Bukidnon heritage kept aliveBy Antonio Montalvan
IT has become a norm for many provinces and cities to stage cultural festivals. Festivals are tourist come-ons. They are crowd-drawers. They bring in much-needed receipts. In our enthusiasm to think of what festivals to stage, we create traditions that weren't there to begin with and pass them off as "indigenous." Many of our festivals range from the bawdy to the bizarre. One town in the country is even thinking of putting up a "suman festival." At other times, we couldn't seem to make up our minds whether this was an Ati-atihan or a Brazil Mardi Gras. Other festivals are just plain and simple bacchanalia. One festival that certainly does not fall into this category -- at least not yet -- is Bukidnon's Kaamulan Festival, held during the month of March each year. The Kaamulan is anything but contrived.
It all began in 1974. It was the fiesta of Malaybalay, May 15, in honor of San Isidro Labrador. The town's vice mayor then, Edilberto Mamawag, thought of inviting some indigenous Bukidnon tribespeople to town. Mamawag thought a few dance steps by the natives at Plaza Rizal would enliven the fiesta-goers. That simple idea caught fire. A former reporter for the Manila Times, Mamawag had at that time a guest Manila reporter who later wrote about it for a national magazine. That signaled the start of Kaamulan's fame. One year led to another. On Sept. 16, 1977, the Regional Development Council adopted Kaamulan as the regional festival of northern Mindanao. By then, Mamawag was already the municipal mayor of Malaybalay (now a city). Although born of Ilocano parents who, like many others, settled on the cool mountain plateaus of Bukidnon, Mamawag married a Higaunon girl, Eden Suclatan Tan-Nery, who was a descendant of Datu Mansiagnao.
But there was also a pure-blooded Higaunon in the municipal council, Pepita Caterial Ongkiatco (many of the natives had adapted to the surnames of the migrant culture since Hispanic times). That was probably one factor that spelled the difference for Kaamulan since the start: that it was conceived and implemented by people with real indigenous genealogical lines. The name Kaamulan is Binukid for "social gathering." There are eight indigenous groups in Bukidnon: the Matigsalug, Umayamnon, Ilianon, Pulangihon, Talaandig, Tigwa Manobo, Western Bukidnon Manobo and the Higaunon who are also found in the hinterlands of Agusan del Sur, Misamis Oriental and Lanao del Norte. Comparative linguistic studies have shown that their languages, along with other Manobo languages of Mindanao, are daughter languages of an earlier parent language called Proto Manobo, the speakers of which were believed to have migrated to southern Mindanao many centuries ago. Unlike other festivals, Kaamulan is not all street theater pageantry, although that is only one of its many facets. If other festivals have to stage-direct schoolchildren and make them appear as natives, in Kaamulan it is the real indigenous peoples who attract the crowds.
And which is probably why the authentic rituals are what spice up the Kaamulan pageantry. There is the pangampo (general worship), the tagulambong ho datu (a political ritual marking one's formal ascendancy to the datuship), the panumanod (spiriting ceremony), the panlisig (edging away of evil spirits), another ceremony called pamalas and a native horse fight called kagsaba ho kabayo. Dance clinics are held in the afternoons. These are conducted by the indigenous peoples themselves, using real native drums and musical instruments. Young people who otherwise go "jamming" using CD compos and portable disc players are the ones instead who are drawn to these clinics like an ethnic Woodstock, truly an educational alternative. In the evenings, there are chants of the Bukidnon epic olaging, recitations of the lyric poetry limbay, the singing of ballads called idangdang, and other literary forms such as bayok-bayok (verses), antoka (riddles), nanangon (folk tales) and the tracing of one's genealogy in debate form, the dasang.
Because it is the product of a well thought-out research, and includes the participation of real natives in its conceptualization and implementation, Kaamulan has attracted its own following of researchers. It is a heartwarming sight to see students painstakingly taking notes, interviewing the native folks. Kaamulan is a virtual Filipino culture history laboratory, and its educational benefits to many students cannot be underestimated. Where otherwise we find "neo-ethnic" choreographies and "modified" costumes in some of our festivals, Kaamulan is everything authentic. Where other festivals parade the town's patron saint à la Santo Niño Ati-atihan or Sinulog-style, Kaamulan is no copycat.
If other festivals sashay to the beat of the Ati-atihan even if the place had no Ati people to begin with, Kaamulan follows only its indigenous cadence. Kaamulan's charm is not in the frenzy of the Ati-atihan, nor in the pomp and glitter of Sinulog. Its charm lies in its authenticity. Bukidnon has always been a refreshing destination, not just for its climate but also for its montane vistas, its Grand Canyon of the Philippines, its fog-laden pine-wooded hills of Malaybalay City, its mighty Pulangi River that becomes the Rio Grande de Mindanao as it reaches the vast Cotabato plains. Perhaps the best wonder of Bukidnon is its unique indigenous culture. source: http://www.inq7.net/opi/2002/mar/18/opi_kris-1.htm
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