A FEW decades ago, our perception about the earliest inhabitants of Cagayan de Oro was culled from the legend of Kagayhaan. That the Kagay-anons came from the union of Datu Bagani (Bukidnon term for warrior) and Bai Lawanen, a Maranao princess. This marriage drove most of Bagani's subjects to the mountains of Bukidnon where they lived there for good. In their anger, they changed the name of their old village by the Cagayan River from Kalambagohan, which means a place of Lambago trees to Kagayhaan, a place of shame for their Datu married the daughter of their enemy.

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Also, we have in our city, the members of the distinguished Neri Clan who proudly trace their roots to a Maranao forebear named Sampurna who came to Cagayan de Misamis in 1779. He was converted to Catholicism and took the surname of Neri. So this local legend (which has several versions) and the presence of the Neris in the city have strengthened our belief that we are a people who came from two culturesùthe Bukidnon and the Maranao.

However, in the 1990s, at the height of the street dancing festival craze around the country, our cultural perspective changed. We have chosen to be identified with the Bukidnon or the Manobos. Manobo is the generic name given to the several tribes in Bukidnon. In this article, I will simplify matters by using the term "Bukidnon".

Our first street dance festival was known as the Kagayhaan Festival, which I called the "Festival of Shame," based on the real meaning of that word in our local legend. It is frustrating to know that the organizers did not even give a second thought when they gave that name. I think that to them," Kagayhaan" sounded so original and exotic!

Then, the festival's name was briefly changed to "Dyandi" and this is taken from an old Bukidnon song with simple dance steps. This was usually performed by the Gales of Talakag in the streets of pre-war Cagayan during fiestas. From Diyandi, it became the Kagay-an Festival, upon the recommendation of the Cagayan de Oro Historical and Cultural Commission in 1999. In 2008, the dance festival became the Higa-onon Festival and last year, it was reverted back to Kagay-an Festival.

We have welcomed and encouraged the idea that the Kagay-anon culture came from the Bukidnon specifically from the Higa-onon tribe. This conclusion perhaps came from the fact Cagayan de Oro is right next to the Bukidnon Province and that we have many Higa-onons living in our hinterland barangays. Also, we have adopted the elegant Bukidnon costume with its fan-shaped headdress, beads, bells and all as our own!

For quite a time, this question has been on my mind: Does our culture come from the Bukidnons or the Maranaos or both? I doubt that very much. What I do know is that we are going through a cultural identity problem and which many are not aware of. This has spurred me to do an extensive research on this subject and this is still on going as of this writing.

Before I go any further, let me give you a simple definition of the word "culture". Culture is our unique non-biological characteristics acquired by man as a member of our society. It includes knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, laws, customs and other capabilities and habits. I examined our Kagay-anon culture and I do not see any Maranao cultural trait in it. Be it in our dialect, food, customs or what. There are some traces of Bukidnon culture but not strong enough for us to be identified with it. The biggest cultural influence that we have is coming from the Visayans and this is not surprising at all.

Long before the coming of Islam and the Spanish colonizers, the Visayans were already in Mindanao. They were known as intrepid seafarers who came and intermarried or brought their families and settled in our island. For centuries, the Visayan culture dominated the eastern to western coasts of Mindanao from Surigao to Sindangan Bay.

The first Spanish missionaries who came to our island communicated well with the natives in Cebuano. Spanish chroniclers in the 16th century wrote that our houses, clothing, food, bride price negotiations and other customs and even our warships called "karakoas" were exactly like the Visayans.

Like it or not, we have to take a hard look at ourselvesùwho we really are and where we came from. It is a moral crime to adopt another culture and call it our own without really taking time to examine and study the facts. I am still doing my research, but let me encourage you to read the work of the late great Fr. Francis Madigan S.J. on this subject. I would love to hear your reactions on this matter.

Here's wishing you a great and fulfilling 2010! (prroa50@yahoo.com)