Wednesday, 13 June 2018

My Lupang Hinirang's 800 Years of Missing History Lessons

"Lupa ng araw, ng luwalhati't pagsinta, buhay ay langit sa piling mo..."

Yes, for me, a Filipino born in the middle islands (sounds like LOTR-Middle-Earth-ish) of the Philippines, my understanding of my region's history changed over the past year. 

I didn't know about the important history lessons I should have learned in grade school. Although I remember doing good in my Social Studies studies, I realized the teachers didn't teach us regional history but only the history dictated by the events, scandals, and wars that happened in Manila and its neighboring provinces.

Growing up, I didn't know the local heroes of the Negros and Iloilo Provinces. I would only recognize the statues of Jose Rizál (with an overcoat and wavy, pomaded hair) and Andres Bonifació (in pedal pushers, long-sleeved camisa, and the mandatory bladed weapon whose length usually depended on the budget of the statue-maker). These two are the most ubiquitous of national hero statues in public plazas; it's either one or the other, or, if it's a rich city, both and some statues of local dead personalities usually related to the sitting mayor. :-)

So what I did during the past months was to travel around and discover the local history of my region. 

And where to start? How about 1220 CE when, about that time, ten datus from Borneo landed in Panay Island?

During that period, in the early 1220's CE, ten datus from Borneo fled to Aninipay, the ancient name of Panay Island, to escape the political vendetta of a Bornean rajah. The datus, their families, servants, and followers were allowed to live in the lowlands after negotiating with the Aetas living their.

The negotiation was completed with the 'Barter of Panay': in exchange for the lowlands, the Aetas, led by Datu Pulpulan, were given a golden salakot and a golden necklace that was so long, it reached the ground. The necklace's name was 'Manangyad', from the word 'sangyad' that means 'it touches the ground'. This word still exists in the present-day Hiligaynon, the language spoken in Iloilo and Negros Occidental Provinces (one of the six languages I speak, ehem).

And this Barter of Panay is annually celebrated in, where else, in Panay Island! The cities of Kalibo in Aklan Province and Iloilo in Iloilo Province hold two of the most colorful, best-costumed festivals in all of the Philippines: the Ati-Atihan Festival every January.

When I was in high school I got to attend the Dinagyang Festival, the ati-atihan festival in Iloilo, but last year, my sister and I were able to attend again the Dinagyang Festival, which was a weekend full of revelry, fun, and performances by the participating tribes, representing the different areas and high schools in Iloilo City. Not only did I have a great time, I also learned a lot about Panay Island's history through the festival. 

The ten datus from Borneo and the leaders of the aets (or ati), Datu Pulpulan and his son, Datu Marikudo, would have been proud and probably would have also enjoyed ogling at the colorful costumes and watching the performances of the tribes who portrayed them. They would have been amazed at how tribal costumes and dances evolved over 800 years. And who knows? Had they competed, we would have been able to see authentic tribal wear and jewelry, including the famed golden salakot and the 'Manangyad'

These ten datus later created the 'Confederation of Madja-as', an ancient form of government with the datus sharing equal power. This proves that even before the Spaniards came, there existed a ruled civilization in the islands with its own government, culture, writing, costumes, and of course, original recipes of homemade dishes!

But if the ati-atihan festival is based on history, the religious sadsad held at the San Jose de Placer parish church during the festival weekend is based on religion. It was the most expressive display of religious fervor I have ever seen with everyone energetically participating by dancing with their own replicas of the Santo Niño. Both the Catholic tradition and the church have a long history. The San Jose de Placér church's site was founded in 1607, and its belfries built in the 1890s, while the devotion to the Santo Niño started with the arrival of Magellan in 1521. 

And about 30 minutes by car from San Jose de Placér parish church is also a historic town of Santa Barbara, which was the site of the first-ever raising of the Philippine flag outside of Luzon on November 17, 1898, led by General Martin Teofiló Delgado. The symbolic raising of the flag created the revolutionary government of the Visayan Islands against Spain, whose governor-general in Iloilo City surrendered on December 24, 1898, to General Delgado's forces.  

And if the Ilonggos were busy planning their revolution, so were the Negrenses across the Iloilo Strait.

On November 5, 1898, in Silay City in the Negros Island, a group of brave Negrenses led by General Aniceto Lacson, also revolted against Spain. He and his revolutionaries successfully took over the Spanish government the next day. Silay, a charming city rich in history, culture, and arts, was home to renowned artists. Its most famous mansion, the Balay Negrense, built in 1897, was owned by the Gaston Family and is a popular tourist spot in the city. 

Silay City is also rich in culinary heritage which it celebrates with a food fair twice a year. Its present-day San Diego Pro-Cathedral was built in 1925, but its original structures of bamboos and local materials were built in 1776. The patron saint, San Diego de Alcala, died in 1463 in Alcalá de Henares in Spain, the hometown of Miguel de Cervantes and a place I once visited. 

Although Bacolod City is the capital of Negros Occidental, Silay is richer in terms of history, art,  culture, and culinary heritage. Bacolod City, though, boasts of the biggest festival on the island: the Masskara Festival that was first organized in 1980 to uplift the Negrense spirit in the sugar crisis of the 1980s and the tragedy of the sinking of Don Juan, a passenger ship that ferried people from Bacolod to Manila, and back. It collided with an oil tanker and sank while it was on its way to Bacolod City from Manila on April 22,1980. Almost 200 passengers died in the tragedy, including those whose bodies were recovered and those who are still missing. A high school classmate and his family died in that tragedy.

Well, over the past year, I have learned more about my region's history than I would have at school. During my grade school years, we were only taught of the history that transpired in Manila and its surrounding regions. This was probably because the textbooks were published by writers from Manila using the history of national interest. 

But I would have appreciated it if the people in the Philippine Department of Education included the regional history in the local school's curriculum. Then, I would not have been ignorant as to who were Aniceto Lacson, Juan Araneta (I actually had a classmate by that name; he must be his ancestor), Martin Teofiló Delgado, or Datu Pulpulan. And I would have known Datu Puti was a real Bornean datu and not just a vinegar for cooking. Ha-ha-ha!

Traveling around these islands, my own lupang hinirang, my chosen land, this past year has enriched my understanding of its landscape, both popular and historical, although I still need to understand deeper as to why things are what they are now.

And although I journeyed far into the land and across the sea, I also found a few pieces of history closer to my heart. Some photos in my mom's photo albums have also opened my eye to not only what has passed, but also what she has seen. 

From a 1940 photograph that literally painted a thousand words, (well, not really, only 660 words for that blog), to an endearing message on a postcard postmarked 1958, and to black-and-white photographs that tell very colorful stories.

So, from 1220 CE to present, about 800 years, that was the rich history I have learned so far. If the past year taught me that much, I wonder how much I'd learn in the years ahead!

How about you? 

How much of your region's history do you know?

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