Vignettes from Oro’s Street Dancing Festival-A A +A
Thursday, August 23, 2012
I DISTINCTLY remember that it was during the 1979 fiesta that the first street dancing festival was held in Cagayan de Oro.
In mid-afternoon, the streets that marked the route of the street dancing were filled with people, mostly parents and family members of the participants who belonged to the different schools of the city.
A palpable excitement was in the air and it turned electric when the Kagayhaan Festival officially began from the Provincial Capitol grounds through the Apolinar Velez St. and to Divisoria.
All the dance groups were in beautiful and colorful costumes. As we watched the students of Kong Hua High School who were clad in their exotic cheongsams danced their way to Divisoria, the heavens fell. But even as these young dancers were drenched by the rain, they continued with their dance while we, the onlookers, stayed also in the open to watch them. This festival was the main attraction of the 1979 fiesta.
But there was one fly in the ointment -- the use of the name "Kagayhaan" and I was quite vocal about against it. This is a place name that is taken from our local legend and was supposed to be the root word of "Cagayan." However, "kagayha" in Binukid means shame and Kagayhaan means "a place of shame." So, the Kagayhaan Festival means the Festival of Shame or the Festival in a shameful place!
Those well-meaning organizers way back in 1979 probably thought that using Kagayhaan, which is taken from our legend, was right and had a historic feel to it.
Since the 1979 street dance festival proved to be a success, it got bigger and better every year. From an eclectic theme for the street dances, it narrowed down to indigenous dance presentations notably with Higa-onon and Manobo tribal influences complete with versions of their animal sacrifices and other rituals.
A group had a ritual where the female star dancer carried a real months-old baby in her arms that she regularly tossed up on the air while incantations were said. We watched in horror screaming for the baby's safety while the judges nonchalantly viewed the whole thing from their box. After several tosses, the poor infant almost fell to the ground if not for the quick response of a fellow dancer who caught the baby just in time.
Then we regularly saw dancers in tribal costumes carrying small statues of San Agustin on heads as part of their dancing. This indigenous form of street dancing done to the beating of the gongs, dabakans or drums, the bamboo and kulintang instruments were then at the height of its popularity and was encouraged and supported by then Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor. It was during her watch that many street dancing festivals sprouted around the country.
However, in 1999, we at the Cagayan de Oro Historical and Cultural Commission strongly urged the City Council to pass a resolution changing the name of the festival from Kagayhaan to Kagay-an because of its negative meaning.
But then, there were several fiestas where the street dancing was called "Dyandi Festival."
Dyandi is a Higa-onon song with matching dance steps. Old folks remembered that before World War II broke out, the Galis from Talakag would go down for the August fiesta and performed Dyandi on the streets. Many think that it is the oldest song of Cagayan. I beg to differ.
When I first heard this song, I thought that the melody of Dyandi is similar to our folk song "Bahay Kubo." I have heard some tribal songs and they are mostly done like chants. Dyandi has a lively tempo. I think this was probably composed during the Spanish colonial period with Higa-onon lyrics. Or this is an original tribal song that was given a western beat to it.
Through the years, the Kagay-an Festival was presented in various creative ways.
When my dear friend, Bingo Ebabacol was the City's SK President and a Kagawad, he took charge of the festival and infused the New Orleans Mardi Gras elements to it with a gold theme. It was very refreshing for a change.
Aside from the dance contingents who were told to wear something gold and glittery, individuals who watched the festival were encouraged to come in golden attires and were given big prizes for their effort. And Bingo was on a gold float (naturally!) with the reigning Miss Cagayan de Oro and they were throwing hundreds of beaded necklaces to the crowd. Everybody had fun!
I recently heard that this year's Kagay-an Festival has a new format -- the performances will be based on our local lore and legends. That makes it all the more interesting. It is a welcome departure from all those dancers who supposedly belonged to different groups but performed the same routines -- like those uniform stompings of their feet to the uniform beatings of their drums and so on ad nauseam. I excitedly look forward to this year’s Kagay-an Festival and it will no doubt be a top crowd drawer.
Let the creative juices of the Kagay-an Festival team continue to flow as they envision and plan a bigger, better and more spectacular street dancing next year. After all, it is all about our one and only Kagay-an Festival.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 24, 2012.