As I continue to upload previously drafted posts (from 10+ more festivals!), I want to share this paper in process. This draft recollects & situates particular facets of performative indigeneity witnessed across Visayan festivals. While there are many more aspects of the festival organizations that I’d like to explore in further drafts/chapters (such as queer community arts & ecological spectacles of biodiversity), I wanted to focus tracing the particular histories of performed imaginaries that become costumed & celebrated as cultural fact. Feel free to leave comments or send an email for any notes.
Re-Imaging Embodied Indigeneity: Footnotes from a Festival Pilgrimage in the Visayan Philippine Islands
Walking on the concrete path originally paved for automobiles (now inverted as a pedestrian mall with vendors peddling everything from homemade masks to buttered ears of corn to made- in-china toy guns, and more), a swarm of hundred bodies skin covered in black mud dance in synchronous rhythm and unison chants. Some, donned in feathered headdresses, flash my memory back to the Aztec temples of Teotihuacan in modern day Mexico. Others, wearing Afro wigs and straw regalia, remind me of African tribes said to have inspired the recent Black Panther blockbuster film. Ahead of these blackface dancers, a team of t-shirted volunteers transport banners from commercial sponsors who contributed to the production of this public spectacle. Irrespective of their precise origins or allegiances, in mass, they appear as an impressive tribe of indigenous warriors. As they turn the corner to take the “stage” (a major street intersection in the downtown area), a kaleidoscopic burst of multiple costume, prop and set transformations stuns viewers into virtual submission; a thousand years of native, colonial and imperial histories collapse in thirteen minutes of ecstatic street dance.
This is the 50th Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo City, one of the largest regional festivals in the Philippines, which commemorates the arrival of settler Malay princes on Panay island originally inhabited by native negrito Atis, as well as colonial Spanish conquest and consequent introduction of Santo Nino (baby Jesus) into the devotional iconography of Philippine peoples. Dinagyang is one among hundreds of municipally organized festivals in the Philippine islands which fill up the calendar year in nonstop carnival celebrations of place, space, heritage, history, memory centered around street performance, dance and theater. While anthropologists of dance and ritual have published extensive ethnographic research from site-specific festivals, I will consider how the media network of Visayan island festivals build on imperial legacies of institutional structures, as well as anti-imperial culture that appropriates indigeneity by engaging “community-based” participatory performance as a technology for postcolonial governance in local and national politics. I argue that even within these entangled media ecologies, the festival network of cultural performance enables imminent conditions for intersectional indigenous solidarities.