Notes on the 2014 Tan-ok: Spotlight on stories

story conference b
Tan-ok choreographers and tourism officers from around Ilocos Norte
Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director
Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director

It’s November and all 23 cities and municipalities of Ilocos Norte are in full swing with their respective preparations for this year’s edition of the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals happening on the 29th.

I highly anticipate this year’s Tan-ok as organizers have given premium on what I, together with well-meaning Ilocano culture advocates, have been wishing for in previous editions: faithfulness to the Ilocano story. Indeed, any self-respecting festival should have at its core the true story of its people who are celebrating greatness, be it of an object, food, event, or any phenomenon.

Last October 24, your karikna was invited by Aian Raquel, the event’s creative director, to serve as resource speaker in a story workshop participated in by choreographers from the various towns and cities. With the exception of a few who failed to attend, I was glad with the receptiveness of the participants.

I delivered a brief lecture on the history and culture of Ilocanos but not after making a clear caveat that everything that I was to say in the workshop was my own insights as a fan who happens to have some knowledge of Ilocano culture and history, and not of the Tan-ok management. I also said that they are not obliged to heed my humble recommendations.

At the onset, I stressed to the participants that artists like them are powerful personas. They, in fact, could even be more influential than politicians, for they shape their people’s consciousness, help them define their identity, and empower them to preserve their heritage while embracing evolution and change. Any artist who sees his value only by the trophies he has won is underestimating, even insulting, himself.

In the course of making the presentation entertaining and winnable, overeager choreographers either in the guise of claiming artistic license or sheer arrogance and plain ignorance, twist and alter the story to the extent that it is rendered unrecognizable by the people who supposedly own it.

Most notorious, of course, in fictionalizing stories is Laoag City’s Pamulinawen Festival. Ironically, it has, over the past four years, brought home 3 championship trophys, lording over the competition since 2012.  Over the years, Pamulinawen has been portrayed as blacksmith trade (2011), courtship (2012), and songwriting (2013). In the Mini Tan-ok Dance Competition last February, Pamulinawen was interpreted as cockfighting.

In terms of wealth, both in terms of financial and human resources, Laoag, the city I live in and love over and above any place on earth, arguably has the upper hand. I wish that choreographers will finally zero in on a proper story which will properly shape and define the Pamulinawen Festival which still badly pales in comparison, mainly on account of lack of consistency and character, to more established festivals across the nation. Unfortunately, Laoag was the only group which decided not to talk about their storyline during the workshop.

But why has Laoag consistently won? Continue reading “Notes on the 2014 Tan-ok: Spotlight on stories”

Tale of two Cebuanos: one good, the other despicable

Two Cebuanos are in my consciousness these days. One brings forth inspiration; the other, indignation.

Let’s talk first about the good one.

When I was growing up, my dad used to tell me that he is not particularly fond of the Sto. Niño. “Why pray to the child Jesus when you can pray to the adult one?” he asked rhetorically. My mother, a daily communicant, thinks otherwise. Not only does she have images of the child Jesus prominently displayed on our home altar, she actually had me dress up like a Sto. Niño during a novena mass at Church: I held a sceptre on my left hand and a globe on my right. I barely remember other details of that event, but I do recall my mom telling me that she prays that I may become a good boy like the child Jesus. From then on, Sto. Niño and I became faithful friends.

Me and mom: I was the smallest Sto. Nino.
Me and mom: I was the smallest Sto. Nino.

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That friendship was fortified when I attended college at San Beda where the community has a special devotion to the Sto. Niño of Prague. Dedicated to him, our annual college fair and frolics is highlighted by a procession in the Malacañang vicinity, and a grand mass at the football field. Even after I graduated and began working, I’d go back to Mendiola every third Sunday of January to join the Pista ng Sto. Niño sa San Beda. Also, I’d go to the feast of the Sto. Niño in Tondo where the family of my good friend Weng de Jesus lives. The Tondo fiesta is the liveliest I have been to, with processions, parlor games, and drinking sprees happening in every nook and corner of the district. I have also been fortunate to visit the Sto. Niño in Cebu and in Iloilo where the country’s grandest festivals are held.

It is always a joy being in the company of my beloved friend who constantly makes me feel loved and at peace. During times of great trouble, I visit him and feel comforted. I am assured by his gentle smile that everything is going to be okay; after all, he’s got the whole world in his hands.

Last week, as the pilgrim image of Sto. Niño de Cebu visited various towns of Ilocos Norte, I was amazed by the very strong devotion Ilocanos have for the child Jesus. The queues to the image were constantly long as people from all walks of life came to pay homage. At the St. William’s Cathedral, I was particularly struck by a couple who stood in line behind me: they are probably in their seventies. The old woman man walked very slowly while her husband was aided with a cane. They politely asked if I could take their picture. I took the camera and did as asked, the Sto. Niño smiling in the background. Then I asked them if I could also take their picture with my own camera, for I wanted to capture that touching moment, and probably share the story of their piety with others. They graciously agreed.

 

photo by Joel Dul-loog
photo by Joel Dul-loog

Both the old and young venerate the Sto. Niño. But why pray to the child when you can go directly to the adult Jesus? Our special affinity to the Sto. Niño is probably because we see the best qualities of humanity in childhood: that of innocence and purity, of carefree fun and adventure, of meekness and humility, and, ultimately, of pure and unadulterated love. Never mind that the cruel and oppressive Spaniards brought the historic image here and forced their religion to us. It is interesting to note that the image of a spiritual child runs across Oriental religions, specifically in Hinduism’s Krishna.

Now, let us talk about the other Cebuano, the despicable one. Continue reading “Tale of two Cebuanos: one good, the other despicable”

If only shopping can always be this fun

Buying stuff, while stress-relieving for some, could get really frustrating. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to find the item you want. There’s the design you’re looking for but you don’t have the size, or maybe a size fits you but the color is so not you. Worse, you’re two minutes too late in buying the item of your dreams; the last piece was taken by another shopper who had more luck. And the saleslady, overworked and underpaid, is grouchy.

This is why I always look forward to the one event where one can choose, mix and match, and create personalized stuff. Thankfully, hapening tomorrow until Sunday (May 23-25) is the ‘Make Your Own Havaianas” event at Robinsons Ilocos. I had a great time in its first edition around the same time last year. To date, I have around 10 pairs of Havaianas slippers, all of them nice and comfortable to use, but my own creation stands out among them, to me at least.

For the sole, I chose plain black. I always prefer it without prints because I love the feel of rubber on my foot… the rubber-skin connection. Plain black because I am not drawn to flashy designs. For the strap, I chose my favourite color… red, shade of the Marcoses and of San Beda, my alma mater. For adornment, I picked two pins, one for each strap. One was an “Ilocos pride pin” on sandboarding, of which Ilocos is increasingly getting known for, while the other was on my favourite sport, bicycling.

I was desperately going through my files to show you how it was done, until I gave up searching. Anyway, here was my “creation” in last year’s Ilocos Norte MYOH, a first in this part of the country.

No, Jaja Colleen, please spare that one. You murdered two of my Havs when you were still a pup.
No, Jaja Colleen, please spare that one. You murdered two of my Havs when you were still a pup.
No, Jaja Colleen, I can't buy you one. I don't think they have a line for cute pets like you yet.
No, Jaja Colleen, I can’t buy you one. I don’t think they have a line for cute pets like you yet.
ILOCOS PRIDE: Sandboarding
ILOCOS PRIDE: Sandboarding
FAVE SPORT: The slow, steady cadence of a bike is like a two-wheeled, human-powered sojourn to utopia.
FAVE SPORT: The slow, steady cadence of a bike is like a two-wheeled, human-powered sojourn to utopia.

The fun of designing my own flip-flop was made even more exciting by the festive mood in the MYOH area. No grouchy salesladies, only helpful and jovial staff. And, oh, they are all good-looking. (They hired hot guys and gals just for the event.) It helps too, that Mary Ann Cua-Macaraeg, CEO of Visionaire, Inc. which exclusively distributes the Brazillian brand, has in her staff stellar graduates of the university where I teach. There’s Ajo Rumbaoa who was president of the Central Student Council, and, recently hired was Michael Mugas, a marketing cum laude graduate whose leadership in school orgs led him to a stint in Japan.

I learned from Blauearth that this year’s MYOH will mark the festive Brazilian street culture. Vogue posits that “Brazilians have the ability to make a party out of nothing, and then make it the most exciting night you’ve ever had.” Brazilian culture, they say, is all about self expression, and not being ashamed of how vividly you express it. Filipinos are like that, too, to some extent, but maybe Brazillians do have less inhibitions.
Continue reading “If only shopping can always be this fun”

Rockstar Governor

If she wins as governor, her critics warned in 2010, she will probably spend more time in Metro Manila than in the Ilocos Norte Capitol.  “She will be bored here,” they said matter-of-factly. Sure, Imee Marcos had served as congresswoman for nine years but that job meant more time spent in the nation’s capital.

Four years and one reelection later, the cynics, or whatever have remained of them, are silent. Many may now even be singing a different tune. Looking at how things are going on for the province, it has become increasingly difficult not to admire Imee Marcos as a leader. Highly popular and well-loved, she has attained rockstar status never before seen in this part of the country. Here are 10 reasons why:

1.      Hands-on leadership, good governance

To begin with, Imee has consistently proven, both in moments of joy and in times of disaster, that she is a hands-on governor. Even young employees at the Capitol are having difficulty keeping pace with the lady leader who is known to work long hours even on weekends. “Her energy is unbelievable,” says a colleague at the provincial press corps.

Resulting from her hard work, Ilocos Norte has been constantly identified as among the best governed provinces in the country. It also holds the distinction of being the first Philippine province to attain full ISO certification.

Governor Marcos during a flag-raising ceremony
Governor Marcos during a flag-raising ceremony (NOTE: Most photos in this article are from websites and social media accounts maintained by the Ilocos Norte Provincial Government.)
Imee visits calamity victims.
Imee visits calamity victims.

Continue reading “Rockstar Governor”

‘Elsa’ draws huge crowd anew, brings Ilocos Norte to national limelight

 

AUNOR: Still making waves 32 years after "Himala"
AUNOR: Still making waves 32 years after “Himala”

Around 3,000 extras took part in the filming of Himala, the 1982 Ishmael Bernal masterpiece shot in Paoay. Considering its limited budget, it was a miracle of sorts putting together what is now largely considered, both by critics and the viewing public, as the best film ever produced in the Asia Pacific. Last Saturday, May 10, the miracle happened anew, with a crowd ten times bigger witnessing the immortalization of the film’s iconic character, Elsa.

The unveiling of a fiberglass statue depicting Elsa was the highlight of this year’s Himala sa Buhangin, an offbeat outdoor arts and music festival staged in the Paoay Sand Dunes. Actress Nora Aunor, who played the lead role, graced the event to the delight of an estimated 25,000 revelers, including hundreds of die-hard Noranians from other parts of the country.

Created by visual artist Gerry Leonardo, the fiberglass sculpture depicts Elsa deep in prayer and kneeling in front of a withered tree. Erected atop one of the highest peaks in the sand dunes, the statue was unveiled with cinematic effect at around 9:00 p.m. There were bolts of lightning as music from the movie was played along with the classic line: “Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala!” As if it were a movie shooting, fans chanted, “Elsa! Elsa!”

Continue reading “‘Elsa’ draws huge crowd anew, brings Ilocos Norte to national limelight”

Pasuquin’s Pride: oldest gay parade in Asia

Sunflowers
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN. Amor Albano is crowned as this year’s Queen of Sunflower Festival. Held in Pasuquin, it is the oldest organized gay parade in Asia. Richard Bumanglag, aka Kristina Cassandra (second from left), was adjudged as Miss Ilocoslovaklush 2014.
Richard Bumanglag, aka Kristina Cassandra, is Miss Ilocoslovaklush 2014  (photo by Inot Villanueva)
Richard Bumanglag, aka Kristina Cassandra, is Miss Ilocoslovaklush 2014 (photo by Inot Villanueva)
Queen Amor
Queen Amor

Pasuquin is arguably one of the most backward municipalities of Ilocos Norte. It is economically slow, unprogressive, and stagnant. The town’s tourist attractions, if any, are not as well-known as the mindless bickering of its political families. Its Biscocho, though good, has never made it big on a national or regional scale. Salt-making, once a pride of this town, is no longer exactly traditional as the rock salt they use is now imported by bulk from Australia. The town could have made it big if only they supported the idea of setting up a dragon fruit farm first broached by resident Editha Dacuycuy, but she instead set up her now-famous farm in adjacent Burgos town after Pasuquin officials showed little interest.

These said, Pasuquin may not exactly be a model town, but there is, dear karikna, one thing the town is proud of. Such is little known, little emphasized, but is actually huge: its gay pride.

The Manila Pride March bills itself as the “oldest gay pride march in Asia.” Its first edition was staged in 1994. But did you know that an organized gay parade is being held in Pasuquin for forty two years now, starting in 1975?

A group of successful gay professionals formed the Sunflower Organization in the 1972. Its first project was the Sunflower Festival, a drag parade that celebrates pride in gay identity and fosters camaraderie among its members. Surprisingly, the people of this small and tightly Catholic town welcomed the idea. Mothers and fathers were supportive of their gay sons. Town folks watched the festival participants not with ridicule or contempt, but only with respect and admiration. It was such an extraordinary phenomenon that led American filmmaker Shawn Hainsworth to produce the documentary “Sunflowers” which earned critical acclaim in the 1997 Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and other film fests in North America. The film brought the Sunflower Festival in the international gay radar.

It’s a puzzle, dear karikna, how gay empowerment has become ingrained in the culture and consciousness of Pasuquenos, but Benly Agudelo Academia, current Sunflowers Organization president, offers this insight: “Sunflowers was started by successful professionals who were respected members of the community.” That is why, he said, “at the end of the day, people looked at our talents and contributions, and not on our gender.” Truly, the organization, through its yearly parade, has shown everyone that success and honor is no monopoly of heterosexuals and so no gay must be forced to linger in the dark. Aptly, the organization is named after the Sunflower which is known to face the sunlight. Members call themselves “sunflowers.”

In the absence of any record that would prove otherwise, Sunflowers is the oldest gay organization in the Philippines, if not in Asia. The University of the Philippines Babaylan, the largest LGBT student organization in the Philippines, was oranized only in 1992 while Progay-Philippines was formed in 1994.

Continue reading “Pasuquin’s Pride: oldest gay parade in Asia”

Tan-ok ni who?

The Tan-ok ni Ilocano (mini version) Dance Showdown was held tonight at a half-full Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena. ‘Mini’ because, unlike the full version held last December, the number of dancers are limited (only 12-16), performance time is shorter (3-4 minutes), and props are simpler and smaller. The show is also less budgeted.

The idea is to form groups that can be feasibly booked for events, including national and international gatherings held here in Ilocos Norte. All the 21 municipalities and 2 cities were expected to showcase their rich culture through dance. “Tan-ok” means great, so the contingents were tasked to highlight what their respective peoples and places are proud of and known for. All the contingents accomplished that, except one: the champion.

Laoag City’s routine, no doubt, was most entertaining. Thanks to top-caliber choreographer Christian Espiritu—whose talent I personally admire; and who we in The Ilocos Times chose as one of the Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013—the dance was well-executed, lively, and colorful. It portrayed “pallot” (cockfighting), and presented the vivid scenarios inside a cockpit. It was fun to watch.

But beyond fun and entertainment, many viewers—including Prof. Arsenio Gallego, vice president of the Dance Education Association of the Philippines—have raised the following questions: Is cockfighting the pride of Laoag City? And, is there verifiable evidence that Laoageños, or Ilocanos in general, are drawn to cockfighting more than other ethnic groups in the Philippines?

I am not, dear karikna, opposed to cockfighting and neither am I moralizing here. But is this really the story we want to creatively tell people who want to know us more? Is this really our story?

San Nicolas celebrated their pottery; Batac told their folk history; Pinili took garlic to the stage; and Vintar let out their Siwawer bird.

Cockfighting. Tan-ok ni who?

Continue reading “Tan-ok ni who?”