One of my biggest dreams in life is to travel the world. Europe in particular I have a soft spot for. I’ve always wanted to see the Coliseum in Rome, stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower, bathe in the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, and get lost in the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge.
But yesterday I realized that I put so much store by my Western-themed fantasies that I’ve spent most of my life ignorant of the culture of the country whose history is my own.
2012 is apparently the 10th year of the Aliwan Fiesta, a festival where delegates from all over the country gather in Manila to showcase their region’s particular culture. A grand parade begins at the Quirino Grandstand, goes through Roxas Boulevard and ends at the CCP Complex—a four-kilometer stretch of hot city road.
Each delegation prepares costumes, a dance, a float, and a representative reyna. Yesterday’s event had over 200 delegates from everywhere: Pasay, Iloilo, Baguio, Zamboanga, you name it.
I was blown away by what they brought to the table…or as it happens, the street. Every contingent came out in full parade attire despite the scorching heat (must have been at least 36 degrees out there yesterday), and I saw everything from tribesmen, giant Santo Nino heads, and furry animal costumes to candelabras, life-size vinta replicas, and moving mechanical eagles. I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it before. There was even a million-peso cash prize at stake! I felt like a total ignoramus.
But it wasn’t just me. My friends and family were surprised to hear of such it too, much less that the event had been going on for ten whole years. I found myself saddened and not a little ashamed. It was a celebration of a culture that I, being the Western-inspired city kid I am, took for granted, and the passion and pride the delegates put into their performances left me humbled.
I got quite the social studies lesson, too. I learned that the Pandanggo Sa Ilaw—a dance I think most of us had at least tried in grade school or high school—originated in Negros Oriental, and recreated the lights of fishermen as they reflected off of fish in nighttime waters. In speaking with thereynaof Baguio City, I learned that her feathery costume, though a bit distanced from the Flower Festival she represented, stood for the spirit of the city—strength and sovereignty.
I’m glad I got the chance to cover the event for AKTV (TV5’s sports channel). I mean, I know we have all these great festivals all over the country, but reading about it in a textbook or magazine and seeing it happen in front of me, hearing the crowd roar for their favorites, being surrounded by and talking to all those excited, passionate people—my countrymen! mine!—awed me and filled me with pride.
The Philippines has a rich, diverse, colorful culture, and I’m beginning to feel the need to be a part of it. I guess that means Paris is going to have to wait.