Philippine identity (2nd of 2 parts)

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces -

“Of one power even God is deprived, and that is the power of making what is past never to have been.” - Agathon

The fiesta is a living tradition. It tells the story of the Philippines, and as such, the story of becoming Filipino. In the history of fiestas, you not only find Catholic, but pagan history, tribal customs and culture and the story of Islam in the Philippines; sometimes in the same festivity. Taken together we discover who we are as a people. In the search for the Philippine identity, as Nick Joaquin said as well, we offer the folklore, piety and customs of fiesta.

Nick Joaquin wrote: “Patriotism always begins as a local piety: the affection we feel for the town of our birth. And our identity is formed, not only by this affection, but by the town itself: its legends and traditions, its customs and ceremonies, the cult and fiesta of its patron saint, and even the size and shape of its church…This is patriotism in its most pristine form; and from such intense local patriotism has evolved the larger nationalism that today makes us exalt the Philippines the richness of its culture…” Festivities were and are the supreme expression of Filipino culture. All artistic activities centered around a celebration. It was to the fiesta that the Filipinos brought their very best creations. To attend a fiesta is to be in the mainstream of Filipino culture.

 At its core culture is a way of doing things; it is the shared morals, knowledge and beliefs of a society. As we said, in this respect, the fiesta is the living embodiment and a vital element of Philippine culture. If museums exist to preserve archaeological artifacts and artistic creations; libraries and archives to preserve the written heritage, then the fiesta is our cultural heritage in motion.

 One of the Spanish policies was reduccion, or grouping people under the bell. When the Spanish first came to these Islands, barangays (small kinship groups) were the norm. Thus, the Spanish created towns for the Filipinos. Some though preferred the fields to the barrios. One way to bring the Filipinos of an area together was through festivities; at times even overlaid on pre-existing rites and rituals. The fiesta provided not only a break from eking out a living, but spectacle and entertainment. One of the first roles of fiesta was aiding in the evolution from clan to community. As this process accelerated in the 18th and 19th centuries, so too did a sense of national unity. Blood relations gave way to common organization, interests, laws and regulations tied villages together. The fiesta, which acted as a catalyst, now became one of the ties that bind.

Individuals can set up communities but only institutions can forge a nation. The fiesta is the Filipino’s highest manifestation of community life. It has inspired his greatest and more enduring creations in painting, sculpture, drama, music and dance. It was directly responsible for the development of Filipino cuisine, the evolution of Filipino attire. It is an excellent window into the Filipino soul. The different fiestas all express the spirit of a common cultural heritage. It tells the story of our past, of the acculturation and Christianizing of the Filipino; as well as the Filipinizing of Christianity. It is through fiesta that some of the customs and culture of our past survives; it is in fiesta that we find the elements of our history bound together. It is through fiesta we became Filipino. There is an old Tagalog saying: “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.” It is their folk way of saying that nations without a past have no future.

There are some who have charged that the fiesta has no place in our society; that it was a foreign imposition. In essence, they are of the opinion that Hispanic and other foreign influences did not develop the Filipino identity; they buried it. The identity of the true Filipino, lies behind the mask. What would happen if we unmask the morion? Would it really reveal our true selves? But of course. And we would be the same.

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