Monday, December 07, 2009

Ilocano Balikbayans and Fiestas

The way Ilocanos are spending their fiestas this past years, you would think they were on a splurge. Solano, Nueva Vizcaya and Laoag City are in the thick of a fight on which has the longest tupig. Laoag again was challenged by Cabanatuan City and City of San Fernando for the longest longganiza although Vigan boasts of having the "Longganiza Festival." Santiago City and Sta.Maria, Ilocos Sur both hold the "Pinakbet Festival." The biggest calamay on record in Candon City was gone in 10 minutes. Tikanlu for travelers is a city in Iran and then it turned out to be the new festival in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur which is a contraction of "Tinupig-Kankanen-Lublubi."

Every town in Ilocos seemed to have their festival. Some said this was adopted from Baguio's ten-year-old Panagbenga Festival. John Hay Poro Point Development Corporation and the Camp John Hay Development Corporation started the Panagbenga Flower Festival as a way to fill the gap between the influx of tourists who traditionally come in December and then in Holy Week in late March or April.

But then social scientists (as in sosyal) would tell you that Viva Vigan is older because it was started 12 years ago by Save Vigan Ancestral Houses Association Inc. and KaiVigan or Friends of Vigan to drum up publicity for the inclusion of Vigan in the Untied Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's World Heritage List which it eventually got.

Viva Vigan and Panagbenga were essentially secular fiestas, unlike the traditional ones which were rooted in the celebration of the town's saintly patrons.

Ilocos Sur Rep. Eric Singson said that the Filipino fiesta originated in Sevilla, Spain. He said that the fiestas there would last for days and the activity set only in colorful tents called the casetas where they communally danced the flamenco and ate their tapas.

Singson provided each barangay in Candon their own casetas huddled in one area to show unity in diversity.

So these are the three festivals making differences in Ilocano fiestas.

Japanese anthropologist Itaru Nagasaka begged to differ.

In his paper, "Festivity, Overseas Migration and Local Politics: Transformation of the Town Fiestas in Ilocos, Philippines," Nagasaka said that it was the balikbayans and the local politicos who brought in the changes.

He targeted the town of Sidiran in Ilocos Norte as the locus of his study, making differences about the beauty and popularity contests and how politicos angled themselves in photo shoots.

He said that fiestas in Ilocos have been evolving since the 1970s.

"This does not necessarily indicate the total decline of the fiesta itself, rather, it is found that some aspects of the fiesta have been intensified," Nagasaka said.

One aspect is the role of the balikbayans. He said that balikbayans in Ilocos, who have been leaving their homeland for greener pastures for almost a century, have made Balikbayan Day almost the grandest event.
"The Catholic Church and the Independ Church, both of whihc had once played significant roles in the town fiest, take little part in the present town fiesta of Sidiran," Nagasaka noted.
He said that although the balikbayans may hav helped diminish the religious aspect, the change of the agriculture cycle also has a lot to do witht he secularization.

In Sidiran, for example, most of the balikbayans are domestic helpers from Hongkong and although their status in the town was lower when they left, returning as presidents of the associations in Hongkong, they began to pin sashes and act as judges in beauty contests.

In Candon City, for example, a medical technologist based in the US made it her panata to come home during the city fiesta to be a judge for the male entries of the Bikini Contest.

Nagasaka, however, said that although balikbayans have a say in the fiestas, these do not translate to their power in local politics. He said that in Sidiran, as in many places in Ilocos, local power is still held by the few and in some instances, migrant organizations from as far as the United States, Hawaii and Greece are still influenced by local politicos back home.

As a result, the participation of balikbayans in fiestas does not affect the local political structure but rather reproduces it. He even went on to say that the factionalism in migrant organizations abroad reflects the factionalism of local politics.


Anonymous volume-addict said...

Laoag, Cabanatuan, San Fernando and Vigan may want to be careful not to call their longganiza events "sausagefests". Just sayin'.

1:30 AM  
Anonymous Yna Antipala said...

Hi. Very interesting article. It turned up in my research about fiesta and festivals.

I would really like to have my hand over the Nagasaka article, but unfortunately, I can't find any copy of it.

Do you happen to have any copy of it? I badly need it for my research. Thank you.

You could reach me at

- Yna Altea Antipala

9:35 PM  

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