Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A Celebration of Folk Culture in Koronadal City: International Folkloric Groups Converge for Pyesta Kolon Datal

The UP Filipiniana Dance Troupe
At the Rizal Park of Koronadal City in southern Mindanao, the Japanese drum ensemble Super Taiko Junior took the stage. With their taikos, they rumbled like thunder, powerful enough to still the audience and shake the leaves of the surrounding trees where the night had taken refuge. And then it rained, but the people did not move from their places.
The drummers’ following number was led by a flute, which pierced the air, counterbalanced by slow and mesmerizing drumming. The strong wind was lulled into a breeze and the rain tamed into the softest of drizzles until it was gone. Their program was the most exhilarating, ending with the crowd instantly becoming fans, and people talked about how the Japanese drummers soothed the weather the following day.
Taiko drumming was initially used to motivate warriors and instill fear in enemies hundreds of years ago, and now it is capturing hearts, especially in the South Cotabato capital where Super Taiko Junior was one of the several international folkloric performing groups gathered for the Pyesta Kolon Datal: The Koronadal International Folklore Festival.
The festival was an official event of the Conseil international des organisations de festivals de folklore et d’arts traditionnels or International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Art (CIOFF), an international nongovernmental organization that focuses on preserving and promoting traditional arts and culture.
In official partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it is accredited to provide advisory service to the Committee of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Aside from celebrating the world’s folkloric art forms, Pyesta Kolon Datal also commemorated CIOFF’s 45th anniversary and UNESCO’s 70th anniversary. For a big, international gathering like this, which CIOFF was holding for the first time in the Philippines, why hold it in Koronadal City, a remotely southern venue, and not in the capital Manila or any of the more known cities in the country?
The incidence owes to the bravado of Koronadal City mayor, Dr. Peter Miguel. In October 2014, Miguel found himself flying to Germany to attend the 44th CIOFF World Congress without knowing fully what it was all about, he jocularly related. He was made to speak in front of international delegates and what he emphasized was his invitation to come to his city. There was much enthusiasm, he recalled, and immediately a festival to be held in the Philippines was hatched.
“It was putting the cart before the horse,” described Miguel. They were given a certificate of being an associate member to be able to host a festival even before they could from an organization for CIOFF membership.
The Philippines has been a member of CIOFF, represented by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) through Corazon Ynigo, but they have been inactive for about 20 years. Leticia Wheeler, founder of Filipiniana Dance Company of Montreal, Canada, was asked to help reactivate the Philippine membership. She was able to meet in 2010 choreographer and dance company founder Edwin Duero, whom she asked for assistance. Duero then searched for interested parties and suggested in late 2011 that the city of Koronadal is interested in hosting a folklore festival, leading to Miguel delivering a speech at the CIOFF plenary. Despite being suddenly thrust into the CIOFF affair, Miguel was fully committed to hosting the event.
“I was looking at how to position Koronadal among the top festivals of the Philippines. We know about the Sinulog, the Dinagyang and the Masskara. Our festival will not get attention,” he admitted. Korondal City holds the Hinugyaw Festival every January. He thought hosting an international festival would put the spotlight on his city.
The festival was set from August 9 to 18, 2015, in time for Koronadal’s foundation anniversary on Aug. 18. With less than a year to go, Koronadal sought the help of the CCP, which provided free trainings on festival management. Duero was appointed festival consultant, and committees were created to oversee the festival.
Koronadal City chose the Blaan phrase “kolon datal,” literally meaning “a plain of cogon grass,” from which the city got its name, to be the name of the festival. This was a way to give importance to the early settlers of the city, the Blaan. The present major ethnic groups of the city are the Hiligaynon, Cebuano and Ilocano, a result of later migrations.
The Pyesta Kolon Datal drew nine delegations from different countries-Ozara Kranj from Slovenia, Ranranga Dance Academy of Sri Lanka, Folkloric Ballet of the State of Mexico, Wielkopolanie of Poland, Super Taiko Junior from Japan, IOV Indonesia Youth Section, the Lang Yan Dancers of Taiwan, Pendik Halk Danslan Tolulugu of Turkey and the Eline-Kitila Folk Dance Ensemble from Russia.
Miguel recommended seeing the Russian delegates and their performances. It is not the Caucasian Russians that we usually know, he said. Indeed, the group is Yakuts from the republic of Yakutia, or the Sakh Republic, in the far eastern part of Russia. The Yakuts look very Asian, more like Chinese or Korean, with a dash of Eskimo, Central Asian and Mongolian. Theirs was, perhaps, the strangest performance of all, with a mystical quality, flowing white costumes and music from the jaw harp. They also demonstrated children’s games as a dance routine.
Other groups were also worth watching. The all-girl IOV Indonesia Youth Section showed how diverse Indonesia can be and their performances can be mesmerizingly quick-paced and dramatic.
The Ranranga Dance Academy of Sri Lanka surprised with fire breathing, and the Folkloric Ballet of the State of Mexico drew from its Aztec roots to come up with a folkloric ballet on love and regret.
These international groups were joined by several Filipino cultural performance groups, mostly based in schools. From Metro Manila were the University of the Philippines Filipiniana Dance Troupe, Philippine Normal University’s Kislap Sining Dance Troupe and Barangay Folk Dance Group; from the Visayas, the ECD Dance Company of the Philippines; and from Mindanao, the Zamboanga del Sur National High School Melengas Dance Ensemble, the Bukidnon State University Dance Troupe, Koronadal City’s own Hinugyaw Cultural Dance Troupe and a group of Blaans.
The international folklore festival was transformed to be like a Philippine contemporary festival with the de-rigeuer features such as a street dance parade on the opening; a trade fair showcasing products of the different barangays; concerts by Lolita Carbon, Joey Ayala and Datu Khomeini Camsa Bansuan, said to be the “King of Moro Songs;” and a temporary night strip along Alunan Street where bars and restaurants set up their stalls, a small stage was set up for nightly live entertainment, and the portion of the street was closed off to traffic.
The main meat of the festival though was the two-hour performances, twice daily-matinee shows at the South Cotabato Gymnasium and Cultural Center and gala shows at the Rizal Park. Several pocket performances were also held at the city’s other public places- at the KCC Mall of Marbel, Gaisano Grand Mall, Ace Centerpoint and the Koronadal City Public Market.
Participants traveled to nearby towns and cities to perform, conduct lecture-demonstrations and interact with the locals such as in the regional hub of General Santos City, Tacurong City, Surallah, Isulan in Sultan Kudarat, the barangay of San Jose, Tampakan, Norala, Tantangan, T’boli, Alabel in Sarangani, Santo Nino, Banga and Tupi.
All participants visited the predominantly Blaan villages in the leafy sitio of Nga’bango in the barangay of Saravia in Koronadal City to interact with the indigenous group and plant trees. There are 11 Blaan communities among the 27 barangays of the city. The communities in Nga’bango and in the barangay of Assumption are recommended if one is to observe traditional Blaan culture. In Nga’bango, the Blaan still engage in traditional crafts such as hand weaving, wood carving and basket making. They also perform traditional songs and dances.
With the help of the Hinugyaw Cultural Dance Troupe, the Blaan of Nga’bango staged dances, based on their rituals, for Pyesta Kolon Datal. Blaan culture was the main showcase of the festival on Aug. 18.
“Pyesta Kolon Datal highlights the unique and distinct culture of our indigenous people, the Blaans, and we want to share this with the world,” Miguel said.
Their Hinugyaw Festival may have been eclipsed by other festivals in the country, but through the Pyesta Kolon Datal, Koronadal City discovered what makes their city unique and it has been there ever since. May Koronadal continue to celebrate the different indigenous cultures and peoples—the Blaan, Tiboli, Hiligaynon, Ilocano, Cebuano, etc.—that made the city their home and continue to imbue it with colors.

The IOV Indonesia Youth Section

The UP Filipiniana Dance Troupe


The Folkloric Ballet of the State of Mexico

The Ranranga Dance Academy of Sri Lanka

The Super Taiko Junior of Japan

The Blaan group

The Eline-Kitila Folk Dance Ensemble from Russia

The street bars

The trade fair

 All photos by Roel Hoang Manipon

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