November 5, 2018: Today, a legally ordained no-work holiday across Negros Occidental, is the Pintaflores Festival street dance competition & flower dance rituals in the San Carlos City auditorium. Costumed as flowers, plants, stems, roots, trees, princesses, priestesses, paper bags & nature-worshipping peoples, the streets of this quiet port city (what one resident described as “normally a ghost town”) have now erupted in the height of carnival celebration.
I felt incredibly blessed to be here & now – and at the same space-time, I innately feel transported to alternative realm. The concept of ‘liminality,‘ as used by early anthropologist of performance Victor Turner, describes the space of ‘in-betweenness‘ which ritual conjures. Yet, in attempting to re-member my experience of Pintaflores, ‘liminal’ would be too weak of a word; I felt the past projected in future worlds.
Plural histories constitute the ritual of Pintaflores (1) a celebration for the beloved pre-Spanish settler-colonial princess “Nabingka” & her Negrito peoples of “Nabingkalan” cured by tattooed & planted flowers; 2) a feast day for San Carlos Borromeo, the Catholic saint whom the town is renamed after by a Spanish priest who arrived in the late 1800’s; 3) an invention of the local government tourism office in the early 1990’s, which combined the successful Nabingkalan Tattoo Festival & Dance of Flowers into one hybrid super-myth event).
The festival spectacle compresses multiple historical timelines and popular feedback loops, dancing with the past – and imaging futures based off fictionalization of myth.
November 4, 2018: Although the story behind Pintaflores Festival borrows a myth about pre-Spanish Visayan princesses & priestesses, the festival actually celebrates the Feast Day of San Carlos (Saint Charles) Borromeo, the patron saint whom the town San Carlos City is named after.
What appears to be festive carnival of ethnic-inspired aesthetics is, in fact, rooted in religious ritual. One of the events during Pintaflores Festival demonstrated the role of the church as a powerful site not only for faith-based ritual, but for community theater arts and ecological activism.
Churches are, architecturally, similar to theaters; with two entrances on the left and right, a stage and a seated audience, churches offer a ritual space outside of everyday life. Stories in Christianity echoes a primal narrative structure of the cycle of life and death through representations of incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection. Whether as priest or devotee, actor or spectator, one must involve oneself in the reproduction of the symbolic image & submit oneself to an ‘otherworld’ time. Thus, there is a natural relationship of churches to the symbolic and temporary realmof theater.
Like rice to our meals, beauty pageants are a staple to Visayan festivals. The glamorization of beauty aesthetic is as much part of celebration as the street dance competition or community procession. The beauty pageant for Miss San Carlos City 2018 proved to be no different. Yet, it far exceeded my expectations of what a beauty pageant might be, or is becoming.
The story goes that Princess Nabingka, a warrior leader from Cebu, sailed her peoples to nearby island, which they named Nabingkalan (the original name for San Carlos City, before its conversion to Christianity). But upon arrival, she fell ill. The community priestess, the babaylan, ordered everyone to plant flowers as a treatment for her sickness. When that did not work, the babaylan realized she needed to tattoo a flower directly on the princess to cure her. To honor this successful remedy, whole town covered themselves in flower tattoos.
At first, I felt skeptical of this story. Is this a real oral tale or a ready-made reason to street party and stage pageantry? Yet as someone with two flower tattoos, one of which healed hurtful memories of burn scars, I also felt strangely gravitated to the story of this princess warrior… But after the show, I’m now a full-blown convert to this myth!!
In the opening scene, contestants paraded as costumed avatars of Princess Nabingka. Whatever she may have looked like in the long distant past, today’s princess channels a modern, neo-tribal aesthetic. During the swimsuit section, background videos from the body painting and digital photography work of Eric Estampador Cabales set the stage for the spectacle.
While the conversion of Christianity forced the community to let go of traditional tattoo culture (or drove it underground), Pintaflores Festival’s celebration around the princess tale of flower tattoos helped catapult body painting as a popular art form.
Festivals celebrate the past in the present & pave way for futures: The final MassKara Festival weekend kicked off with an LED-lit moving float competition on Lacson Street, which turned a town’s main street into animmersive tourist strip.
A Coca-Cola sponsored “Electric Zumba” event started the festival’s sugar-high vibes, with two macho male dancers from Cebu leading a group of mostly middle-aged and older women into mass choreographed dance spectacle. Intuitively, it felt contradictory that a high-calorie sugar-filled drink would be the sponsor for a fitness dance class, but alas, it attracted the attendants to participate and mesmerized their audience to spectate – & fun cannot be computed in the rational realm!
Though wildly hypnotic, amidst immersive LED-lights & sound-speaker blasted electronic dance music, I also felt a bit dizzy from the flood of electro-data stimulation. As I’m writing this, almost one month since the event, I’m still struggling to give words to the experience. How to make ‘sense’ from sensory overload? >>
What many Visayan festival spectators look forward to seeing is the street dance – if they even have the chance to see it at all. Between the crowd and the heat, it’s not easy to get a peak. But if you do, you realize how mesmerizing it is to watch dance from the sidewalk.
What is visible in the dance is months of hard work, years of cultivated choreography and costume design, communities coming together, cooperation at many levels of society.
What is most exciting, for me, is the youthful spirit of the dancers and the visionary wisdom of the choreographers.
Before the start of the street dances, I got the opportunity to meet a choreographer (and physical education teacher) and a principal (and festival organizer). Below, I offer 2 videos (rough sketches) of a larger moving image project in which I explore the importance of embodied archives for preserving these memories of Visayan community arts.
An experiment in embodied memory: Segundo “Panoy” Jesus Cabalcar, Jr. is a physical education teacher and a visionary champion choreographer of over 27 years for MassKara Festival in Bacolod, Negros, Philippines. His passions in dance art innovation and education have shaped his community – and will continue to for decades to come. What is the future channel of his wisdom?
Big thanks to Bacolod National High Principal Lila Valfor Arro and participating students, and 2018 Champions of Barangay Tangub dance team! Especially Gillian Vargas, Steve Michael G. Magarang, Dallen Jean M. Cantero, Rose Ann G. Manalingan, Jiasen P. Balleza, (Mar) Mharjor Supena, Ronel V. Cruz and all the smiling faces behind the masks. May your dance continue to bring joy & blessings!
(Note: Audio from the full interview with sir Panoy will be uploaded soon!)
An experiment in embodied archives: Filmed at Patricia Homes Elementary School the day before the MassKara Festival school street dance competition and arena showdown. Principal Mary Grace L. Mallen discusses her role as appointed festival organizer in the field of education and reflects on her childhood experiences dancing behind the mask. Even as MassKara Festival evolves and expands every year, still, it is the children and their dancing that draw out the crowd to watch the live spectacle. How will we remember and honor their contribution to this living cultural heritage of community dance arts?
BIG THANKS to Principal Mary Grace L. Mallen, Renelyn D. Jutayero, MAED, and the incredible smiling dancers of Patricia Homes Elementary School for MassKara Festival 2018. Thanks to Silver MassKara Foundation for providing contacts, and Asian Cultural Council for opportunity to study Visayan festivals.
One of my key interests in festival culture is its “mushroom effect” – it’s capacity to grow new worlds within communal relation. Mycelium is the mushroom network that grows in rich soil and nourishes its development –& this is how plants learn to speak to each other across distances.
Festival cultures breed new modes of communal growth, gathering and assemblage, upon which future communication networks blossom. So when I heard of the Humanist Alliance Philippines Internationalhaving their yearly General Assembly in Bacolod, coincidentally during MassKara Festival, I got excited about this happening.
In a country like the Philippines, forever transformed by Spanish Catholic colonization, notions of “secularism” fall far from the mainstream discourse. That this secular group organizes humanist-based community development projects without turning to the logics of “god as a savior” is a novel mode of service orientation for this society. Yet, it felt apt, that a festival like MassKara Festival –not based on religion, myth or history– would be a meeting place for this kind of organizing.
“HAPI promotes secular humanism as a progressive philosophy suggesting that human beings, given the right education, can be ethical and morally upright even without divine interference.”