Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How to Party Like an Indian: My Back to Back Diwali Celebrations in Manila!!

- Oct. 14-15, 2017, Saturday to Sunday.

- During the "-ber months" people in the Philippines are excited to celebrate two things: Halloween and Christmas. For the Indian community, however, they look forward to another big celebration: Diwali. Diwali, or Deepavali, is the Indian festival of lights and is considered as the biggest festival in India. Depending on a person's religion or region of origin in India, the way Diwali is celebrated may vary. They most important thing, however, is lighting diyas or oil lamps, or having lights in general. This is to invite blessings to people's houses. Apart from that, people wear new clothes, eat Indian sweets, and exchange gifts (which includes colorful money envelopes with cash). Normally, Diwali is celebrated for 5 days, with the biggest celebration ("Bari Diwali" or "Big Diwali") celebrated on the third day. This year, Big Diwali falls on Oct. 19, Thursday. Each day of Diwali has a different name and a different purpose; I shall not elaborate on these since as I mentioned, the other 4 days may be called a different name or celebrated in a different manner depending on the religion or the place of origin in India of the person.

- The Indian community in the Philippines has been active in celebrating Diwali in both public and private spaces. Every year, I get to attend the big one that the Indian community does in SM Mall of Asia (more on that later,) but this year I got to attend two Diwali events during the weekend before the actual Diwali.

- The first Diwali event I went to was in Urdaneta Village and organized by Bharati Manila, one of the ladies' organizations of the Indian community. It was held in the village's function hall, and so the event had a cozy yet vibrant bazaar vibe. Food and souvenir stalls were set up by different Indians while occasionally, someone would sing or dance in front. DJ CJ Wasu of Sing India, one of the Indian community's most sought after musicians, was there not only to facilitate the sounds, but also to play the dhol, a large Indian drum. My highlight of the afternoon was meeting the new Indian ambassador for the first time. Ambassador Jaideep Mazumdar was there in his casual Indian kurta, so I had to make sure if was him before going up to him and introducing myself and the work that I do. (Yes, it is sort of part of my work to be connected to the embassy, being the Indian specialist that I am.)

Packed with people, but for some reason the venue was still cozy.
Happy Diwali to you too!!
Rangoli or a picture made from colored powder/grains.
My food for the afternoon: Indian bread, Indian butter chicken, and biryani.
A nicely-colored diya.
Indian ladies getting it on!!
A common kind of dance during festivities.
Indian children doing the gharba or the stick dance.

Wit His Excellency Jaideep Mazumdar, current ambassador of India to the Philippines.
Punjabis dancing the bhangra, with DJ Wasu playing the dhol at the back.
- My short Saturday afternoon was the perfect teaser to the grander Diwali event in MOA the day after. Most of the people in the Urdaneta event were also in MOA, so I was able to see some familiar faces when I got to Mall of Asia the next day. I was also happy when DJ CJ Wasu recognized me when I bumped into him - after all, I've been attending Indian events a lot in the past years, and I've seen him in all those events.

Arrived early; the Hare Krishna group of the Philippines were singing prayers to the gods.
With DJ CJ Wasu himself. He's an awesome musician.
Ganesh, the remover of obstacles.
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, one of the revered goddesses during Diwali; she blesses each home during Diwali.
My OOTD with the stage and the Hare Krishna group at the back. Of course I had to go all-out Indian.
- The grand event in SM Mall of Asia was organized by different organizations and people in the Indian community. They Indian community has been holding Diwali here for more than 10 years now. Indian food stalls, and sometimes even souvenir stalls, line the back part of Mall of Asia's Music Hall. I'm glad I came a bit early since I was not only able to get a seat near the front, but I was also able to have my dinner with much elbow space. Normally I'd arrive later, but it'd be difficult to get a seat by then and found it hard to eat since the food stalls are crowded and the seats felt cramped from too many people.

Indian food beyond the golden decor.
Indian ladies buying food.
One of the earliest Indian restaurants in the Philippines came to cater. By the way, all the food in the event was good!!
- The program started shortly after Ambassador Jaideep Mazumdar arrived and settled down. I was able to say hello to him a second time that weekend. After the ambassador gave his speech and the ceremonial lighting of the candles with the opening aarti (a kind of prayer ritual,) both modern and traditional performances mostly by various Indians from the community, some Filipinos. They also had a raffle in between the program. I eventually saw some friends from the UP Asian Center, my alma mater, and I sat with them and enjoyed the whole night.

Hello again ambassador.
This year's Diwali event.
Punjabi selfie!!
Lighting of candles and the Lakshmi aarti.
See all these people!!
Ceremonial dance by the children of the community.
Ambassador's opening speech.
The four hosts.
Rajini, a Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher.
- The latter part of the program had short interviews with the winners of the Miss Punjabi Manila, and performances by Ms. Ritu Wasu (CJ Wasu's wife,) and performers from India. The finale, of course, was none other than the Lions of Manila Bhangra Group, one of the favorite performers by the Indian community of Metro Manila. Bhangra is a kind of folk dance from the Indian northwestern state of Punjab. It is one of the Indian folk dances that really equates to merry-making and partying. After the bhangra group did their awesome dance, many Indian audience members took over the dance floor (some of them drunk) and danced the night away. But, fear not, the event itself is tame; it's only after the finale where things get a bit wild.

Ms. Ritu Wasu.
The two winners of the Ms. Punjabi pageant (in the middle.)

With friends from the UP Asian Center.
Guest performers from India and CJ Wasu with his dhol.
The event organizer and some VIPs dancing to Bollywood songs.
You can't go wrong with bhangra in a party.

Audience members taking over the dance floor. (See the booze?)
- I said my goodbyes to my friends after the event and went home. I may not be Indian but I celebrate Diwali every year because of the festival's welcoming and generous vibe. I am very happy that the Indian community has been open to Filipinos celebrating Diwali with them, since allowing the Filipinos to peek into the Indians' culture and society opens doors to cultural appreciation, understanding, and a tighter friendship. By the way, if you missed this year's Diwali event, I hope you won't miss next year's!!   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Dayaw 2017: Celebrating the National Indigenous Peoples Month

- Oct. 8, 2017, Sunday.

- I just had one of my dreams come true last October 8!! People who encounter me frequently like my friends or colleagues will know that I have interest in all things cultural, including the legacy of the Philippine indigenous cultures. As October is dubbed as the Philippines' "Indigenous Peoples Month," the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) once again organized "Dayaw," the name given to this big festival celebrating the country's different indigenous groups. The three-day festival started with a big celebration gathering 45 indigenous ethnic groups from north to south, east to west. I can't tell you how much I looked forward to Dayaw 2017, and how much my fats wanted to explode in excitement when I attended the first day of Dayaw at the flower clock area of Manila's Rizal Park. The second and third days of Dayaw took place inside SM Mall of Asia, various high schools and colleges in Metro Manila, and at the Rizal Park as well. Although I would've wanted to attend all three days of Dayaw, I was only able to attend the first day, on a Sunday, since I had work on the latter two days. Since the first day fell on a weekend, it was the day with the most activities and the most participants (more on this later.)

Welcome to Dayaw!!
- "Dayaw" has been done almost annually since the early 2000s, and each year that the NCCA has organized Dayaw, the celebration - I heard - just kept getting better with more indigenous groups actively participating in this national cultural festival. The NCCA also invites a few foreign groups per year to present aspects of their cultures and to take part in cultural dialogues with the Philippines' indigenous groups. This year, on top of the 45 indigenous groups, participants from Indonesia, Lao PDR (aka Laos,) Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand. 

- I arrived around 10ish in the morning and followed my way to the kulintang (i.e. gongs) music being blasted in the open exhibit area. Stalls were being set up by the different groups where they could sell their own handicrafts and traditional snacks. I darted my way to the T'boli stall since I am a big fan of T'boli jewelry, and because their stall was set up earlier than most other stalls. It was only later on that I realized that the opening ceremonies were on-going inside the ampitheater. I caught the latter half of the opening ceremonies where the different groups were being formally introduced. The second half of the opening ceremony was held outdoors at the exhibit area by the flower clock.

T'bolis and their elaborate garb.
With two T'boli women and two Tausug men.
Opening ceremonies.
Performers from Thailand; they were going to do a nora dance from Southern Thailand.
Maguindanao dancers.
I never knew that the Rombloanon Tagalog people looked like this!! I like the big-leaf crowns!!
Presenting the saint.
Maranao people in a Marano house replica. (How appropriate haha.)
You can't make mistakes!! If you do, the knots won't look nice.
I got some free snacks just by allowing myself to be a "volunteer" after the dancers started looking for audience members to dance with them.
- I spent the rest of the morning taking photos with the other ethnic groups while they were still in costume, and of course, the more important part was interacting with the different groups to learn more about their culture. I also consulted them about the different ethnic jewelry I have at home, so I can explain them better when people ask me about them (take that, cultural appropriation!!) By the way, I also hoarded some stuff from them - it made me happy because I bought things to add to my collection of all things cultural (not to mention that I'll use them too!!) and it made them happy too because I was directly supporting their works.

Moana's homies. LOL I kid. These guys are Ivatans from Batanes (trivia: their people are closely related to the Tao people of Taiwan.)
With the Korean visitors.
Gongs galore.
Manobo women with giant geometric mats.
The man beside me is the "supremo" or the leader of the Lapaknon Manobos.
With an Ifugao dude. I'd love to have those feathers on my head.
This Gaddang girl looks freakishly similar to one of my students. I also adore her Gaddang outfit. She's a talented gong-player too!!
- Throughout the morning and afternoon, there were also impromptu performances by some of the groups present. Occasionally, they would ask people to join them as a way for people to learn about their culture hands on.

Caught the people of Mountain Province having fun!!

They asked other people (including other ethnic groups) to join.
Balance is the key.
- After having lunch at Jollibee (since it was the closest place with decent food, and food wasn't being served in the exhibit place,) I went back to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. I took photos by the replica houses that they had on display, and I either participated or observed the handicraft demonstration, traditional games, or the cooking demonstrations. For the cooking demos, they served food to everyone after each demo, and if they only did the demos during lunch, I didn't have to go to Jollibee. My favorite among the dishes served was the Ivatan party banana platter called "vunung." The vunung platter has "supas" (turmeric rice,) "uved" (a meatball-looking viand made from banana stalk; "ubod" in Filipino,) and "luñes," (pork cooked like dry adobo.)     

Inside the Maranao house.
Looking for food.
Waiting for food inside the Maranao house. (I was using my newly-bought ultraweight tripod to take this shot.)
Playing with native tops.
An event volunteer tries Ifugao stilts.
Let the natives show you how it's done.
Ifugao people "preparing" the chicken.
It was traumatic to see how they prepare the chicken in great detail (if you know what I mean.)
Must be a good dish. By the way, I hope you're not offended because this is the way the natives really prepare their food. (They also said this disclaimer to everyone who might have been "offended" with the way they've been preparing their food for generations.)
The young Gaddang girl from my photos above learning how to play the gong from an elderly Gaddang man. 
Apayao women teaching people how to do basketry.
My favorite part of the afternoon: IVATAN VUNUNG!!!! ("Supas" = turmeric rice, "uved" = the white-violetish ball made from banana stalk, "luñes" = the brown pork slice.) If only they served this for lunch!!
Kalanguya people teaching the art of making brooms (one of the reasons why the north is famous for selling native brooms.)
With Maranao men in front of the Maranao house.
The Lapaknon Manobo lady still has more things to sell. (I bought a pack of durian pastillas from them. The pastillas tasted awesome!!) 
House from the Visayas.
Aeta people teaching everyone how to make homemade shampoo from tree branches!! How cool is that!!
- At around 5:30 in the afternoon, I went back to the ampitheater to watch the evening performance by more than half the ethnic groups present. Needless to say it took a long time for the program to finish. I didn't even have dinner and I didn't get to finish the whole performance; I finished all the local ones and left for home at around 10ish in the evening just as the international participants were about to perform. After all, I've seen what they were going to perform in various international cultural events or venues either here or abroad - which says something not only about my exposure, but the exposure of many Filipinos to cultures. I realized that many Filipinos, particularly city-dwellers like me, have more opportunities accessing or experiencing foreign cultures than our own local ethnic/indigenous cultures since indigenous-themed events are rare in Metro Manila. This is actually one of the reasons why "Dayaw" was conceptualized in the first place. It is to give not only Manilenos, but also the different ethnic groups to come together and share their cultures to each other. I didn't feel bad about missing dinner during my regular dinnertime, since I knew that opportunities like the performances that night were rare, since I've always wanted to see these dances live, and not just in videos I see online. I saw some of my favorite dances, including the pangalay, igal, the singkil, and the kappa malong malong dance.

Mansakas from the Compostela Valley in Mindanao.
Manobos from Mindanao.
The Sama-Bajau people of southernmost Philippines and their theatrical igal dance 
The Manguindanaoans and their sample of various dances (including the kappa malong malong.)
The Maranao's singkil. One of my favorite dances everrrrrr!!
The Yakans and their dance-drama with the theme of friendship.
- I went home with the smell of rain, sweat, and Manila air. I had never stayed in Rizal Park that long before Dayaw. Although all I wanted to do after going home was to have a quick dinner and rest the whole night, I could say that I would most likely attend Dayaw again because of my eye-opening learning experience on the cultures of the country's indigenous peoples. I really just wished that Dayaw wold be done on both Saturday and Sunday and perhaps either Friday or Monday if NCCA really wishes to do it within three days, so more people can come. Well, I suppose NCCA has its own reasons why Dayaw was done Sunday to Tuesday. Anyway, I really do hope that more people will come and experience Dayaw in the coming years, not only because it makes people know about the various groups and cultures we have in the Philippines, but also to let people understand that regardless of these differences in cultures, the indigenous groups are also both "ordinary" (i.e. not to be isolated; they're also citizens and know "regular" things like popular culture) and "extraordinary" (i.e. talents, skills, etc.) Filipinos.