Monday, October 05, 2015

Celebrating the Folk Arts of Paete

Smiling participants of the street dancing competition of the Paet-Taka Festiva 2015

The small town of Paete was gaily decorated with multi-colored buntings, particularly its main street, J.V. Quesada Street, which is lined with woodcraft and taka shops, souvenir stores and eateries. People were up and about, going to different events that stretched late into the night. It was time for the annual Paet-Taka Festival, which is celebrated for a week from September 21 to 27.
        I had a reason to revisit Paete. The small town that traverses the eastern shore of Bay Lake (popularly called Laguna Lake) to the foothills of the southern portion of the Sierra Madre mountain range charmed me with its rustic atmosphere and cultural traditions. I was amazed by its Holy Week rituals the last time I visited. Most likely, Lent is the biggest occassion in Paete. Other important events in the time are religious in nature—the town fiesta in honor of its patron saint, James the Great, Apostle and Martyr, held on July 25; and Christmas—suffused with old traditions.
In terms of spectacle, the secular festival comes in second after the Lenten rites. The Paet-Taka Festival though is of recent invention and institutionalization, following the country’s trend of creating festivals, inspired the Carnival of Brazil, that started perhaps during the 1980s. These festivals, usually centered around cultural icons, are a way of promoting and marketing the places as well as occasions for gatherings and feastings.
Paete’s festival started in 2002 with the first Ukit-Taka Festival, held in mid-February, but this lasted a few years. Then, another festival was created in 2013, the Paet-Taka Festival, focusing on two traditions or crafts the town is famous for—wood craving and papier-mâché crafts.
Paet is Tagalog for “chisel,” from which the town derived its name. In the festival, it is a metonym for the craft of wood carving, which is widely believed to have been practiced by the townspeople even before the Spanish colonizers arrived in the sixteenth century. That tradition, as well as the reputation of having the finest wood carvers in the country, continues to this day. The tradition is so alive that locals boast that almost all Paeteños know how to carve wood. That skill is translated to other materials. Many Paeteños also know how to carve fruits and ice into different figures, and get employed as ice and/or fruit carvers in cruise ships.  
On the other hand, the papier-mâché craft, locally called taka, originated from Mexico and was introduced by the Spaniards, most likely during the time of the galleon trades between Manila and Acapulco. The commonest papier-mâché product is the toy horse, which resembles the piñata. The papier-mâché horse, which is usually painted in red and gaily embellished, was a common thing during the 1980s when I was growing up. It has become a frequent symbol of Philippine folk art or at least of Tagalog folk culture. The craft of papier-mâché may have flourished in Paete because it uses carved wood as mould. The frequent use of papier-mâché is in making toys. The yoyo is also made by Paete craftsmen from wood, and many believe the toy may have originated here.
The Paet-Taka Festival is timed for the birth anniversary of town hero Mariano Madriñan, fondly called Tandang Ano (Old Man Ano), who was born in September 25, 1858, and died in January 7, 1939. It is a very invigorating thing to know that a town’s hero is not a politician and a revolutionary but a craftsman, a person who creates rather than goes to war, one who preserves and inspires. It is a rare thing in this country.
Madriñan is specially known as the first Filipino to achieve success in an international exposition. He won a gold medal for his religious sculpture, the Mater Dolorosa or Mother of Sorrows, at the Amsterdam International Exposition in May 1883. A replica of this is being paraded during Paete’s spectacular Holy Week processions.
The Paet-Taka Festival follows the general format of existing festivals in the country, and its events included a drum and lyre exhibition, exhibits, brass band performances, a performance by teachers, a soap carving contest for children, etc.
I went to Paete during the last two days of the festival, and during this time the major events were held. On Saturday night, a beauty pageant was mounted at the town plaza. Beauty pageants are fixtures in any Philippine fiesta or festival. For the past several years, male beauty pageants have been gaining prominence and acceptance. Now, it is not surprising that a celebration features both male and female beauty pagaents. Here in Paete, both male and female compete in one pageant, the Ginoo at Binibining Paete, and surprisingly there were more boys (ten) than girls (five).
Carving and pagtataka naturally set an atmosphere where creativity, especially the visual kind, can be nurtured and blossom. It is not suprising that several prominent contemporary visual artists hail from Paete, including painter Manuel Baldemor, and that there exists arts groups here.
For the duration of the festival, the local visual arts group, the Paete Artist Guild, mounted the exhibit “Makasining” (literally “art-inclined” or “”for art”) at the third floor of the municipal hall, featuring the paintings and scultpures of Lito Baldemor, Glenn Cagandahan, Otep Banez, Nestor Cagayat, Egay Driodoco, Doy Baldemor, Oddette Cagandahan, Jason Banez, Paern Afurong, Lell Baldemor, Kid Baldemor, Bisoy Iglesia, Danilo Cads, Mario Baldemor, Tin Cagandahana and Ronnel Cainto. The displayed works were impressive, manifesting a sophistication and a higher level of refinedness and consciousness that are lacking in many local art groups. 
The highlight of the Paet-Taka Festival, as with any festival, was the street dancing parade and competition, in which the barangay of Bangkusay was declared champion followed by Bagumbayan in second place and Ermita in third. The parade was interspersed with entries to the Taka-rosa: Karosa-Making Competition, Paet-Taka Festival’s unique feature. A vehicle was dressep up to serve as carriages, traditionally for religious images, using papier-mâché and showing the town’s cultural icons such as carving, pagtataka and the lanzones or langsat. The entry of the barangay of Ibaba del Sur was judged the best while Ibaba del Norte was placed second and Maytoong third.
Winners of the Mutya-Taka: Festival Costume-Making Competition also paraded, led by grand winner from the barangay of Quinale (model Jezzlen Caguin with designer Boljak Baet) and followed by first runner-up Ibaba del Sur, modeled by Micka Osorio, and second runner-up, another entry from Quinale (model Trishia Mae Lacsinto and designer Lheemar Baet Dianela).
The street dancing showdown continued into the night that even the sporadic rain could not dampen the spirit and colors of Paete.

The Ginoo at Binibining Paete of the Paet-Taka Festiva 2015

Audience at the Ginoo at Binibining Paete of the Paet-Taka Festiva 2015
Quesada Street alive with festive decorations for the Paet-Taka Festiva 2015

Quinale's entry for the Taka-rossa Competition

At the "Makasining" exhibit

At the "Makasining" exhibit
The street dancing competition of the Paet-Taka Festiva 2015

The Taka-rossa in a parade

All photos by Roel Hoang Manipon

No comments: