Monday, September 18, 2017

Connections, Crossroads and Convergence: Festival Celebrates Cultures of the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia

Sining Kandidilimudan Ensemble of MSU Maguindanao performs an excerpt of Maharadia Lawana
The ikat dyeing technique for hand-woven textiles is practiced by several ethnic groups not only in the Philippines, but also in some countries in Southeast Asia. Also, there are similar stories that are being retold within the region, such as the different versions of the epic Ramayana, an influence from India. The commonality in traditional culture and heritage is more evident in an area in Southeast Asia that includes the countries the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia.  
These shared heritage and traditions, as well as the diversity of cultures, will be highlighted by the very first Budayaw: The BIMP-EAGA Festival of Culture and the Arts, which will be held from September 20 to 24, 2017, in General Santos City. The festival will include different activities and events such as lectures, workshops, performances, exhibits, tours and others. 
“Budayaw, as festival of cultures, showcases the links of our diverse cultures within the equator surrounded by or attached to the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas, a very ruch area of natural resources, but at the same time very blessed with diversity of cultures, which historically have been linked together since the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth century,” explained Nestor Horfilla, a theater veteran and cultural worker, who serves as the festival director.
Before the current political boundaries, the peoples of what are now the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia have been in contact with each other since the olden times. Although the main purpose was trade, they were also influencing each other’s cultures.
Aside from geographical proximity, the during links among the four nations became the basis of the establishment of the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), a cooperation to bolster socio-economic developemnt in the region with a shared strategy, about 20 years ago.
The BIMP-EAGA originally focuses on areas of tourism, environment, connectivity and transportation, and food production. In November 2015, the socio-cultural aspect and education pillar was officially added as an area of focus. 
“Twenty years of economic cooperation in the BIMP-EAGA led to the realization that culture, indeed, is a vital element in sustainable development of the four countries in the equator,” said Horfilla.
The Budayaw Festival is the first major cultural project of the BIMP-EAGA.
The Philippines was chosen to host the first festival, whose name was coined from two words—budaya, Malay for “culture,” and dayaw, a word in several Philippine languages that means “bounty” or “praise”—and which will be held every two years among the four countries. 
As the official Philippine representative in the BIMP-EAGA Socio-Cultural Development Working Group, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) spearheads the holding of the festival, providing about P10 million in funding, in collaboration with different agencies and institutions including the Mindanao Development Authority, Department of Tourism Region XII, the city government of General Santos, the provincial government of Sarangani, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the Philippine Information Agency.
The Budayaw Festival is a chance to showcase the cultural richness of Mindanao and Palawan, the islands that are part of BIMP-EAGA. It will feature traditional arts, crafts and practices.
One notable event is the exhibit on ikat-dyeing technique, which has been used by many Mindanao groups such as the T’boli and the Blaan on their hand weaving. A specially designed pavilion will serve as a shared domain of invited master weavers, who will conduct a demonstration on the age-old practice.
Another traditional art to be highlighted in the festival is indigenous music with performances using native musical instruments such as gongs, bamboo instruments and string instruments. These instruments are also shared heritage of the four countries.
Performances of traditional dances, such as the pangalay of the Tausug, kab-apir-apir of the Meranaw and T’boli dances from the Philippines, are also included. 
Contemporary artistic creations will share the spotlight with traditional heritage. The BIMP-EAGA artists, for example, will display their works at the “Under One Sky” exhibit. Choral groups will be invited to perform. There will be performances of contemporary dances.
Notable is a grand theatrical production of six Mindanao theater groups. The Sining Kambayoka Ensemble of Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City; Sining Kandidilimudan Ensemble of MSU in Maguindanao; Kabpapagariya Ensemble of MSU in General Santos City; Kaliwat Performing Artists Collective of Davao City; Kagay-an Performing Arts Troupe of Cagayan de Oro City; and Tambuli Cultural Troupe of Tawi-Tawi will converge for a collaborative dramatic adaptation of Maharadia Lawana. Each group were given to an episode of the Meranaw prose folk narrative version of the Ramayana to be adapted for the stage.
To make the Budayaw experience more immersive, there will be special tour packages for the visiting guests and tourists to explore the richness of Mindanao culture, as well as its touristic destinations.
A series of colloquiums will tackle cultural exchanges and the safeguarding cultural diversity. According to Horfilla, they will try to gather experiences and proposals to craft strategies to enhance cultural exchanges among the BIMP-EAGA member countries, and these will be submitted to different cultural ministries “so that they will open more windows for cultural exchange for artists.”  
Most of the Budayaw events will be held at the major malls of General Santos City including SM City General Santos, Gaisano Mall, Veranza Mall and KCC Mall, where there will plenty of foot traffic.
“Roots of tradition and routes of development in culture are the key issues that we would like to highlight in the Budayaw Festival,” said Horfilla. “We also want to emphasize the right of people to appreciate different cultures.
While showcasing the diversity of creative expressions of BIMP-EAGA cultural masters and artists, the Budayaw Festival is hoped to raise awareness and foster appreciation for the cultures and arts of the region, thus engendering understanding and solidarity among the peoples of the BIMP-EAGA.

Kabpapagariya Ensemble of MSU General Santos City performs an excerpt of Maharadia Lawana
Traditional attires and weaving are featured at the festival
 Blaan children performing traditional dance

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Coconut Creativity: Spectacles and Festivity at Quezon’s Niyogyugan Festival

The provincial capitol grounds in Lucena City were transformed into a virtual theme park with colorful agri-tourism booths
Groups of dancers paraded and performed on the streets of Lucena City for the annual Niyogyugan Festival of the province of Quezon. While it was rainy in several parts of the country, the capital of the province was sunny, the heat bearing down on the dancers. With colorful costumes, they enlivened the sleepy afternoon but did not match the verve and agility of dancers in the festivals in the Visayas such as in the Sinulog Festival of Cebu and the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City. What attracted more attention during the parade were the floats, inventive and sometimes intricate, given the restrictions in the materials to be used.  
            It is noticeable that the penchant of the Tagalog people and region is in ornamentation. During fiestas, Bulacan traditionally puts up singkaban, arches made purely of bamboo, amazing with its curlicues and other details. Baler and San Luis in Aurora also set up decorative arches that instantly foment a festive air. In Quezon, the town of Gumaca is known for its aranya and baluarte, while Lucban is a star during its fiesta with houses abundantly decorated with kiping and farm produce.  
            In the Niyogyugan Festival, the biggest attractions were the fair booths around the provincial capitol grounds and the floats. While the festival is of recent invention, with only five years of mounting, they make their booths and floats as if they have been doing them for ages, showing a native knack for crafts and embellishment.
            The booths actually figured prominently during the birth of the festival. Niyogyugan Festival started as a trade fair to bolster the coconut industry with the aim of reclaiming the status being the number-one producer of coconuts in the country. The province of Quezon rivals three Davao provinces as the country’s top coconut producer with a total coconut plantation of 391,196 hectares, representing 78 percent of its agricultural land, with about 78 million coconut trees. Each of the 203,000 farmers in the province tills an average of nearly two hectares of coconut plantation.
Later on, taking cue from the idea of congresswoman Aleta Suarez, the trade fair was transformed into a contemporary festival in 2012. The name was a portmanteau of the Filipino words niyog (coconut) and yugyugan (dance). The festival was timed to coincide with the commemoration of the birth anniversary of Manuel Luis Quezon, president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines from 1935 to 1944, who was born on August 19, 1878, after which the province was named.
            Like any other festivals in the country, Niyogyugan is a weeks-long agricultural, tourism and cultural event filled with concerts, a beauty contest, sports, socials,  and others, culminating with a parade, street dancing and dance showdown. This year, it has held from August 17 to 27. The coconut remains the center of the celebration with the booths featuring diverse displays of coconut products, as well as other farm produce and marine catches from the province’s upland towns and coastal and island communities.
            The booths themselves were predominantly constructed using coconuts, from trunks and leaves to the husks and fibers, and were designed to represent the culture of the different towns. The capitol grounds would be transformed into a theme park and an outdoor market offering virgin coconut oil, lambanog, skimmed milk, coconut water drink, coconut vinegar, coconut sugar, cheese, yogurt cream, sauces, cooked dishes and others. Aside from food products, there were also furniture, handicrafts, house d├ęcor, fiber and netting used in landscaping, all from coconuts. Booths of the coastal and island towns, some of which took about ten hours of travel to reach Lucena to participate, sold exotic clams and conches and other marine produce. At night they were all lit up to the delight of visitors who came in droves. The past years, about 200,000 visitors came to the festival. This year, visitors reached about half a million, indicating its growing popularity. Exhibitors reportedly earned around P15 million in sales of their products.
            From thirty-eight in 2015 and thirty-nine in 2016, this year all of the Quezon’s thirty-nine towns and two cities were able to put up their own booths. Aside from products, the booths were also educational, each featuring a mini-exhibit of their tourist attractions, local culture and unique features.
            Gumaca was replica of the San Diego Fortress or Kutang Kastilyo, a well-known historical landmark of the town, embellished with a baluarte or decorative arch; while Pagbilao was in the shape of the view deck in the Pagbilao Mangrove Experimental Forest in Ibabang Palsabangon to highlight this new eco-tourism destination.
Known for its ancestral houses, the Sariaya booth was inspired by an art-deco mansion complete with a little rondalla band, which played live music in the late afternoon.
The Tayabas booth was crowned with a giant bottle of lambanog, the iconic alcoholic drink of southern Tagalog region, indispensable in social gatherings. Beside it was the Atimonan booth on which its popular folkloric creature, the mermaid, sat. The town is known to have a mermaid statue on Lamon Bay.
Padre Burgos booth was impressive with giant chickens reminding visitors of its original name, Laguimanok, so named because its coastline is said to be shaped like a chicken’s bill. Giant birds also adorned the Lopez booth, made with multi-colored buri fans or pamaypay, the known product of the town.
The Infanta booth was dome-shaped to represent the coconut, made up of myriad, polished coconut shells, while the Panukulan booth was shaped like sea waves, being a town in the island of Polillo in the Philippine Sea.
            The floats echoed the booth’s motif. There were twenty-two this year, paraded together with dancers, on the August 27, the culmination day.
Lucban fielded a float shaped like a giant carabao to emphasize its being an agricultural town, while Calauag’s float featured a humongous sea turtle, covered with tiles of coconut shells. The Padre Burgos float had a giant chicken while the Quezon float had a big red lionfish. A giant mask fronted the Tagkawayan float, giving tribute to its early settlers, the Aeta, while Sariaya highlighted its local bread, the sweet and fragrant pinagong. The Candelaria float remained simple, decorated with giant candles, but it proved to be the most polished and elegant float.
The Niyogyugan Festival proved to be a fitting tribute to the coconut, widely considered as the “tree of life” for its important role in the province and the lives of its people. The festival has shown its innumerable uses, including as material to showcase how creative Quezonians can get.

The booths at night
The agri-tourism booths were lit up at night, attracting more visitors

The Lucban booth was inspired by Kamay ni Jesus pilgrimage site

The Gumaca booth was a replica of a historic fortress

The folkloric mermaid sat atop the Atimonan booth
The Padre Burgos was formerly known as Laguimanoc, thus its booth featuring chickens

A giant bottle of the iconic lambanog atop the Tayabas booth

 Dancers from Atimonan

 Dancers from Buenavista

 Dancers from Calauag

 Dancers from Dolores
 Dancers from General Nakar

 Dancers from Gumaca

 Dancers from Infanta

 Dancers from Lucena

 Dancers from Mauban

 Dancers from Padre Burgos

 Dancers from Pagbilao

 Dancers from Perez

 Dancers from Plaridel

 Dancers from Pollilo

 Dancers from Quezon

 Dancers from Real

 Dancers from Sariaya

 Dancers from Tagkawayan

 Dancers from Tayabas
 Dancers from Tiaong