heritage kept alive
By Antonio Montalvan
IT has become a
norm for many provinces and cities to stage cultural festivals. Festivals are tourist
come-ons. They are crowd-drawers. They bring in much-needed receipts.
In our enthusiasm to think of what festivals to stage, we create traditions that weren't
there to begin with and pass them off as "indigenous." Many of our festivals
range from the bawdy to the bizarre. One town in the country is even thinking of putting
up a "suman festival." At other times, we couldn't seem to make up our minds
whether this was an Ati-atihan or a Brazil Mardi Gras. Other festivals are just plain and
One festival that certainly does not fall into
this category -- at least not yet -- is Bukidnon's Kaamulan Festival, held during the
month of March each year. The Kaamulan is anything but contrived.
It all began in 1974. It was the fiesta of Malaybalay, May 15, in honor of San Isidro
Labrador. The town's vice mayor then, Edilberto Mamawag, thought of inviting some
indigenous Bukidnon tribespeople to town. Mamawag thought a few dance steps by the natives
at Plaza Rizal would enliven the fiesta-goers.
That simple idea caught fire. A former reporter for the Manila Times, Mamawag had at that
time a guest Manila reporter who later wrote about it for a national magazine. That
signaled the start of Kaamulan's fame. One year led to another. On Sept. 16, 1977, the
Regional Development Council adopted Kaamulan as the regional festival of northern
By then, Mamawag was already the municipal mayor of Malaybalay (now a city). Although born
of Ilocano parents who, like many others, settled on the cool mountain plateaus of
Bukidnon, Mamawag married a Higaunon girl, Eden Suclatan Tan-Nery, who was a descendant of
Datu Mansiagnao. But there was also a pure-blooded Higaunon in the municipal council,
Pepita Caterial Ongkiatco (many of the natives had adapted to the surnames of the migrant
culture since Hispanic times). That was probably one factor that spelled the difference
for Kaamulan since the start: that it was conceived and implemented by people with real
indigenous genealogical lines.
The name Kaamulan is Binukid for "social gathering." There are eight indigenous
groups in Bukidnon: the Matigsalug, Umayamnon, Ilianon, Pulangihon, Talaandig, Tigwa
Manobo, Western Bukidnon Manobo and the Higaunon who are also found in the hinterlands of
Agusan del Sur, Misamis Oriental and Lanao del Norte. Comparative linguistic studies have
shown that their languages, along with other Manobo languages of Mindanao, are daughter
languages of an earlier parent language called Proto Manobo, the speakers of which were
believed to have migrated to southern Mindanao many centuries ago.
Unlike other festivals, Kaamulan is not all street theater pageantry, although that is
only one of its many facets. If other festivals have to stage-direct schoolchildren and
make them appear as natives, in Kaamulan it is the real indigenous peoples who attract the
crowds. And which is probably why the authentic rituals are what spice up the Kaamulan
There is the pangampo (general worship), the tagulambong ho datu (a
political ritual marking one's formal ascendancy to the datuship), the panumanod (spiriting
ceremony), the panlisig (edging away of evil spirits), another ceremony called
pamalas and a native horse fight called kagsaba ho kabayo.
Dance clinics are held in the afternoons. These are conducted by the indigenous peoples
themselves, using real native drums and musical instruments. Young people who otherwise go
"jamming" using CD compos and portable disc players are the ones instead who are
drawn to these clinics like an ethnic Woodstock, truly an educational alternative.
In the evenings, there are chants of the Bukidnon epic olaging, recitations of the
lyric poetry limbay, the singing of ballads called idangdang, and other literary
forms such as bayok-bayok (verses), antoka (riddles), nanangon (folk tales)
and the tracing of one's genealogy in debate form, the dasang.
Because it is the product of a well thought-out research, and includes the participation
of real natives in its conceptualization and implementation, Kaamulan has attracted its
own following of researchers. It is a heartwarming sight to see students painstakingly
taking notes, interviewing the native folks. Kaamulan is a virtual Filipino culture
history laboratory, and its educational benefits to many students cannot be
Where otherwise we find "neo-ethnic" choreographies and "modified"
costumes in some of our festivals, Kaamulan is everything authentic. Where other festivals
parade the town's patron saint ā la Santo Niņo Ati-atihan or Sinulog-style, Kaamulan is
no copycat. If other festivals sashay to the beat of the Ati-atihan even if the place had
no Ati people to begin with, Kaamulan follows only its indigenous cadence. Kaamulan's
charm is not in the frenzy of the Ati-atihan, nor in the pomp and glitter of Sinulog. Its
charm lies in its authenticity.
Bukidnon has always been a refreshing destination, not just for its climate but also for
its montane vistas, its Grand Canyon of the Philippines, its fog-laden pine-wooded hills
of Malaybalay City, its mighty Pulangi River that becomes the Rio Grande de Mindanao as it
reaches the vast Cotabato plains. Perhaps the best wonder of Bukidnon is its unique
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source of images: http://www.malaybalaycity.com/kaamulan.htm
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