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Friday, September 26, 2008
Almost everyone important, Ilonggos and non-Ilonggos were here to participate in the three-day revelry including President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, several senators and solons. But it was the top celebrities from two giant media networks competing neck to neck here, that drew a huge crowd of young, awestruck Ilonggo audience.
The streets were filled with people who dined al fresco style at numerous eateries found in every nook and corner of every street. Traffic was worse in the evening because there were street concerts everywhere, almost as many as the eateries. But the people didn’t mind. Most of them preferred to walk from their offices, schools to their homes, malls or to their gimik destinations.
The festive atmosphere was contagious. I bravely toured the unfamiliar environs of Iloilo City at night, alone and on foot yet not feeling the least bit afraid that someone would harm me. The locals were nice, friendly and helpful to tourists. I only decided to break away from the happy, free-spirited crowd when I thought I was already lost and couldn’t find my way back to our hotel. I hailed a cab to take me there and it turned out I was heading for the right direction anyway.
As much as a thousand people turned out early the next morning for the highlight of the festival – the Dinagyang Ati competition (streetdancing). The colorful spectacle revealed a deeper devotion to the Sto. Niño through a grand display of Ilonggo ingenuity, and sheer talent at its best. The offerings and prayers in honor of Him were in the form of stylized, choreographed dancing. The sight of 100 or more dancers engaging in precise, synchronized movements while shouting "Hala Bira, Viva Señor" can be pretty overwhelming and impressive.
As early as the wee hours of the morning, members of the contingents or more popularly known here as tribe warriors were already busy preparing themselves for their presentation. They put latex (paint with a mixture of water) on their bodies to achieve that Negrito look, complementing colorful, creative costumes made from native materials.
For a outsider like me, though, one could not help but think of the striking resemblance the Dinagyang Ati (tribe) performances have with Cebu’s Sinulog and Kalibo, Aklan’s Ati-Atihan, considered the foremost festivals in the country.
Although the origins, history and devotion of the Dinagyang celebration all stemmed from the veneration of the Sto. Niño, the style and purpose of the Dinagyang festival is different from the more popular festivals of its Visayan neighbors, according to Francis de La Cruz, head of the Dinagyang Foundation’s Marketing and Promotions Committee.
He explained that unlike the Sinulog, the Dinagyang warriors are covered with black paint and the streetdancing competition boasts of choreographed dancing while the people watch, a feature not found in the Ati-Atihan of Kalibo where merry-making is open to all revelers, performers and spectators.
"The purpose of the Dinagyang, aside from giving honor to the Sto. Niño, is to sell Iloilo and bring it in the tourism map. We used to be the Queen City of the South, now its Cebu. but we’re trying to get it back," De La Cruz said.
Moreover, Fr. Roy Margallo, OSA, parish priest of San Jose and the Dinagyang liturgical committee chairperson stressed that the festival is more than just merry-making but a call to unity and cooperation.
"Dinagyang aims to contribute to the healing of the nation’s crisis and brokenness and also seeks to bring about peace and development to Iloilo, a blending of purpose of Church and the city government," he emphasized.
The local government units and the private sector are very much involved in the promotion of Dinagyang both as a tourist destination and as an economic booster for Iloilo, De La Cruz added. Aside from bringing in visitors, the foundation is also targeting investors to achieve its goal for the province.
Held every fourth Sunday of January, the Feast of Señor Sto. Niño celebrates the coming of the image to Iloilo while the Dinagyang festival, a major component of the feast, marks the conversion of the Negrito (Ati) tribes to Christianity. The religious event also traces its roots through the barter of Panay island by the 10 Bornean datus from the Ati king Marikudo in the 13th century.
The annual feast began in Iloilo in 1968 when Fr. Ambrosio J. Galindez, OSA, parish priest of San Jose Parish was given a replica of the image of Senor Santo Niño of Cebu as a birthday gift by visiting Rev. Fr. Sulpicio Endeves, OSA of the Basilica Minore in Cebu. The locals welcomed the image wholeheartedly and celebrated the event with a mass and procession around Iloilo City. The image was brought to San Jose Parish Church and enshrined there up to this time.
From a simple foot procession and fluvial parade of the Santo Niño image along the Iloilo river, the feast now evolved into a much bigger, grander celebration with the Dinagyang Ati competition participated in by various sectors from nearby towns.
The word Dinagyang, taken from the Ilonggo term "dagyang" which means to make merry, was coined by the late Pacifico Sumagpao Sudario, an old-timer Ilonggo writer and radio broadcaster when it was first used to name the Ati festival during its launching in 1977.
This year’s Dinagyang festival, spearheaded by the San Jose Parish Church and the Iloilo City Government, has become bigger and more famous than past years. De La Cruz said more financial support is also given to the tribes to ensure their good performance. A whooping R110,000 was given away to the Tribu Ilonganon, the winner of the streetdancing contest. But all the 20 tribes with more than a 100 warriors each, went home winners in their own right with a subsidy of R200,000 courtesy of the Dinagyang Foundation, plus consolation prizes.
I'm sure many of you have no idea what Dinagyang is - as did I, before I met my very patient director and gracious host, Kevin Piamonte and all my new found friends in Iloilo (production and admin crew, all the dancers/drummers of Passi Highschool, Bobby, Susan, George, Archie etc.). I learned so much more on this trip than I couldve imagined. It became much more of a learning experience, than a money making one. I was emersed into something very Filipino by nature, something I've been wanting to do for a long long time. To give you guys a little background, here's a little about the festival and the concept of our performance as a tribe.
Dinagyang started in Iloilo in 1967 when a replica of the Sto. Niño from Cebu was brought to Iloilo City. To date, it is the city’s biggest tourism festival with activities that showcase the different cultures of the towns of Iloilo. The main event of the Dinagyang is the tribal competition which takes place on the 3rd Saturday and 4th Sunday of January. In honor of the Sto. Niño, the tribes painted in basic black, dance through the main thoroughfares of the city. Black is a required color for the tribes since they are supposed to project the revelry of the Atis who were believed to have first discovered the holyimage along the shoreline of Kalibo. Thus, Kalibo has Ati-atihan, while Iloilo City has Dinagyang. Dinagyang takes place a week after Ati-atihan in Kalibo.
There are 3 main events in Dinagyang. The first is called Kasadyahan (our category). In Kasadyahan, tribes are given a freehand in their concepts and interpretation. This is why in Kasadyahan, tribes are not required to paint themselves black. They are free to wear any costume suitable to their concept. Like the two other main events, Kasadyahan is also a street parade where tribes perform in 4 judging areas. Streets around the city have been closed off for the Tribes to parade and line up for each judging area where bystanders and paying spectators can watch all the performances on bleachers and a covered mini-grandstand. The competition takes place only in the morning of Saturday (Jan. 22.) This year there were 17 towns competing in the Kasadyahan. We represented the town of Passi (a town an hour away from Iloilo). As a tribe, they are known as Pintados or people who paint themselves in tribal fashion (like tattoos), so we used this a part of our performance concept as well. Every single performance has to start from a concept, and is judged by its execution as a dance drama, with awards given to the Best Peformance, Choreography, Music Score and Costume Design.
This was our concept for Pintados de Passi's performance. In the morning, the townsfolk are going about their usual way of planting and harvesting sugarcane and producing mascuvado. This is the main livelihood of people in Passi. They ignore the story of one person who has seen a strange creature in the nearby area. After a day’s toil in the field, the people celebrate. It has been another day of bounty. Suddenly the warning call of the budyong is heard. Creatures have arrived to attack the town of Passi. The aswang, the kapre and the tikbalang ravage the town and leave some of the townsfolk dead. Devastated, the townsfolk are desperate to seek help. In the dead of the night, a vessel of fire (yours truly) appears, guiding aerial spirits in their quest to help people who are in need. The wizened aerial spirits tell the people that in order for them to conquer the evil elements, they have to paint themselves. If they paint themselves (like tattoos) they will be brave and they will have the power to defeat their enemies since the paint on the bodies bring about the warrior nature of the person. Thus, the pintados. The townsfolk prepare themselves to fight the elements. And when the aswang, the kapre and the tikbalang appear once again, the pintados in their warrior-like attitude bravely attack the creatures. Victory comes swift and fast to the Pintados. However, success is never complete without paying homage to the Santo Niño. The wizened aerial spirits appear once again with their guide blazing in the sun (i can do a great sun impression haha, pero may extra bayad yan ha) and lead the people to the church to pay a rousing tribute to the most powerful of them all.
So there you go, an indepth background about Dinagyang and my tribe's performance concept. As to how everything went, Ill have to write another time cuz I'm spent... it hasnt been a good day. Though this journal entry-ing has helped, I think I really need some shut eye. So stay tuned for more details on happenings and my thoughts during the trip