Starweek Magazine

Celebrating culture and identity

- Nikko Dizon -
CEBU CITY’S SINULOG FESTIVAL is so popular that it inevitably overshadows other festivals in the region. Thus, finding the Cordova Dinagat Festival listed in the WOW Philippines Calendar of Festivals and Events of the Department of Tourism two years ago was a wonderful surprise for Cristina Siojo-Sitoy, wife of Cordova town Mayor Arleigh Jay Sitoy.

On its sixth year, the Cordova Dinagat Festival is on its way to carving a niche in the country’s tourism industry.

A further imprimatur, if it indeed needs one, came from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was the guest of honor at the festival’s awarding ceremony last August 18.

Mrs. Arroyo clearly enjoyed watching the young Cordo-vanhons’ dance performances. She was so pleased that after the last dance, she joined the children for photos.

The Cordova Dinagat Festival is a dance festival-cum-contest that celebrates the fishing tradition of the Cordovanhons and honors the town’s patron saint, San Roque. Since 1999, it has been held every August 14 as the highlight of the town’s week-long fiesta.

Each seven-minute dance presentation tells the story of the Cordovanhons as fisherfolk and the sea as their source of livelihood. Dance steps mimic the movements of the fishermen, fishes and other sea creatures. Drums, bamboo and other indigenous musical instruments following the 2/4 dinagat beat create the lively music. The different dance-dramas also take inspiration from the town’s folktales, legends, myths, and history.

An important scene in all the dances, for example, depicts the miracle of San Roque saving the fishermen caught in a violent storm at sea. Thus the presentation is not complete without the small statue of the saint being held up to emphasize his role in their lives.

The festival starts with a street dance leading to the town’s sports complex for the competition. The streets are lined with residents and tourists who cheer on every little boy and girl fully made up as crabs, sea horses, fishes, clams, corals, and other sea treasures.

While it is the dancers who literally take center stage, Mayor Sitoy says that every one in the community participates in their own way by making costumes and props or helping choreographers with the storyline of their dance. Others serve as the cheerleaders of the school and the barangay.

"It’s become a family and a barangay affair," Mayor Sitoy says, and the Cordovanhons pull out all the stops during the festival. The bright colorful costumes are a sight to behold. The props range from colorful bancas to intricate fishnets and bilaos to giant crabs and fishes.

Part of Mayor Sitoy’s vision is to strengthen Cordova’s culture and make its people recognize and take pride in their identity. He shares that soon after he was elected mayor in 1998, a Jesuit priest told him that in Spain, there is a "most beautiful town" also named Cordova that is prosperous and yet still keeps its rustic charm.

"I took inspiration from that. Our town, which used to be a fishing village, need not be like the Cordova in Spain but we also want to preserve our character and integrity," Mayor Sitoy says.

Thus began the concept for the Dinagat Festival. "Taga-Cordova, taga-dagat," is the mayor’s succinct explanation of the etymology of the festival name.

A group that included professional choreographers convened to study the town’s history and culture to help conceptualize the festival. Mrs. Sitoy, who prioritized cultural promotion and development, became the hands-on organizer of the event.

The mayor takes pride in the fact that among all the festivals started by other Cebu cities and towns, it is only the Dinagat that has carried on. Dinagat plays an important role in the development of Cordova’s tourism industry.

"We have to develop what we are strong at. Tourists don’t go to malls but rather, they want to discover places," Mayor Sitoy says.

Foreigners go to Cordova for its marine sanctuaries and popular dive spots in the islets of Hilutungan and Nalusuan. But the Dinagat Festival has become another reason for tourists to swing by the town, which is seven kilometers away from Lapu-Lapu City.

Interestingly, at last month’s celebration, a group of Canadian graduate students came to study the Dinagat festival as part of their doctorate thesis on Philippine festivals. A movie crew with popular actor Jomari Yllana was also there to shoot a scene for an upcoming movie, with the street dancing as the backdrop.

Usually, preparations for the Dinagat Festival begin in May. But because of the elections, prepara-tions this year only started around June. While Mayor Sitoy won his third and last term, his wife wondered if the people were up to another grueling task.

But surprisingly, it was the townsfolk themselves who asked about preparations for the Dinagat. "It was then that I realized how important the festival has become to them," she says.

Not even the heavy downpour that Saturday afternoon dampened the spirits of the Cordovanhons. "Our fiesta is during the rainy season so we’re used to it. In 2000, we still had the street dance despite the downpour. We were all drenched but we had a great time," Mayor Sitoy recalls.

Nine elementary schools joined this year’s festival.

The open category was introduced this year for high school students and dancers of the Kabkaban Festival from Carcar and the Mantawi Festival from Mandaue. This is in line with the municipal government’s thrust to involve the whole province in the Dinagat Festival. Another added feature is the arc-making contest participated in by the town’s 13 barangays.

This year’s festival was attended by Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia who hailed the people’s creativity and artistry; Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero who lauded the contribution of the young people in strengthening their heritage; and fellow Visayan. Bing Pimentel, wife of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., who congratulated the townsfolk for their good work.

The grand champion for the school-based category, Cogon Elementary School, received a cash prize of P80,000, and the chance join the Sinulog Kabataan competition. In the open category, the top prize was awarded to Barangay Gabi. Barangay Bambang won for the Best Arc contest and received the P6,000 prize.

Such enthusiasm for the festival is rooted in the townsfolk’s growing pride in their culture and heritage.

"My theory is, given the influx of media, there comes a point that you lose your identity. It results in social displacement so I’m trying to prevent that from happening to the Cordovanhons. It’s happening in many urban areas where cousins don’t know each other anymore. By developing an identity, by strengthening family ties, problems like drugs, wayward kids can be minimized," Mayor Sitoy says.

People who do not know how to value their past, their heritage, and their identity could also squander any economic development, Mayor Sitoy explains. "Development is inevitable but we have to prepare ourselves for it," he says.

Cordova, a quiet fourth-class town of 30,000 people located at the southeastern part of Mactan Island, is anticipating an economic boom with the proposed 3,500 reclamation project of the Public Estates Authority in the province. Cordova is staking claim on a portion of the reclamation project.

Moreover, there is the proposal to build an international port in the coastal city of Cebu, which is near the town, and a roll-on, roll-off (Ro-Ro) terminal near Cordova’s Poblacion area.

The new nautical highway will have the Cordova-Bohol-Camiguin-Cagayan de Oro and Cordova-Bohol-Leyte-Samar-Matnog routes.

Aside from the Dinagat Festival, Cordova also has a database of all its residents and their relatives.

"It’s like an inventory of each Cordovanhon family. The residents contribute facts about their family, photos, and we also include qualitative data such as each family’s characteristics," says the mayor, who continues to hold office at the old municipal hall built in 1913.

Along side the database is the publication of the Kaliwat Magazine, which is all about the Cordovanhons. Kaliwat is the Visayan term for "relative".

The mayor is also set to start another research project: finding out the history of Cordova’s islets and why they were given erotic names such as Lusuan (organ), Iutungan (libido), and Hilutungan (massage).

In 2000, Cordovanhons buried a time capsule containing their small treasures, including letters to families and a Holy Bible, which will be unearthed a hundred years later.

Preserving history is sadly not a strong trait of Filipinos. Cordova is a little town that is trying to be different and hoping for a ripple effect.

"Even if we’re just a small town, we can also be an example to others," Mayor Sitoy says.

vuukle comment











  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with