A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Davao down memory lane

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 August) — I stood at the corner of Claro Recto (formerly Claveria) and Palma Gil Streets as I watched the 12 entries of the Kadayawan Indak-Indak passed me by on Saturday, 20 August 2016.  I made a conscious choice to be on this spot along with hundreds of those who flocked to this corner of Davao City wanting to see how this Indak-indak would fare on the 31st year of this Festival.

There was a sentimental reason why I stood at this corner. Once upon a time, this spot in the city was my playground. Before our family transferred to what is now Digos City just before I got enrolled in Grade I, our house was located where now stands a building with the offices of Cocolife and the Land Bank, adjacent to what is now the Royal Mandaya Hotel.

Across the street now stands the building where one finds the RCBC Bank.  At this very spot was my godfather’s house which doubled as a vulcanizing shop.  Ninong Leo – an expert mechanic and one of my father’s best friends who remained a bachelor all his life – – owned this property.

Until my high school days, my parents would allow me to travel alone to the city to spend a few days with Ninong Leo.  He always seemed very pleased when I would spend a few days with him.  Nearby was the Eagle Theatre; today, one wonders if the theatre was named after what is now an iconic symbol of Davao, namely the Philippine Eagle. Because in my youth, this eagle had not entered into the consciousness of most Davaoeňos as an iconic bird they should be proud of.

Eagle Theatre had its famous neon light which was a sight thrilling to small kids, with the eagle’s wings moving up and down, as if the eagle was soaring to the sky! Inside this theatre, we had watched all kinds of Pinoy films starring the superstars of yesteryears from Dolphy to FPJ. Down the street was the Three Sisters’ refreshment parlor where Ninong Leo would take me for a refreshing halo-halo on a hot summer day.

Snippets of this memory came back to me as I waited for the Indak-indak entries to unfold at that very corner. It wasn’t a choice spot for this kind of viewing as one had to compete with a hundred people to catch a sight of the spectacles.  The best view would have been in front of City Hall where the bleachers – reserved for guests and the city’s elite – provided the best view of the sights. However, one gets a thrill being in the streets despite the heat of the sun.

While the jaded Davao City dwellers have had enough of the Kadayawan sights and perhaps tempted to ignore the festival this year – leaving the sightseeing to out-of-towners and tourists – still I was curious how the street dancing would fare this year.  Besides I had assigned my Cultural Anthropology class to go and immerse themselves in the festivities (and then later write a report on how the Kadayawan is truly a reflection of the multicultural reality of the city), so I better had an idea what was going on in the streets.  As I have not set foot in my childhood’s playground for a number of years, I thought it best to stand at the corner of Claro Recto and Palma Gil Sts.

Is there really something spectacular about Kadayawan that would give us a compelling reason why our relatives and friends should come to our city and join the festival? If they have not been to our city nor attend this festival, then by all means invite them over. That first visit and exposure to Kadayawan might provide them a jolly good time. But for most people especially those above 40 years-old, perhaps experiencing Kadayawan once is more than enough. It is really mainly the millennials and the kids who yearn to be in the streets, participate in the festivities and visit the malls during Kadayawan.

For the Kadayawan – like the Ati-atihan, the Sinulog, the Mascara and all other festivals in our archipelago – are a welcome diversion from the mundane existence of most people. We need the occasional fix that would provide a momentary escape from the everyday problems we encounter. Kadayawan provides a good excuse for all to get into a circus mood; the eruption of bright colors in the streets creates a fiesta atmosphere without the trappings of a religious ritual thus allowing everyone to act as wildly as they can with little restraint from moral guardians.

There is no question that the streets of the city take on specific characteristics not present during the rest of the year even during the Christmas season!  It is a minefield for those who are interested in doing anthropological fieldwork.  Watching the people watching the indak-indak pass them by can be a most interesting exercise where one can learn a lot about human behavior.  In the post-modern landscape, the most common scene is that of people taking selfies left and right, up and down.  As soon as the dancing kids perform in front of them, the people go berserk as cameras and celfons commit to posterity the colorful scenes. It is as if they could only enjoy watching the scene through the eye of the camera.

The cast of characters in the streets covers a wide range. The tourists are out for an adventure, the onlookers a glimpse of the magic of the festival. Most attentive are the kids six years below;  one pities them as they worm their way through the crowds hoping to be able to see the sights rather than the backs of their elders. The vendors have a field day selling everything from balloons to candies to cigarettes, fans and hats to keep off the heat. Even as descendants of migrant settlers – the children who make up the bulk of the musicians and dancers camouflage themselves into looking Moro or Lumad with their garish costumes – there are the true indigenous people – the Sama D’laut (more popularly known as Badjaos) reduced to begging in the streets. Their presence in the streets offers the most ironic element of this entire palabas!

I was about to conclude that the indak-indak of 2016 did not offer any new surprises – and I was about to abandon my watch considering that the noonday heat was becoming more oppressive – when from afar my eyes caught sight of giant Maranaw umbrellas twirling above the heads of the crowd.  I reconsidered my departure and waited for this contingent to appear across where we stood.  It proved to be a wise decision for with this contingent, the more than two hours I spent standing by the side of this road proved worthwhile. The contingent was the more than hundred students from the James L. Chiongbian National Trade School of Kiamba, Sarangani Province. (Another irony; those from outside Davao City mounted much more amazing productions than the Davaoeňo contingents!).  Their dance production may not have been that original and could have easily turned out to be the quintessential pageantry show like so many others. After all, these festival dance productions all over the archipelago have now reached boring generic proportions.

But the manner that the Kiamba choreographers assembled the whole production together made it truly outstanding. And it was no surprise that in the end, it ran away with the first prize in this competition.  What made it such an amazing piece of theatrical art?  There is the combination of integral elements: all ethnolinguistic groups that constitute the population of Sarangani were artistically presented from the Ilonggos to the Blaans, from the Maguindanao to the Tboli and from the Maranaws to the Teduray. Their dances and music were interwoven so that the audience was provided with a summary of the province’s rich cultural legacies. How the rich cultural symbols seamlessly interfaced with each other – from the fans to the baskets, the bamboo poles to the agong, the Tboli headdress to the Bisaya guitar, the Maguindanao banners that dance in the wind to the forest backdrop – was truly a sight to behold.

This was not just a “tri-people” collage, but truly a multi-cultural spectacle in dance, music, song and mime of a number of ethnicities whose cultures remain intact. In the glare of the noonday sun, as the kids sweat it out on the streets with tremendous energy, one is swept into the magic of Kadayawan.  If this production finds its way to the cavernous stage of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, complete with sophisticated lighting facilities and the best sound gadgets, this amazing production will further scintillate!

If Kadayawan is to continue to weave its magic, it can learn a lesson for two from the Kiamba contingent. The festival needs a soul if it hopes to remain part of the city’s identity in the decades to come. This is why the Ati-atihan will always be celebrated; perhaps this could be true of the Sinulog if it does not lose its soul which is slowly being eroded. The crass commercialism of any festival – for Kadayawan it was shown in its vulgar display during Sunday’s flower parade – will have to be downplayed because rituals of thanksgiving and for seeking divine favors do not enmesh well with commerce and trade fairs with only one goal, namely, to make a fast buck.

In my early childhood growing up among children of migrant settlers, we were insulated from the original inhabitants of the city. We sort of knew they were there, but our elders – in our homes, in the church and the government – hardy did anything to make us realize that there was a richness of cultures in the land of our birth. That it would have enriched us if we had opportunities to celebrate the multi-cultural identity of this city. What a pity that I my childhood friends never had a chance to stand at the corner of Claveria and Palma Gil Sts. to witness dancing in the streets that defined us as a people with a unique history and ancestry.

Today, our grandchildren are luckier.  On a Kadayawan day, they could stand at some corner in the city center and watch the indak-indak unfold before their eyes making them realize that they can truly take pride in a city that has a multi-cultural soul! [Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. He is author of several books, including Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations, and two books on Davao’s history launched in December 2015 — Davao in the Pre-Conquest Era and the Age of Colonization and Si Menda ug ang Baganing gitahapan nga mao si Mangulayon. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)]