By Carmen Denia, Yale-NUS College ’17 – See bio
When most people hear about the Philippines, they usually think of Manila or Cebu, but my family – or more particularly, my father – hails from Davao, a city in the southern island of Mindanao.
Every August, Davao celebrates the Kadayawan, a festival of thanksgiving for the gifts of nature and a time of serenity for the people. It was originally celebrated by the ten tribes that made up this place. The city has since grown to be more like Manila with its own large shopping malls, schools and government offices, but I like that Davao has maintained some of the flavour and texture of the great tribal province that it once was.
Still, I suppose it wouldn’t be too farfetched to claim that the Kadayawan has changed much since when it was a spiritual celebration for the aborigines who tilled the land. The festival now usually features multiple street parties, flower and fruit parades, competitions for giant floats, art exhibits and discounts everywhere. The parades are filled too with hundreds of foreign tourists, thousands of returning locals, yuppies in their DSLR clubs and toddlers with the strings of helium balloons tied around their wrists so their parents can spot them in the crowd. There are boiled peanut vendors, fruit shake stalls on wooden carts, taho men with their sticky concoction of bean curd and heavy sugar syrup, high school students and beggars, movie stars, and soldiers.
The presence of beggars at local festivals always strikes me. Some of them are women carrying newborns and others are six year-olds who already know how to pout in order to hopefully be given more loose change by those around. Some offer them food, some give them the dregs of their pity, and some shoo them away like flies. I wonder most times if the money spent on the festivities could have been better spent on building up this city for these less fortunate ones.
Yet, one must realise that the floats and performances themselves often come from schools, clubs, and offices all over the province that don’t have much funding Painting banners, building platforms, and spending time practicing requires the creators to give up time and money for other things. Their contributions to the Kadayawan come from a place of sacrifice, not wastefulness. They touch me too as proof that art and beauty can still shine in dark places of poverty and want.
The most beautiful of the art forms on display throughout the month though, for me, is the competition for traditional dance. For some of those performing who come from the poor, rural villages in the mountains, they do not need to be taught the steps. They flow like water, then toughen like old trees to the beat of native drums that boom like thunder.
I love how each step they make tells a story.
Holding leaves, sweeping the ground, they say, “This is how we sow.” When they raise woven baskets in their outstretched arms, it means, “This is how we take from the sea.” If a teenage couple spins around each other, twirling coloured cloths in the air, they demonstrate how the young ones court. When an elderly dancer raises the dust with her heel, she shows how the old ones die.
When rows of young men stomp on the ground and raise coloured spears, they declare, “This is how we fight our battles.” and when the gongs are ringing and the people are cheering, they tell me that this is how they will celebrate when they are victorious in the end.