By Pet Melliza/The Beekeeper
Iloilo’s Dinagyang Festival is a tourism event, a religious occasion, cultural milestone even. The streets of the downtown area will be closed to traffic during the Kasadyahan (Saturday) and the Ati-Ati competition (Sunday). All roads will teem with humanity.
The Dinagyang may be a cultural fete but its brand of culture merely promotes mass amnesia as it reenacts the obsession of the slave to thank its master for the chain.
This sado-masochism informs the performances of troupes called “tribu” whose aims is to cover the obvious and caps the “religious” celebration with a bacchanalia that turns Iloilo streets into one giant rest room.
In pre-hispanic time, communities in what is now the Philippines had already reached the level of development that made them self-reliant. They could build boats to trade with other lands, sell their produce and procure what they needed. They had science and industry that enabled them to erect shelters, craft blades and weapons, weave fabrics, husband livestock and crops, and fabricate farm implements, among others.
They had their own religions (Islam and pantheism), oral and written literature that further bound them as communities.
All that are skirted in the dominant themes of the Dinagyang performances that, in the main, look down on the indio, a derogatory tag invented by the conqueror for the native who existed only after it was “discovered” by the marauder named Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, forgetting the fact that Jolo, Yrong-Yrong, Sugbu, Mactan and what is now Manila, were then bustling international trading ports settled by Muslim communities.
Spanish colonialism for 300 years resulted in the mass pauperization and brutalization of the indio reinforced by religion that proved as brutal as the Guardia Civil in suppressing the people’s right to rule themselves. The Catholic church was vital cog in the three centuries of dehumanization and oppression that 19th century intellectuals like Jose Rizal and Graciano Lopez Jaena described in unflattering parodies at how religion made the indio grateful to the master for “civilizing” it.
The speed and dizzying dances of the tribus to the Afro-Latino beats of the drums and percussion instruments are impressive but they merely reinforce mass ignorance that makes the modern indio gawk at the supposed superiority of its (past and present) colonial masters. Conversely, today’s collective unconscious of the indio is seen in its self denigration, or voluntary inferiority to its conqueror and abuser.
Take the case of one persistent theme that resurrects in the Dinagyang: the indio community is stricken by illness. The shaman prays and dances to the pagan gods but to no avail. More fall ill and are dying.
Next, comes the frayle, the statuette of the Sto. Nino in tow. Fray Butod raises the image up and voila, a miracle happens: everybody bounces back to life, resumes dancing and chants “viva, senor Sto. Nino!” Here, the indio and its religions are inferior.
The barbarity of the friars is subsumed by the supposed fanaticism of the indio in welcoming the new religion that purveys racism with the worship of the White Man who, of course, has the White, Male, and Christian god on his side. The religious themes of the Dinagyang portray the indio as meek and submissive, if not cowardly, ignoring history which records more than 200 revolts by the indio and the moros against Spanish colonialism.
The Sto. Nino is not only seen in its healing power. In the parade of sponsors and competing tribus, it also prances and gyrates alongside mascots of business companies many of which aptly deserving to be torched to the ground for abusing their workers.
One town’s presentation proffers a variant of indio inferiority – celebrating its surrogate role as warrior for the colonial master alongside the hated Guardia Civil in anti-Moro wars. Its choreographed tableau depicts itself as “victim” of “moro pirates”, again, ignoring history of the colonial master conscripting the “bisaya” in waging armed expeditions at least five major ones, to the morolandia in the south, that in turn invited retaliations from the moros.
That “zarzuela” and “santa krusan” in disguise is just one version of “us-versus-them”, divide-and-rule strategy that the colonial master exploited to frustrate communities from uniting.