Friday, September 26, 2008

DINAGYANG Ilonggos pride and joy

The entire city of Iloilo and its nearby towns celebrated the recent Dinagyang, one of the country’s most popular festivals with much pomp, pageantry and grandeur, which Christmas or New Year festivities could hardly rival.

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.

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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.

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