AFTER four years in its absence as one of the major festivities in the province of Surigao del Sur, a local organization in the historic town of Cantilan resurrected and rediscovered a traditional cultural celebration known to its inhabitants as Sirong Festival, depicting the people’s resilience amid diversity and conflict.
The rich history in most coastal towns in Mindanao has been passed through one generation to the next based on oral tradition and Hispanic influenced celebration during the fiesta of its patron saints. Thus, the festivity became a major highlight during the annual town fiesta in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was celebrated this year on August 15.
The coastal town of Cantilan in Surigao del Sur is known to be the cradle of all the towns in the area, which is now divided into the towns of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza or Can Can Mad Car Lan. Historically, it is a coastal village constructed around a fort meant to defend from Moro raiders in the late 1700s.
It is from this coastal raids came the cultural tradition that unites its people and communities. A cultural tradition with rich narrative; the festival, as a way of commemorating that colorful part of Cantilan’s history, featuring an neo-ethnic mardigras parade and street dancing, culminating into a war dance, and where the marauders are depicted to have been driven out by virtue of the intercession of the Catholic church blessed Mother.
Legends point out to the apparition of the Virgin Mary every time Moro raiders would attack Cantilan. The story depicting an image of a woman, believer’s later claimed that it was the Virgin Mary, who appeared in the shores of the town and helped in driving out the raiders.
The means that the local inhabitants fought the raiders through Sirong or Escrima which their tradition describes as fighting with bladed weapons or swords that became the hall mark of the presentation by the participant as well as the theme of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“The Sirong Festival is about commemorating that portion of Cantilan’s history where early Christians had to defend themselves against the raids perpetrated by Islamized natives or Muslims, then called by the Spaniards as Moors or Moros. From 1768 to 1830, several attacks were launched by the Moros, prompting the Spanish government and the people of Cantilan to establish the Baluarte de San Miguel that served as a fortress,” said Vicente Cirilo Iriberri, president of the United Bardugs International Association of Cantilan, Inc., the organization which spearheaded the effort of reviving the century old tradition.
Vivid street dancing
A day before the town’s fiesta, the vivid rivalry of the street dancing competition started early morning of August 14, participated by the towns of Madrid, Lanuza, Cortes, Cantilan and the city of Tandag.
Colorful pageantry of costumes, mobile props and neo-ethnic choreography blended with the tempo of upbeat percussions swarmed the narrow streets of Cantilan with hundreds of spectators.
By the afternoon, the intense heat of the sun could not contain the eager onlookers as they swarmed to about 8,000 people to witness the grand showdown of the participating contingent at the town’s Surigao del Sur State University satellite campus ground.
The competition ended with the host town of Cantilan claiming both street dancing and grand performance win over the rest of the participating towns and city.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 19, 2016.