Tibaldo: Remembering the Gran Cordillera Festival

BACK in the earlier days when most people have no idea of the concept of global interconnectivity, the Gran Cordillera Festival was a dream to many locals in the uplands of Northern Luzon. It was always felt that the rich traditions and cultures of the people of the Cordillera should be kept alive. One way that this could be done was by bringing together the different tribes during an occasion where they could show slices of their life system. This concept of convergence was seen as a way of looking back so it would be easier to go forward. Yes, there was a Gran Cordillera Festival and I can say that I was part of its planning, promotion and documentation when it happened in 1991, 1992 and 1993. As a prelude to this, the Ibalois of Baguio had a canao in July 1991 at Camp John Hay when the Americans turned-over the facility to the Philippine Government. Then, there was a gathering called "Entako Manlambak" at Burnham Park as part of the cultural component of the 3rd Baguio Arts Festival with the theme "Tradition and Innovation." During these events, the festival ground also served as a platform for peace pacts among the different tribes in the mountain region represented by respected elders from each tribal council. I was part of the documentation committee and I actually had stills and video recordings of the various tribes representing the Applais, Balangaos, Bontocs, Ibalois, Ifugaos, Isnegs, Kalanguyas, Kalingas, Kankanaeys and Tinguians.

Though mostly held and celebrated at the Burnham Park of Baguio City, various ethnic tribes from the upland region came in their respective costumes and performed their ensemble of songs and dances. As the festival chairperson, the late Narda Capuyan expressed hope that the event will further develop the awareness of our cultural identity as a people and thereby instill self-esteem and pride in our own national identity.

Incorporated and formally registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 1991, the Gran Cordillera Festival listed among its objectives is its desire to; preserve and enhance the rich culture of the Cordilleras, foster solidarity of all Cordillera tribes and other tribal peoples on other parts of the world, protect the integrity of the cultures of the various tribal communities and to serve as a forum of exchange among the tribes themselves. The Gran Cordillera Festival was also envisioned to conduct continuing research, studies and publicize outputs of such studies on the Cordillera tribes and communities and further to promote and protect their life-ways or life-systems especially their sound customary practices and values.

With its founding members composed of Narda Capuyan+ as President, Baboo Mondonedo+ as Vice President with Sonia Daoas, Rose Dulnuan+ and Dave Baradas as members, the board drew up an initial program and planned to carry out programs and projects.

Now at almost three decades after, we saw the unfolding and revitalization of many culture based festivals such as the "Imbayah", "Kulpi", "Punnuk" and "Tungoh" of Ifugao, the "Adivay" of the province of Benguet, "Bendiyan" of Kabayan and "Panaspulan" of La Trinidad Town. There's the annual "Lang-ay" of Mountain Province and "Ullalim" of Kalinga and "Arya Abra" that later became the Abrenian Kawayan Festival of Abra.

Following the crowd drawing Baguio Flower Festival in Baguio every February, other towns and cities also carried out their own festivals such as the "Etag Festival" of Sagada, "Dinengdeng Festival" of Agoo, La Union and "Bangus Festival" of Dagupan City. Pugo, La Union launched its "Tinungbo Festival" in 2016 and locals were able to sustain it early this year before the Covid-19 pandemic intensified globally.

Now with the distinction of Baguio as Unesco designated Creative City and with the annual celebration of Cordillera Day every 15th of July, more culture-based celebrations are happening in Baguio City like the Gong Festival that started a few years back with the simultaneous beating of 1000 gongs. For upcoming events, the city's creative council has initially discussed possible activities this November that considers all the necessary health and security protocols under the new normal ways and means of conducting social gatherings. If it will be celebrated virtually or through digital means or via streaming media, well, I will still be taking part in it because culture knows no boundaries.


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