Notes on the Kadayawan

This was my column on the date indicated above.This post is antedated.

Climate change—and its profound impact—was an issue that was palpable all throughout the celebration of the Kadayawan festival over the weekend in Davao City.

I was in Davao City for a conference, which luckily for me, coincided with the celebration of what is dubbed as the “king of festivals” (what can I say, even the various festivals in the country have to have their own advertising taglines nowadays). Secretary Lualhati Antonino of the Mindanao Development Authority was asked to speak at the conference about the business outlook for the island and she devoted a considerable amount of time talking about the impact of climate change on a land that is mostly agricultural. She eventually talked about her pet project to save the environment, which I hope to write about in the near future.

Of all industries, it is agriculture that is probably affected the most by climate change. Plants suffer the most from prolonged droughts or excessive rainfall. Harvests are likewise affected when the seasons are delayed or come early.

The annual Kadayawan festival is supposed to be a celebration of life, a thanksgiving for the gifts of nature, the wealth of culture, the bounties of harvest and the serenity of living. The festival is supposed to showcase the best of Mindanao—the whole island, after all, has been blessed with fertile land and weather that’s very conducive for agriculture. In case people don’t know, Mindanao has been practically feeding the rest of the country for many years now. Almost a hundred percent of the high-grade pineapples, papayas and bananas that Filipinos eat come from Mindanao. A sizable percentage of vegetables as well as rice are also produced in Mindanao.

Around this time of the year, the streets of Davao normally start to get flooded with the various bounties of nature, the harvest season reaching its peak sometime September. In previous celebrations everyone would have his or her fill of durian, marang, rambutan, mangosteen as these fruits were practically given away because of oversupply. For example, my cousins told me that around the same time last year, the sweet pungent smell of durian enveloped the city—everyone had durian at home because it was being sold dirt cheap at P15 a kilo. And one didn’t have to walk a distance to find a fruit stand as vendors were everywhere. Last week, durian could only be found at certain parts of the city and they were quite expensive—the going rate was around P85 a kilo. Some said that this was because the harvest season had been delayed; others claimed that the harvest this year was not as bountiful.

Climate change has messed up nature’s production cycle. The weather in Davao City used to be very predictable; almost like clockwork. When I was growing up in this city, large parts of the metropolitan didn’t have a water system because it rained every single day—and the rains would not be so heavy, just enough to water the plantations and to enable households to have water for their daily needs. Each household collected rainwater and stored these in cisterns. We were told that the weather in the last six months had been characterized by too much rain. A typhoon even hovered around the island, something that has not happened in decades as the island is usually not along the path of typhoons. Certain parts of Mindanao even got flooded, something completely unheard of in this island of mountains.

Davao City is supposed to enjoy balmy weather this time of the year, which is why the Kadayawan is scheduled in August. Well, the weather was particularly unpredictable last week —it was scorching hot at daytime and heavy rains poured in the afternoons and evenings. The uncooperative weather made the staging of activities scheduled in the evenings very difficult. Fortunately, the mall culture has arrived in Davao City so activities scheduled inside the many malls were impervious to climate change. But then again, the Kadayawan was supposed to be a celebration of and by the people and meant to be staged on the streets and the many public places of the city.

The issue of climate change also found its way to the two major events of the Kadayawan festival—the streetdancing competition and the parade of floats as the various participating groups inevitably found a way to include the environmental phenomenon in their productions.

Of these two major events of the Kadayawan, the one that usually gets a lot of media attention is the parade of floats that majestically roll down the designated route. This year, the floats were—as usual—a sight to behold proving once again that Filipino ingenuity is unparalleled. What makes the Kadayawan floats parade unique and marvelous is that the floats are truly a showcase of the Mindanaoan’s rich cultural heritage as well as nature’s bounty in terms of fruits and flowers.

One wishes, though, that the same commitment to celebrate and sustain local tribal color and culture were also prevalent in the streetdancing competition. Alas, this was not the case.

Although the various contingents that participated in the Indak Indak sa Kadalanan (merrymaking in the streets) tried to present local color and culture, one couldn’t help but notice how the gaya gaya (copycat) and the bongga (over the top) phenomena has stifled creativity and diluted the essence of the festival, which was to showcase the unique culture of the various Davao and Mindanao tribes.

To be honest about it, the only thing that differentiated the various Kadayawan performing contingents from say, the groups that participate in the other major festivals such as the Sinulog or the Panagbenga, were the costumes of the performers. The performers still wore tinalak and various indigenous weaves and colors but even these have not been spared contemporary influences. I was dismayed to note for example that some contingents wore leggings and had costumes that had embroideries rather than intricate beadings.

The production elements of the various contingents seemed to veer towards making a bongga statement rather than showcase authentic and indigenous sounds and movements. All of the contingents featured the same tired production contraptions such as moveable props that were transformed into risers and backdrops. Anyone who expected to witness authentic movements that called to mind the grace, skill and balance that characterize indigenous dances of the various tribes around Davao were in the wrong place it seemed. In fact, the movements were more of the Showtime and Eat Bulaga variety with lots of head and leg throws, shoulder contractions, and acrobatic drills coupled with a lot of shouting a la Ati-atihan.

Most of the contingents also relied on huge drums that produced ear-shattering beats rather than the melodious cacophony of gongs and brass instruments. Many of the contingents even featured, believe it or not, bugles and xylophones! The only thing that was missing in the whole extravaganza was giant images of the Santo Niño and it could have been the Sinulog.

I am not knocking down the Kadayawan because truly, we need such extravaganzas to nurture local indigenous culture. But we really need to make an effort to ensure that such festivals do not degenerate into a mere pabonggahan contest, where cheap tricks take the place of artistry and where local culture is lost in the mad frenzy of commercial styling. We need to rethink the essence of these festivals and ensure that these remain true to the task of preserving our rich cultural heritage.


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