Sunday, July 12, 2009

Antique’s Deeper Kind of Beauty

Beauty contests often earn the critical eye of feminists who say they objectify women, stress physical beauty rather than substance, set a rigid standard of beauty and tend to be shallow. There are, however, attempts to deflect these perceptions by usually espousing causes and giving emphasis on contestants’ character and intelligence to counterbalance the display of physique.
In Antique, the beauty contest is brought to another level by being imbued with arts and culture and breaking new grounds. Annually, the province on the western seaboard of Panay Island in the Visayas searches for a beautiful maiden to epitomize the Antiqueña, as well as serve as a “Ambassadress of Goodwill” to serve “the province during her reign in her capacity to participate in projects and programs in coordination with Binirayan Foundation Inc. and other provincial agencies.”
In the Philippines, beauty contests have been part of any celebration and festival. In Antique, the Lin-ay kang Antique (LKA), as the contest and the winner are called, is one of the highlights of the Binirayan Festival, founded in 1974 by Evelio Javier, Antique’s assassinated governor and hero, to instill pride in the people of Antiqueño by emphasizing, among others, their noble ancestry through the story of the coming of the 10 datus.
“As part of the Binirayan Festival, it is consistent with the festival theme of asserting the true Antiqueño identity, and building and nurturing hope for the province,” the contest’s promulgator, writer and theater artist Alex de los Santos, wrote in his essay “The Linay kang Antique as Socio-political Text.”
The essay defends the beauty contest, the Lin-ay kang Antique in particular, saying that it is an important aspect of culture and an indicator of the social and even political milieu.
To redeem the beauty contest from usual accusations, De los Santos, who is also the executive director the Binirayan Foundation that oversees the mounting of the festival, wrought the LKA, which began in 1974 as Miss Antique and would known later as Miss Binirayan, into a grand production as to be at par with major contests in Metro Manila involving a grueling process to test the contestants character and strength, not just beauty. The contest actually does not begin with coronation night and one of its activities is the press presentation, usually held after the reenactment of the coming of the 10 datus, the main highlight of the festival, at the beach of Malandog, Hamtik, in which members of the press and even the audience can throw any questions to the contestants, testing their wit, alertness and grace under pressure. Aside form that, there is a talent show, which of course only show the flair for performance of the contestants.
Aside from veering away from mediocre manner these contests are held in the provinces, the Lin-ay kang Antique subverts the conventions and/or traditions of beauty pageants by making substantial and educational the usually purely entertainment and whimsical endeavor, and by challenging common notions of beauty.
The Lin-ay kang Antique, which was held on April 27 at the multipurpose and cavernous Evelio B. Javier Gym in the capital San Jose de Buenavista, paid tribute to the recently departed painter Edsel Moscoso and saw representations from marginalized ethnic groups.
Along with National Artist, J. Elizalde Navarro, Moscoso is considered one of Antique’s greatest contributions to Philippine visual arts. He succumbed to leukemia at the age of 55 on Dec. 21, 2008 , leaving behind a substantial body of work. Moscoso is known for painting rural folks in sepia. His talent was noticed even early studying at the University of the Philippines. He was included in the 13 Outstanding Young Artists by the Art Association of the Philippines. He went to Europe for further study: at the Academia di Belle Arti de Roma, at the International Center for the Study and Preservation of Cultural Properties and at Ponitifico Instituto di Archelogia Cristiana in Rome, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1986. His works had been eagerly sought by collectors.
This year’s LKA had 10 contestants representing the towns of Antique, two of whom represented ethnic communities, both of them Ati — Lori Ocario from the barangay of Tina in Hamtic and Michelle Ocario from the barangay of Igbalos in Tobias Fornier. The former is a student of computer science at the Advance Central College and the latter a student of education at the Polytechnic State College of Antique.
The Ati is part of the mostly hunter-gatherer Negrito group scattered all over the Philippines and is considered the original inhabitants of Panay as well as other parts of the country. The coming of other settlers forced them to the mountains and other areas, more or less retaining their old way of life.
In the controversial folk history being reenacted annually during the festival and was told in the book Maragtas, the datus from Borneo sailed toward Antique and met the Atis. The new arrivers gave a golden hat (sadok or salakot) and necklace in exchange for land to settle in. The Atis agreed and went to the mountains while the datus, their families and companions built what here is frequently referred to as the first Malay settlement in country near the coast. With the Binirayan Festival, Antiqueños trace their ancestry to these datus, noble and lovers of freedom.
Aside from the Ati, another ethnic minority of Antique and of Panay is the Sulod or the Panay Bukidnon, who live in the mountainous center of the island.
In Antique, they can be usually found in the upland town of Valderrama , one of its few non-coastal towns. Incidentally, a couple of days after the pageant the members of the subgroup Iraynon living in the barangay of Agustin were awarded the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title by the national government at the capital’s plaza.
Seventeen-year-old Lori, who was the first of the two to register, became the first Ati candidate in the contest’s history. She was not though the first Ati beauty contestant in the country. In 2005, a spunky 15-year-old girl named Juliet Chavez, a Dumagat Agta, garnered considerable attention when she won the Sabutan Festival Queen title in her hometown Palanan, an isolated coastal town of Isabela in northeastern Luzon Island . On the other hand, Lori also got her own kind of attention.
“Throughout the pageant, Lori was relatively more popular than Michelle, perhaps because of her darker skin, curly hair and sharper features,” related De los Santos. “During the welcome dinner for the candidates hosted by Alex and Marlene at the Pinnacle Suites on April 19, Lori got the attention of the guests by sharing her thoughts about ladderized education offered by her school and for her candid after-dinner speech. At the talent competition on April 22, Lori was among the judges’ top choices for her funny monologue. She was a natural performer. I was expecting Lori to be in the top five, if only for sympathy votes from the judges, but she came in ninth of the 10 candidates. You could guess who came in 10th. Is Antique ready for a Lin-ay from the indigenous peoples?”
Antiqueños, and Filipinos in general, seem to prize Caucasian features such as fairness in complexion when it comes to beauty. Many call it the mestiza look. The answer to De los Santos ’ question, which goes also for the country, is “not yet,” but the inclusion of two Ati candidates can be seen as a sign of improvement.
For the Atis, being included in the contest provides an opportunity to participate in the mainstream, to be seen in different light, and to break the common notion that all Atis are “uncivilized” and non-beautiful.
The rest of the contestants belonged to the majority Kiniray-a/Hamtikanon group, and they were Dana Roanne Mecenas of Libertad, Maria Chris Gianzon of Hamtik, Kim Loriega of Sibalom, Cheyserr Macabanti of Anini-y, Nanette Jane Pelingon of Tobias Fornier, Madeleine Tajanlangit of Pandan, Denzel Jodi Dagumanpan of San Jose de Buenavista and Karen Jane Mejia of Bugasong. All are students of colleges and universities, mostly in Antique and adjacent Iloilo. The towns of Culasi, Tibiao, Barbaza, Belison, Caluya, Laua-an, Patnongon, San Remigio, Sebaste and Valderrama failed to send representatives.
Like other contests, the LKA had the usual portions such as the introductory parade, the long gown, the question and answer, and the swimsuit portion with the contestants making quarter turns to display their “wares.” This last tacky throwback from early contests was countered by images from Moscoso’s works used as motifs and narrated snippets from his life. Bathed in caramel light, actors, for example, portrayed peasants doing their daily chores, bringing to life a familiar Moscoso imagery. In the swimsuit part, contestants entered the stage draped in white cloth, evocative of classical Hellenic gods Moscoso painted during his European phase.
The Lin-ay kang Antique crown was won by Bugasong’s Mejia, a psychology student at the De La Salle University in Manila and a member of dragon boat racing team. Besides being the most beautiful in the conventional sense, Mejia proved to be smart, giving the most sensible answers to the judges’ questions. She was also judged Best in Evening Gown (with the title Dayang Magayon) and Best in Interview (Dayang Maaram).
Giving her stiff competition was San Jose de Buenavista’s Dagumampan from Madrangca, a student of special education at the Western Visayas State University in Iloilo and winner of Miss Photogenic, Best in Swimsuit and Best in Cultural Costume (Dayang Maragtas) awards.
Hamtic’s Ganzon, Pandan’s Tajanlangit and Tobias Fornier’s Pelingon, who was hailed best in talent, rounded the rest of winners becoming second, third and fourth runners-up, respectively.
The two Ati contestants were given the Maniwantiwan Award. For what many wondered. For consolation many concluded. The award is named after the wife of Marikudo, the Ati chief in the Maragtas tale.
For all it’s worth, the Lin-ay kang Antique has staged a successful show in terms of production, chose a worthy winner and paved the way for contestant of other ethnic backgrounds. Hopefully in the future a winner from the marginalized groups will be chosen not only because of the fact that she is from that group but because she is worthy, and she will bridge the gap.

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