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FESTIVAL REVIEW: TAN-OK NI ILOCANO FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS– TOO FESTIVE, TOO LONG?

I was met with a mix of triumphant screams, sighs of relief and cries of anguish as the previous performers made their way off the stage.

It was way past 11 pm and I was already on my second CR break (and probably the 6th time I got off my seat to stretch my legs); and as I was walking toward the building where the comfort rooms were located, I glanced upon several teenage kids being attended by the Medics—some were being treated for sprains, some for dizziness and fainting spells and the rest probably from over fatigue.

Behind the outdoor stage, were hundreds of performers, huddled closely together, anxiously waiting for their turn; and I could only imagine how uncomfortable they were getting—some were almost topless while others wore elaborate gowns and costumes—surrounded by the cool amihan breeze.

By that time, we had been at the Ferdinand E. Marcos Sports Stadium for the past five hours; these kids probably much, much longer–and the Tan-Ok Ni Ilocano Festival was still far from over.

A GRAND CULTURAL SHOWDOWN
Together with a few other media peeps from Manila, we flew to Ilocos last week to witness first hand why it’s been dubbed as the “Festival of Festivals.” Local tourism officials say it has become one of the newer attractions for visitors looking to learn more about the history and culture of the province beyond the popular tourist spots.

Think of the Aliwan Festival, but with even more participants and even longer production numbers.

The grand showdown features 21 towns and two cities, unfortunately, host city Laoag didn’t participate this year as it was also celebrating its Pamulinawen Festival. The event brings into limelight the festivals of Ilocanos and features the grandeur, richness in history, and glory of Ilocos Norte all throughout its more than 200 years of existence.

Each performance is an interpretation of their love for their province, dance, and religion and includes the stories of origin and emergence of the towns such as Paoay, Dingras, and Laoag City.

Yes. You read it right. 22 participants with each performance running around 7 to 10 minutes each.

22 performances x 10 minutes = 220 minutes or roughly about four hours total.

So that pretty much gave us an idea of how long the program is going to be– or so we thought.

After a quick dinner, we arrived at the Marcos Stadium just in time as more and more people began filling up the grandstand. By 7 pm, Governor Imee Marcos took the stage to officially
welcome everyone and we were joking that we would probably be there till midnight.

We were wrong. We ended way, way, way, past midnight, as the grand champion was finally announced at 2:30 am. The event lasted more than 7 hours– the equivalent of almost an entire work day. Good thing it was a Saturday night.

Was it worth it?

And does the Tan-Ok Festival deserve more attention just like the more popular Sinulog, Panagbenga, Maskarra and Dinagyang Festival?

LIVING MUSEUM
First a bit of history and trivia, the first “Tanok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals” was held in November 2011 as a way for Ilocanos to celebrate and take pride in their stories, folklore, livelihoods, faith, traditions and other aspects of culture unique to each town of Ilocos Norte

Batac City’s Empanada Festival won the first-ever “Tan-ok” championship, with the towns of Vintar and Badoc at second and third place.

From 2012 to 2014, it was Laoag City on top of “Tan-ok” with the town of Nueva Era in the Top Three from 2013 onwards: 2nd Place in 2013 and 2015; and 3rd Place in 2014 and 2016.

It was the town of Currimao, a coastal community that broke Laoag City’s streak; after winning 2nd Place in 2014, they finally won in 2015.

In 2016, the “Rice Granary Town” of Dingras bagged the championship. The festival was postponed in 2017 as it coincided with the bicentennial year, hence “Bicentennial Edition.”

Last year, the town of Adams was the latest “Tan-ok” champion becoming the member of the indigenous Cultural Community (ICC) win the competition.

More than a tourism or entertainment event, “Tan-ok Festival” generates a domino effect of local jobs: local government units (LGUs) hire skilled workers and groups, from set designers to construction workers, to aid their contingents, and each grand performance is the result of community efforts.

This year’s panel of judges include; Mr. Arsenio Lizaso (President, Cultural Center of the Philippines); Ms. Marie Venus Tan (Chief Operating Officer, Tourism Promotions Board); Rev. Fr. Harold Rentoria (Commissioner for Cultural Heritage, National Commission for Culture and the Arts); Mr. Childe Libertad (President, Philippine Folk Dance Society Region I) Mr. Rommel Serrano (Kalilayan Folkloric Group); Mr. Lyle Eymard Villahermosa (Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group); Mr. Jhunnard Jhordan Cruz (Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group); Mr. Japhet Mari Cabling (UP Dance Company); Mr. Armando Sta. Ana (Tourism Officer, Malolos City); Ms. Allenmarie Alejo (Tourism Officer, San Juan City) and Kyle Jennerman aka Kulas, the Popular Travel Blogger behind “Becoming Filipino.”

Check out this article for more background information about each of the participants.

BEGINNING OF A “NUEVA ERA”
After consecutive runner up finishes, the Tingguians of Nueva Era in Ilocos Norte finally took home the grand prize besting 21 other contingents, in what was clearly the standout performance of the night taking home the P350,000.00 cash prize.

The winning tribe featured the Tadek Festival, a decades-old annual celebration showcasing the town’s rich culture and traditions.

 

The Story of Apo-Ni-Tulao’s Tragedy: Apo-Ni-Tulao is a very strong man and the champion of kadallayapan, who once lived at Rancheria Padsan. He was “Naipalali” or matched with Apo-ni-bulinawen, the most beautiful maiden in the village and they eventually fall in love.

One day Apo-ni-tulao asked Apo-nibulinawen to let him hunt with his men at Mount Sicapao, the highest peak in Region I which housed plenty of Wild deer and Wild Boar. It was very risky as no hunter ever returned after climbing the mountain since it is believed to be the place of ARAN, a horrible creature with a superpower who is protecting the forest and all other wild creatures found in it, Apo-ni-bulinawen sadly gave her permission believing that Apo-ni-tulao will return safe and alive.

While on the trail near the mountain peak Apo-ni-tulao saw a group of wild deer. He began asking his men to spread and use their bow and arrow to kill the wild deer. Unfortunately, the deer were very fast and quickly disappeared from sight. As they continued their journey to the peak of Mount Sicapao, hoping to find more deer, his men laid down under the tree while Apo-ni-tulao climbs the SALING tree (Pine tree) a few minutes later, a giant wild boar came out from the mountain. Apo-ni-tulao readying his bow and arrow aiming for the head of the Boar. Unfortunately, he loses his balance and falls down from the SALING tree and becoming unconscious. His men immediately brought him home and asked the best ALBULARYO (tribal doctor) in the village to heal Apo-ni-tulao. The Albularyo said Apo-ni-tulao unintentionaly disturbed ARAN, and ARAN caught his spirit.

The only way to bring back Apo-ni-tulao was to perform the ARUPAG, a ritual for healing and for driving away bad spirits. The ALBULARYO butchered a native pig and offered it to AN-ANITO (the unseen spirits) while murmuring the chant for healing and while performing the TADEK dance. On the other hand, Apo-ni-bulinawen together with the maiden in the village fervently prayed before KABUNIAN (the goddess of the mountain) to heal Apo-ni-tulao. The Tukadores strikes the bunkaka on their hands, played the gansa and the tambor to drive away the bad spirit. After the performance of the ritual, Apo-ni-tulao rose from his bed and returned to his consciousness. Apo-ni-bulinawen rejoiced together with the villagers and declared a PAKALON (Tingguian wedding) to happen that same day.

The story was told in a six-minute dance showcasing the Tribe’s native dance– stomping their feet and swayed their hips to the beat of gongs and festival music unique to the Tingguians.

 

Their performance stood out because of the rhythmic music and the in sync tribal movements of all the participants. The hunting sequence with the running deer and the part where they battled the giant black boar was really well choreographed. The costumes, as well as the numerous background changes, were meticulously done. For this reason, Nueva Era also won Best in Festival Music, Best in Production Design, and Best in Choreography and Direction awards.

Nueva Era, a town located about 43 kilometers from Laoag City is an emerging tourist destination endowed with verdant mountains and crystal clear rivers. In the interior uplands, residents and visitors get to enjoy low temperature that makes the areas even colder than Baguio.

The town of Badoc won second place for their performance featuring the La Virgen Milagrosa Festival inspired by the people’s deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Batac City’s Empanada Festival placed third as the group showcased their story of being resilient and innovative in making the famous empanada which has improved the living conditions of many local residents today.

Runners-up were Pagudpud’s Kangayedan Festival, Adams’ Ginginubat Festival, Sarrat’s Binakol Festival, Banna’s Abuos Festival, and Vintar’s Siwawer Festival.

Other special awards given were Best Video Design won by Badoc, Best Female Performer — Judalea Pucan of Batac and Best Male Performer — Christian Dave Cainglit of Badoc.

Contingents were judged according to theme or concept, choreography, performance, costume and props, and originality.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE CHANGES
Still, the question remains, “Is the Tan-Ok Festival worth 7 hours of your time?”

First off, I have to applaud those who conceptualized the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival, it’s truly a living museum. Watching each performance introduces you to the unique culture of each municipality, their history and identity. It may have been told countless of times through words and in books, but seeing it unfold through their performances is a delight to see.

I also have to congratulate all those teachers/choreographers/mentors for creating these dances. After watching the videos of the previous years, it’s clear that each municipality is putting a lot of effort coming up with better dances, more intricate costumes, and grander production numbers. To the students who performed, I couldn’t imagine those long hours of practices, and the time you had to sacrifice to learn those dances and execute your mentor’s vision. As if performing wasn’t hard enough, you also had to endure the long wait for your time on stage and the even longer wait for the announcement of winners.

Compared to the other popular festivals like Sinulog, Panagbenga, Dinagyang etc, Tan-Ok is still relatively young, with only 8 years of history. But as I said it continues to improve every year and we could only hope that it becomes more popular so that a lot more Filipinos will be able to witness such amazing performances.

That said, should you make it part of your next Itinerary to Ilocos just like how people troop to Baguio for the Panagbenga Festival?

With over 100,000 yearly spectators online and on ground, Tan-ok is already the biggest annual gathering of llocanos in one event, but because of the sheer number of participants, it deserves an even bigger audience.

Kudos to the Facebook admin of the Tan-Ok Festival who did a magnificent job of doing a FB Live so that it can be viewed all over the world. They also did a remarkable job of uploading each of the performances separately so you can easily find and watch your favorite performance again and again.

The problem is that this year it coincided with the host city Laoag’s Pamulinawen Festival, which is one of the reasons why the host city wasn’t able to join the competition, and in a way, the efforts of promoting two events present an even bigger challenge. Going around the city, I couldn’t pinpoint which was part of Tan-Ok and which was Pamulinawen. A McDonald’s promo, for example, was for Pamulinawen even if the food stall was located at the Marcos Stadium on the day of Tan-Ok performances. Speaking of food stalls, there are fairly lots of options located on the far side of the Stadium—from empanadas, Chi-Pay (chicken poppers, burgers, corn on a cob, rice meals…you will never go hungry. There’s also a big installation from a telco company where you can play online games for free using their high-speed internet. I’m not sure if there are other side events, but that is about all I saw when we went out to buy some food during the intermission. I just hope there was more stuff to do leading to or during the Tan-Ok Festival.

But perhaps the biggest problem of the Tan-ok Festival is the performances itself. There’s no way can’t expect people to stay from start to finish, the only other event I know that is quite as long is the wrestling event called Wrestlemania, but that’s a lot different.

Check out more of our event photos here:

Granted that each performance is really good and entertaining, you’d still feel fatigued after the sixth or seventh straight presentation, and unless you know when your favorite/hometown is performing I doubt you’d sit through six hours to wait for them, and if they came first, would you wait six hours for the announcement of winners?

The group from Pagudpod, if I remember correctly was one of the runners up, but there was actually no one from the town to accept the award because it seems everybody already went home.

And we aren’t even talking about the performers and their parents. Imagine how early they have to prepare and wear their costume or how far they had to travel to reach the venue. The program begins with a grand parade around the stadium, so everyone already has to be in full costume, and if you’re performing at the second half and wearing a “bahag,” good luck not getting pneumonia.

It’s simply ridiculously too long for everyone—the participants, the judges, and the audience.

It deprives the performers of the cheers from a live audience. The five singers during the last intermission, for example, did a good medley, but I think there were only ten of us who still had the energy to clap, and by the time the winners were announced, the grandstand was almost empty and the only ones that stayed, I guess, were either the family/friends of the participants, the judges, local government officials, sponsors, and our media group.

And if you are a tourist, I doubt you’d watch the entire program as it would be difficult to get a ride back to your hotel or wherever you are staying at 2 AM even if you have your own vehicle.

My suggestion? Make it a two-day event instead so that everyone can watch all the performances, and enjoy what truly is a Festival of Festivals.

What do you think?

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Written by eduy

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