao del Sur, the Balanghai Festival in Butuan City, the Tambulig Festival in Zamboanga del Sur, the Maranao Arts and Culture Festival in Marawi City, the Simballay festival in Nabunturan, Davao del Norte, the Kinaadman of Southern Davao, the Kadayawan Festival sa Dabaw in Davao City, the Kalibongan sa Kidapawan, the Kalilangan in General Santos City, the Tinalak Festival in Koronadal City, and the Hlobung Festival of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato.
These festivals give us a glimpse of what Mindanao was like during pre-colonial times. On these special occasions, lumad men and women in red, blue, white and green and yellow tribal attire dance in the streets to show off “unrehearsed” dance steps, a combination of dugso, binanog, babansil, saut, and kayumatan to the infectious beats of the agong, kulintang, and bamboo and brass percussion instruments. What makes these traditional arts festivals contemporary are the agri-industrial trade fairs, beauty contests, and such programs.
The most well-known of these festivals because of media mileage and accessibility are the 22-year-old Kaamulan festival celebrated in March in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, and the 16-year-old Kadayawan Festival sa Dabaw in Davao City in August.
Seven of the Bukidnon province’s indigenous groups—the Talaandig, Higaunon, Umayamnon, Manobo, Tigwahanon, Matigsalug, and Bukidnon—work together for the annual Kaamulan festival, attracting local and foreign tourists to Malaybalay City. Prizes are at stake for the group with the most “authentic” attire, the best presentation as well as the best agri-trade and indigenous crafts exhibits. Started in 1970 as a small celebration in Barangay Kasalungay in Malaybalay, the Kaamulan festival has since become a major event. It is deemed the most “authentic” among Mindanao’s other folk festivals, according to Arthur Pizaro, assistant director and dance master of the Kalimulan Dance Troupe.
Pizaro, who has taken part in the Kaamulan festival for the last 10 years, describes how, an hour before the five- to six-hour street dancing begins at 6 a.m., datus of the seven tribes drive away evil spirits through prayers and by smearing blood from seven white chickens at starting points throughout the almost two-kilometer stretch of roads leading to the exhibit site. Only the lumad of Bukidnon, its 22 municipalities and government agencies are allowed to join the street dancing.
In Davao City, the Kadayawan sa Dabaw has since become more colorful and better organized after the local government turned over management of the annual affair to the Mindanao Cutflowers and Plant Growers, Inc. in 1995. Where before the festival had no fixed date, August became the month of choice for the five-day Kadayawan sa Dabaw because it is a bountiful month with much agricultural produce, in particular, the durian. And orchids, chrysanthemums, dendrobiums, roses and anthuriums literally fill to overflowing Davao’s streets at this time of year.
Indigenous tribes like the Bagobos join in the celebration after insisting that their traditional horse fights are a part of the Kadayawan in spite of the objections from animal rights activist groups. Davao’s other tribes like the Mansakas and Tagacaulos, wearing equally colorful tribal attire, and a cross-section of Davao’s society also contribute to the success of the Kadayawan, their participation culminating in the street parade that may still rival California’s Tournament of Roses. The Kadayawan sa Dabaw parade has generated much excitement with its lavishly decorated, fruit and flower floats and the Indak-Indak street dance. In this festival, Davao’s creative artists, folklorists, businessmen, and other sectors of society show that a concerted effort will result in Davao’s prosperity, an inspiring thought for all Mindanaoans.
Another inspiring joint venture was the traveling visual arts exhibit by Mindanao artists dubbed “Panit-Bukog 2.” It was held in Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and Davao Cities late this year. Compared with the high-profile art exhibits in Manila, “Panit-Bukog 2” was an effort to “mainstream the fringes” with the artists favoring personal themes and present social realities over the tribal or ethnic art popularized by Bert Monterona of Davao City, Mariano Catague of Butuan City, Saudi Ahmad and Rameer Tawasil of Zamboanga City, and Leah Padilla of Iligan City.
The artists featured in “Panit-Bukog 2” were: Jong Tangiday, Abe Garcia, Boboy Buenaventura, Bong Espinosa, Dante Pintor, Joseph Rom, Nonoy Narciso, Rene Jereos, Rey Fuentes, Rick Villafuerte, Rose Tradio, Weng Echavez, Ely Nery, Jaime An Lim, Chris Gomez, Kurt Lluch, Leah Padilla, Rahuel Antonio, Cris Rollo, Errol Balcos, Marlon and Rey Bollozos, Michael Bacol, Nick Aca, Nonoy Estarte, Oca Floirendo, and Rhine Sahagun. They showed “a much richer and pluralistic tendency in the choice of themes, techniques, materials, and visual vocabulary,” according to An Lim in his art review “Contemporary Mindanaoan Art: Notes from the Margin.”
But again, Davao City dominated the visual arts scene with its numerous art galleries. Margarita Marfori, president of the Davao Artists Guild, said this year, Davao artists were as active as ever in their art production with the solo exhibits of Ega Carreon at the Apo View Hotel, Vic Secuya at Gallery 5 in JS Gaisano, Lito Pepito’s glass paintings at Ca’Million Café, Saudi Ahmad’s exhibit of 22 traditional Muslim ceremonies and rituals in watercolor at the Gen. Luna Art Gallery, and the group exhibit of DRAW artists, headed by Rachel Holazo, at the Davao City Museum.
The near completion of UP Mindanao’s “Sulyap” as a showcase of all art exhibits and as a living, visual brochure and the construction of the UP Mindanao Cultural Center in Davao City are the signs of new things to come. Not to be outdone, new art galleries opened recently outside Davao City: the Chieftain’s Gallery owned by a young artist, Bernard Morgia, in General Santos City and the Galeria Kasiana in Butuan City. In Iligan City, sculptor Julie Lluch turned her family bodega into an art studio that hums with creative activity since she is frequenting Iligan these days. And reeling from the closure of several of its industries, the city has been gifted with a new art gallery owned by the Padilla family. These and more show the thriving art scene in Mindanao.
If the visual arts scene in Mindanao continues to thrive, its theater arts continue to draw audiences as well.
Sandiwaan, a festival of plays as part of the year-long Sambayan: Philippine Culture and Arts Festival brought Mindanao theater closer to national audiences with the touring performances of “Mindasilang” by the Kaliwat Theater Collective and the Kathara dance theater collective.
“Mindasilang” tackled the theme of unity in diversity and was geared towards a peaceful co-existence in Mindanao. The performance in didactic mode was weighed down by the social messages mouthed by its characters in a bodabil-inspired razzle dazzle punctuated by an Elizabethan twist in the end. The New Critics might call this the work’s point of illumination.
One more group that brought Mindanao arts and culture around the country and to Taiwan this year was the Integrated Performing Arts Guild (IPAG) with its “Tales from Mindanao.” The IPAG is the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology’s resident theater company under its artistic director Steven Patrick C. Fernandez. Mindanao myths and legends are narrated in music and dance using the Tausug dance form, pangalay, as taught to IPAG by its founder, Ligaya Fernando Amilbangsa.
Last year had been an auspicious one for literary production. Poet Tita Lacambra Ayala’s Road Map Series came out with Carlotta de Pio’s collection of poems Dragonflies and Silences even as the newly formed Davao Writers Guild published its first volume of the quarterly publication, Dagmay.
Dagmay’s publication compliments the UP Mindanao’s year-old literary journal, Lilinao (Maranao term for peace), edited by prize-winning fictionist Timothy R. Montes who declared that “in terms of talent, Mindanao is, indeed, the land of promise.”
Aside from Montes, novelist and Southeast Asian WRITE awardee Antonio Enriquez, poet and artist An Lim, poet Anthony Tan, poet-turned-Davao resident and UP Mindanao Chancellor Ricardo de Ungria, and other literary “movers” in Mindanao have encouraged new writings with the annual UP Creative Writers Workshop, the Iligan National Writers Workshop, and the Zamboanga Regional Writers Workshop as well as the literary readings held in various cities like Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
Although viewed by many as a one-shot deal in the lifetime struggle for excellence at writing, it is the academic-based writers’ workshops and publication outlets for creative works that provided the most impact on aspiring writers from Mindanao. The island’s prize-winning writers Enriquez and his cousin, Mig Alvarez Enriquez, Aida Rivera Ford, Macario Tiu, Don Pagusara, Jess Ibanez, Manuel Torrento, Tita Lacambra Ayala, Anthony Tan, Ibrahim Jubaira, and An Lim, to mention a few, egg on young Mindanaoans to turn out better works with daring themes and embolden them to experiment with form.
The list of achievers and achievements is endless, but whether tentative or sure of hand, the artists and writers in Mindanao never lack for talent and determination to showcase this in various avenues of expression, conservative and daring, traditional and contemporary. In Mindanao’s arts and culture lies the true essence of the island’s promise, of its being and becoming.