Disappointing Guling

More surreal than festive. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Edwin Antonio of ilocandiatreasures.com)

I HAVE always believed in Paoay’s Guling-guling, which, I argue, is the only authentic festival in the region, being deeply rooted in the history and culture of the townsfolk, unlike most festivals, including Laoag’s Pamulinawen, which came out of nowhere, and which, after over a decade, very people understand, if there is anything at all to understand.

Laoag may claim that the Pamulinawen is a great festival because it has won in the Aliwan Festival, an annual competition of festivals.  But note that it has won only in the Best Float Category, and such feat, which comes at great cost to Laoag’s taxpayers, does not mean the Pamulinawen is meaningful. It only means that the organizers know how to make good (and extravagant) floats. It occasionally wins as runner up in street dance, but neither does it assure us that the festival is meaningful and unique, it simply means that the dancers know how to dance well based on formulaic criteria.

I agree that festivals could help spur the development of tourism in a certain area, but we should only share to the world those which we strongly feel form part of our historical and cultural legacies. The Guling-guling of Paoay is one festival I approve of because the people have actually practiced the Guling-guling (marking their foreheads with white ashes the day before the season of Lent begins) long before they thought of formally making it a festival.

However, I went to this year’s Guling-guling, together with a balikbayan friend, but alas, found disappointment.

Late afternoon, there was a dance parade leading to a stage where a showdown between different performing groups was to be held. We arrived just in time to witness the street dancing around the Paoay Church, and my initial reaction was, “Oh boy, this is getting generic.” With the entry of choreographers from everywhere where fly-by-night festivals abound, the Guling-guling street dance is beginning to be just like one of those so-so-ness. The school kids, main participants in the street dance, looked like robots who effortfully followed the machinations of the choreographers.  Meanwhile, people just watched on the side. This leads me to my second point, that the Guling-guling Festival has ceased to be participative.

I say that the competition among different performing groups is partly to blame. There is now a great divide between performer and audience. What used to be a community event has become just a local version of Showtime. I do not say the competitions be scrapped (although I’d be happier without them),  I say that there must be greater effort to get the people engaged.  People dance and revel in Brazil’s Mardia Gras and in New Orleans’ Fat Tuesday.  In the Philippines, the most participative festivals would be the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo and the Fertility Festival in Obando.

Remember that before Guling-guling became a “Festival,” the locals, especially those of the earlier generations, did it neither for prizes nor for prestige, but all because it was meaningful to them.  There was a feeling of “ownership” for the festival. Today, old women, who were the players of the original Guling-guling, just watch from the sidelines, and I am not sure if they are happy with what they see.

In an effort to make the festival grander, organizers and choreographers even fell into the trap of adopting elements from other festivals which are not exactly Paoay’s. I have heard some of the sounds somewhere, the sights elsewhere. To be fair though, the organizers, specifically Perry Dafun, the festival’s artistic director, tried, albeit not so successfully, to ensure that what they would show are only those which are theirs. When we share to the world something that is not our own, we share to the world our pretensions and lies.

Also, the performances lacked focus as all the contingents unmercifully tried to incorporate various aspects of Paoay history and culture: pre-spanish life, occupation and Christianization, construction of the Paoay church, the guling/smearing, and the making of dudol and basi.  All of these in ten minutes?  “AWWW,” was all that my fab friend Aian could say.

(Pasingit: Congratulations to my friend Rowell Tagatac who choreographed the performance which won first place in the showdown.  I may not be a fan of the competition, but I am a big fan of Rowell, who was assisted by Lew Jerez and Chris Jimenez.)

And where is the joy?  The Guling-Guling Festival is touted as the Asian version of the Mardi Gras, which is a very happy event.  The Guling-guling main program, however, kicked off on a surreal note.  The sun has set when the program started, and performers with candle lights did their rituals while eerie music filled the air. Then the town mayor urged the people, via a frightening voiceover, to repent and ask forgiveness for their sins.  Isn’t that to be the order for the next day, Ash Wednesday?  The Guling-guling ought to be festive as it is the last day before the season of Lent, the season of great sorrow begins. I do not say that it be decadent, I just say allow it to be really joyful. This is the reason why the cross smeared during the Guling-guling is white, not black.  The same Christ who would be crucified on Good Friday could be a source of joy and rejoicing on Fat Tuesday.

For most of us in the audience, there was almost no joy. I should mention that the venue was designed, I hope not intentionally, in a manner that allows only the VIPs on stage to enjoy the performances.  Common folks, like me and my balikbayan friend, had to see it from afaaar, where we could only see the upper bodies of the performers as there was a concrete fence which blocked our view.  Aian and friend Mark, sat on the floor below the stage so they can see the performances, but security personnel repeatedly asked them to leave their lowly space. Aian and Mark stood their ground (or sat their ground?) and did not leave.  Let me ask then, for whom is this festival really?  Is it only for VIPs like politicians from the provincial level down to some forgettable barangay in an nth class municipality? How can we share it to the world when we cannot even share it generously to the locals?

Aian would later post this in his Facebook account:If we intend to make Guling Guling a national and most likely global event, we should start accepting the truth that for most of the audience, it is very very very difficult to watch the festivities. Only a limited, chosen number of audience were able to view the showdown pieces from the front. Perhaps funding should be allotted for the construction of a festival grounds where performers, the general audience, and op cors VIPs would be given equal importance.”

I have the feeling that the Guling-guling remains a small-town festival. I am not sure what elements are missing, but it is still surely far from being an event tourists and fun-seeking people would care go to.

Much has to be done and undone so that the Guling-guling, which I still love and will still go to next year, won’t degenerate into yet another pretentious, confused, and forgettable chuva.

Author: Herdy La. Yumul

A hesitant academic pimp, writer

5 thoughts on “Disappointing Guling”

  1. amin nga nabuyam herdy ket resulta ti ayat ket regget da nga mangipakita iti maysa nga pasamak iti lugarda babaen iti salsala ken musika… nu ikkam ti biag ti maysa nga pasamak ket gandat mu nga iparammag iti kaaduan, umuna unay nga mapanunot iti panagaramat ti sala, musika wenno kankanta ta isu ti maysa nga banag nga mabalin nga buyaen dagiti tattao… mabalin tay met nga suraten ngem maiskripisyo met ti pannakaummong dagiti tattao… agpartwat da rowell iti pabuya kas iti bilin dagiti dadaulo, agpartisipar dagiti ububbing, aggastos dagiti barbaranggay, agbuya dagiti tatto (pakairamanam didyayen) – dagitoy ket mangipakita nga naayat met dagiti tattao iti araramiden da.. ngem nu kitaem iti indibidwal nga aspeto iti panakaitarus ti siasinnuman nga kaparte iti daytoy a ragragsak, narigat mu nga makuna nga mayat daytoy a ganwat, aglalo nu madika nagplastar a nagbuya…
    panpanunotek nu ana iti kamayatan nga pannakaidalan ti guling-guling festival… mayat kadi ngata nu iti agmalmalem ket manguros ni apo padi kadagiti deboto? kasanuak ngaruden ken hanko met kayat a marugitan ti mugingko ta maysaak met a noranian… nu haan nga nagkoryo ni misty, mapilitan to met lng ni apo kapitana a manggamulo ti pasamak, amangan ketdi nu tilaaddanto a mapanpanunot na nga ipaaramid tapnun manglagip da laeng iti daytoy nga aldaw.. iti saludsud ita: ania kadi ti expectaren dagiti umili a mapasamak iti daytoy nga aldaw? nu alaem ti kapanunotan ti kas gagangay nga umili, haan na nga ammu iti sungbatna.. ket ni perry dafun, napinpintas la bassit iti isungbat na ta nalawlawa bassit iti imahinasyunna.. ket detay inka nabuya, isu ti pakabuklaanna.

    agingganatta, hanku maawatan nu apay randy ti impanaganda kenyak… ngem ketdi, nu awagandak iti naganko, sumungbatak met.. kayat na nga sawen, ti naganko nga randy ket ususarenda tapno mabigbigda a siak ti kasasaoda.. kasta met iti panagkitak iti awag nga pamulinawen festival… ammuk nga laoag ti akin fiesta deta (agyamanak ketdi ta adda nagannan ta idi ubingak, venrey ti nakatatak ti utak ko, isu tay adda idjay rangtay) gapu ta isut napanunot da idi uray haan da unay ammu iti tarus na… nu ikumperarko iti fiesta ti laoag idi ken itatta, adayo ti gidyatna. ti fiesta idi ket nakesentro idjay rangtay – ferris wheel, horror train, babaeng alakdan…. ngem tatta, miss laoag, miss abc, dance parade, float… hanko maibinsabinsa ti rason na ngem siguraduak nga kaykayat ko tatta ngem idi..

    “we should only share to the world those which we strongly feel form part of our historical and cultural legacies”. kayatko man detoy nga ideyam about festivals… ngem ana ngarud? ana kadi? adda kadi? kasla kuma ana?
    guling-guling? buling-buling? empanada? maymayat sa nu awan lattan.. ngem mayat kadi ti awan lattan? madi. isu nga haan mu maatipa ti tao nga agpanunot iti pasamak nga mabalinda nga aramiden iti lugarda.

    “In the Philippines, the most participative festivals would be the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo and the Fertility Festival in Obando”. kayat ti pilipinas detoy a festival uray met tinultulad da lng ti mardi gras. napintas ken naragsak ngamin . ti diak sigurado nu agpayso a kasta ti kulturada idiay. haan ka nga agdanag, parte ti progreso iti PANAGTULAD. nu adda makita ti tao nga napintas, tuladenna ket agbalinto a kukwana. ti kinapudnona, awan pay nagtulad nga naminpinsan na nga natulad.. ket ti tao a makakita iti pangit, malipatanna a dagus… isu nga ti panagkunak, “we share the world beautiful things!” beautiful history and culture will eventually come next.

    “Today, old women, who were the players of the original Guling-guling, just watch from the sidelines, and I am not sure if they are happy with what they see”. They dont care… Promise!!!

  2. Nice argument, Randy. Well, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, as what Herdy has seen/hardly seen/not seen in his viewpoint. But festival as aptly termed should be festive, jolly and happily enjoyed by everyone, to the locals, performers and viewers. So, I side with Herdy’s point of view. Success of the present undertaking could be judged by comparing it to the previous year’s festival. As a simple benchmark, it should equal if not surpass the achievement last year in terms of the number of local participation, number of attracted tourists (local & foreign) and revenue generation.

  3. this is my first time to go to one. as a catholic the lighting of the image of the cross was nice and as usual each time i go to a fair or festival i go to the plant section and buy orchids to add to my collection.

  4. “I have the feeling that the Guling-guling remains a small-town festival. I am not sure what elements are missing, but it is still surely far from being an event tourists and fun-seeking people would care go to.”

    Riknakem, I believe in your intelligence but I get the feeling you are speaking from your high horse. So what if the festival remains “small-town” and doesn’t attract tourists and fun-seeking people, the point here is that the community continues this celebratory tradition. The essence is there albeit, newer elements may have been introduced/used that have been borrowed elsewhere — which may or may not enhance — kitschy, tacky, wacky, outrageous, but what the heck. Go expecting anything to see or happen and try to leave your critical hat at home, will ya?
    Things evolve… No festival ever started on a grand scale nor was it ever intended to “attract tourists and fun-seeking people” –that’s not the intent. You may think that this year’s celebration of the festival may have missed it’s mark, but I think you as a “tourist” and visitor should at least be grateful to be a part of this celebration. At least say “agyamanak”.
    **On the Pamulinawen Festival “coming out of nowhere” — come on, everything has a beginning!!! This could be the start of something beautiful or just another plain ho-hum event, but hey if Ilocos wants to be noticed, this is a vehicle for self-promotion. Give it a chance. It will become old in time (maybe 10, 15, 50 years from now 🙂

    1. MTriumph/DC,

      You’re right. Mr. Yumul is a very critical person. He thinks highly of himself. Try to look for his past essays (Who Wants to be a Filipino, UP).
      He feels entitled to certain things as “his right.” He thinks that he is God’s gift to Ilocanos/Filipinos.

      Sociologist? I don’t think so. Sociopath? Hmmmm….

      I think he won’t approve of this post.

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