Monday, August 20, 2012

Let Down

The term fiesta, I am told, is the Spanish derivative of the Latin word festa which is the plural for festum which means festival or feast.  In many Spanish speaking countries and those like the Philippines which had once been Spanish colonies, it usually refers to a religious festival commemorating a particular Catholic saint who is revered to be the protector or patron of a particular town or city.

Yet even in the Philippine setting, a fiesta is more than a just a religious holiday. It has also cultural and socio-economic overtones and is often connected in the past to the culmination of the local harvest season for rice, corn and other vital agricultural crops.  It is also a celebration of community solidarity and in the more mundane sense, an occasion for people to get together, to feast on good food for a change and an opportunity take a break from the hard work and humdrum that often defines the ordinary in the day to day business of living.

In the truest sense, a fiesta comes out and evolves from the shared cultural and often historical experiences of a paticular people.  It draws its reason for being from a community's desire to highlight that which unifies and binds it together, the collective qualities that makes it unique among its neighbors and peers.  It seeks to recall and glorify the struggles and achievements of the past yet also expresses the hope and prayers for a more bountiful, more prosperous future.

Some fiestas have become specially well known and have grown to be more than merely local affairs because of their strikingly unique qualities and their long history of uninterrupted and enthusiastic observance by particular communities. Their colorful past plus the undying passion that they persist in inspiring among those that celebrate them make them truly special.  They are the landmark events to watch out for and, if possible, immerse oneself and experience personally because they are the real thing and not the pseudo-cultural fantasies and theatrical extravaganzas  foisted by many towns and cities and then sold to gullible tourists as the real thing.

Think of the Sinulog Festival in Cebu, the Dinagyang of Iloilo or the Ati-Atihan of Aklan which, in particular, is often described as the mother of all Philippine festivals and fiestas.  All of them have deep historical, religious and cultural roots not only in their respective localities but even in the general culture that defines the Filipino nation..

As community events they have changed and evolved in the decades of their formal existence.  Despite being often accused of becoming exceedingly commercialized and trivialized in order to become profitable as tourist draws, they, however, still retain that special mystique and allure.  In other words, as popular events they have a strong resonance in the culture and psyche of their people.  As long as they have that quality, they will remain relevant and will continue to be commemorated and celebrated with fervor into the future.

The town fiesta that Lianga celebrates every 15th of August will sadly never belong to this category of Filipino fiestas and festivals if the people of Lianga will do nothing to change the way the town has been observing,for some time now, this supposedly significant, once a year, religious and cultural event.  In one sense, perhaps, the fact that it is in no way special or even appropriate or relevant to Lianga speaks eloquently of the lows into which Lianga has fallen as a town and community despite being one of the oldest and most culturally diverse municipalities in this part of the country.

The fiesta is traditionally held in honor of the town's patron saint, the Santo Niño or the Child Jesus and yet aside from the requisite masses, processions and other religious ceremonies that were, of course, within the ambit of the local Catholic parish church and its devotees, nothing more was significantly said or done about this fact throughout the rest of the festivities.  Much the religious aspect of it was, whether intended or not, low keyed and subdued.

Perhaps the trend was to secularize the celebration or to focus on something else cultural and non-spiritual although what that was, one cannot say with any sense of clear certainty.  Certainly the festival theme "Tipon Lumon sa Kalinaw ug Kalambuan" which is essentially a call to unite for peace and progress was never really elaborated upon or embellished in any way or at any time during the whole affair.

The classy souvenir invitation pamphlet that was distributed extols instead ( in its introduction to the whole gamut of activities marking the 132nd Inatu Festival) the so called Manobo-Kamayo people and culture which it glowingly describes as Lianga's very own, hence the term "inatu" which can be loosely translated as "our own".  Yet the festivities, which actually stretched five days from the 10th to the 12th of August, did not, in any way and in any of all of the scheduled activities and programs, seek to promote or even passingly portray or pay tribute to the Manobo-Kamayo culture (whatever that actually means), the richness of its unique yet dying language or its traditional way of life that is rapidly vanishing.

Instead there were disco concerts, hip-hop contests and a tennis tournament.  Marcelito Pomoy, the ABS-CBN Pilipinas Got Talent grand champion, came and wowed everyone with his singing prowess and vocal gymnastics while BisRock fans got their dose of  homegrown rock music from the Missing Felimon Band of Cebu.  Regine Tolentino pranced and danced on stage at the municipal gymnasium on the final night.

Yet, like a lot of people here, I came through the almost whole week of events and activities with the nagging suspicion and a gradually dawning realization that I may have been actually taken for a ride and that despite all the simulated pageantry and feigned, glitzy glamour of it all I had really not gotten anything really and truly wonderful, significant or worthwhile, in retrospect, to remember or reminisce about with some degree of enthusiasm.

In my mind and heart the question begs - what was all that supposed to be about?


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