Feature Article, Fil-Am Observer, March 2007


By Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.
Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program
University of Hawai`i at Manoa

For the first time, it happened: a fiesta of no other name. And we at the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program of the University of Hawai`i at Manoa are proud because with the assistance and present presence of the Philippine Consulate General of Hawai`i, we were able to pull it through.

I speak in the first person, but I must speak in the plural, in the “we” that is inclusive because so many named and unnamed individuals and organizations helped us along the way, with many of them giving up so many things in order to be part of this fiesta, that, together with the Philippine Consulate, we hope to institutionalize starting next year. This means that from hereon, we will soon be coming together each February to celebrate the variety and diversity that we are as a people in the Philippines and in the diaspora.

For this year, we limited the fiesta to the areas of Kailokuan, Kordiliera, and Kagayan—the three K’s making up what we would call the geographic continuum Amianan, even if the cultures and languages in this northwestern part of the country are as diverse as some small United Nations. The Ilokanized portion of the Cordilleras and the Cagayan Valley would justify this fiesta concept even if the organizers were cognizant of the differences and the richness of the cultures and languages because of these differences. But somewhere, we had to make difficult choices because this fiesta had to be held.

In December, Consul Irene Susan Natividad asked us at the Ilokano program if we can hold a cultural festival to celebrate the National Arts Month. This was towards New Year, a time when everyone was on vacation or simply busy or too rushed because of the social obligations and expectations of the holidays. I told her right away: we would be happy to do it.

By January, I met with some of the Ilokano faculty and the ball started to roll. Committees of one were formed, but they were formed. And the students, the always-reliable Timpuyog: Ilokano Student Association came in to help, with their fresh and novel ideas on how best to hold a celebration like this, with all the necessary linkage and network building that it required.

By mid-January, organizing work became frenetic and this lasted till a few days before the big day. In all these frenzy, things fell in place because the people and organizations we approached to help offered to help—and came to help with generosity of heart. Some offered to cook their best recipe as in the case of Perlita Sadorra and Mrs. Rose Daproza, both of Gumil Hawai`i, one of the more sturdy writing associations in the State.

Right at the start, Charlene Cuaresma of the Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training (AANCART), a National Cancer Institute Community Network Program, came in to help, soliciting at the same time the help of Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline’s Helena Manzano. The two organizations eventually joined hands in the putting together of the key concepts for the 4K Creative Writing Initiative of the Ilokano Program of UH.

The 4K Creative Writing Initiative—Kur-itan Kontra Kanser ken Kinaranggas iti Taeng/Writing Up to Write Off Cancer and Domestic Violence—is a poetry writing workshop intended to bridge the gap between creative language use and critical awareness on two health issues affecting the immigrant Filipino communities of Hawai`i. Facilitated and directed by Aurelio Agcaoili of the University of Hawai`i, the 4K Creative Writing Initiative will be offered as a series of workshops for the larger Filipino community. The outputs of the workshop participants will be turned into a book and disseminated help create awareness on these two health issues. The 4K Creative Writing Initiative was held in the morning, with Manzano and Cuaresma giving the context for the 4K Creative Writing Initiative.

The afternoon cultural extravaganza delivered the goods as it promised, with
Angel Ugayam and Virgil Apostol leading the participants in the ugayam, a blessing and thanksgiving ritual prayer common the Kankanaeys of the Cordilleras. The former legislator Felipe Abinsay Jr, Executive Director for the Oahu Workforce Investment Board Danny Agsalog, and Consul Irene Susan Natividad addressed those who came to take part in the fiesta.

As in the old times, the rituals of the ages took center stage in the celebration, with Amado Yoro Gumil Oahu, Paul Taong of 1st 2nd Mortgage, and Rose Daproza of Gumil Hawai`i reciting their poems while Nora Cabico of Gumil Hawai`i, Leonora Albayalde of Bilingual Access, Kathleen Aguilar Guillen of 1st 2nd Mortgage, and the pair Prof. Precy Espiritu of the University of Hawai`i and Lydia Abajo of Domestic Violence Clearinghouse soothing us with their songs we have not heard for a long time, their passionate rendition of the tunes of our youth charging us with more energies that are linked with the memory of a culture and its gifts.

Joseph Gabor and his singing group rendered a medley of old and contemporary Ilokano songs, their choral performance extraordinarily one of dolce, delight, and more dolce, more sweetness you cannot help but sing along with them.

And lots of dancing we did, with the tadek and salidsid combined starting off the footwork, the steps fast-faced and age-defying, with Dr. Estrella Pada Taong, Kathleen Aguilar Guillen, Virgil Apostol, and Aurelio Agcaoili strutting their way on the stage, down with the audience, and again in that gift of movement and self that reminded us of earth, sky, the universe, the cosmos in the payaws of the Cordilleras, the movement of the wind, the flight of birds, the romantic movements of men and women, and the mating dramas of animals in the wild. Grace is grace even if youth was not one qualification we had, all of us almost past our prime. Enjoyment was personal, and that was reward enough, psychic and emotional, and memory-filled. For me, it is the thought that for the first time, I did not watch how the tadek and the salidsid are danced—I danced them, with my authentic G-strings, the baag of old, worn by the Ilokanos in the lowlands and the peoples of the Cordilleras as well.

The Sampaguita Dance Group came to dance—it was the day the dancers came as was the case of Bienvenido Santos’ narrative of an old-timer whose dream was to see the beautiful dancers from the homeland in order for him to remember again, the remembering also an act of becoming a member again: re-membering. We witnessed how the old steps of mature women transformed into nimble steps, sure and calculated, and orchestrated to form an ensemble of the visual play of bodies, colorful costumes, and smiling faces. Truly, Fely Unico, Domie Tesoro, Nilda Damo, Chris Barbosa, Nora Respicio, Tessie Facunla, Lourdes Billena, and Florence Lusano were the dancers we came for.

The hula dance of the father and sons tandem of Abraham Flores Jr. and sons Nagel and Nile proved that Ilokanos are not only singers and performers but disciples of Terpsichore as well, the muse of dancers. With their quick and sure-footed rendition of Kahiko Hula Kupe’e o Molokai, the muse could only be joyful and no less.

The day was long, with the dallot of Rizal Aguilar, Roxanne Taylan, and John Henry Acidera and yours truly giving us a glimpse of the communal and dramatic nature of the marriage rituals of the Ilokanos before the onset of colonization and this continuing pollution of its communal rituals of memory and memory-making so that history becomes everyday and lived daily.

Demonstrating the need to re-claim that memory in order to commence the act of self and communal healing was Virgil Apostol who has widely researched the healing arts of the Ilokanos, the peoples of Southeast Asia, the peoples of the Cordilleras and Cagayan Valley, and the holistic arts of the ancient Oriental peoples.

Timpuyog: Ilokano Student Organization of Hawai`i, as in all the activities involving the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program of the University of Hawai`i was always there from Day One, its officers always supportive of the Ilokano Program’s causes big and small, its advisers Julius Soria and Clem Montero always taking up duties beyond classroom hours. The Timpuyog president, Sarah Agag, as all the other officers and members, were not simply hands but hearts as well, giving their all, many of them braving the heavy early downpour to help fix the venue and get ready with the knick-knacks.

Next year will not be another Fiesta Ilokana and Amianan. It will be bigger. And through the years, we hope to transform this Fiesta into a multipartite affair of those who see fit to celebrate and remember, to gather and re-gather, to come together and enjoy each other’s presence.

The sponsors came with their gifts of food and presence: the Philippine Studies Program of Leeward Community College of Dr. Raymund Liongson; the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Hawai`i; the Pilipina Rural Project-Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline; the KORL 1180 AM, the 1ST 2ND Mortgage of Hawai`i Inc.; Annak ti Kailokuan; the Gumil Hawai`i; and the Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training.

Life in exile is a bit sad. But with a fiesta like this one, festive and communing, the sadness inherent in an exilic life can be turned into joy. The able, professional, and persuasive emceeing of Julius Soria, faculty member of the Ilokano Program, and Sarah Agag, president of Timpuyog, gave us reasons to be glad for that one Saturday that we decided to leave all our cares behind and come to the Philippines Consulate to enjoy each other’s company.

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