IN THE summer of 1986, theater actor-director Louie Dormido and I spent two months at Mambukal Resort in Barangay Minoyan Murcia town, Negros Occidental to recharge.
After three years of active participation in the so-called “parliament of the streets” that started with the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in the tarmac of the Manila International Airport (now called the Ninoy Aquino International Airport) in 1983 and culminated with the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos through People Power in 1986, we felt it was time to have a break, to slow down and to enjoy nature in a place accessible to Bacolod City and at the same time, to plot what to do next with our lives.
During that time, few people visited Mambukal due to the perceived presence of insurgents; the morale of the resort employees and store owners were low and the place was in a state of neglect and disarray. We were lucky that the resort manager, Mr. Canobis, allowed us to extend our stay in exchange of providing him inputs on how to restore the sceneries and how to attract friends and the general public to revisit Mambukal.
Soon, we were joined by theater friends Milton Dionzon, Jerry Magoliman, Pancrasio Arimas, Greg Diocadez, among others, and we started to improvise and rehearse a Hiligaynon adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s absurd play, “The Bald Soprano.”
We called our group Kabataang Bodabilista and toured the play in Negros Occidental, relying on our network of schools, parishes, local government units and friends in the localities.
Mambukal became our laboratory for a work-in-progress theater production and a resting place after performances.
Louie took an interest on the clay of Mambukal when he chanced upon a group of native children playing with it. The kids made crude toy jars, cooking pots, bowls and plates for their “balay-balay” game. They led him to the different source of the multi-colored volcanic clay. Louie was able to produce several finely-crafted mini-decorative jars and was able to teach some of the kids on how to do it. For Louie and the children, it was a way of killing boredom and to simply enjoy the process.
One day, to their amazement, a Caucasian visitor bought several jars. It inspired Louie and encouraged the kids to produce more decorative jars that were displayed in the Pagoda, a private inn and restaurant inside the resort that was owned by Lolo Ponso and Lola Tinay.
We planned of holding a revival of the summer festival in the resort, as it had been a tradition that I had experienced when my family would spend our summer vacation in Mambukal in my elementary years.
The event would include a bathing beauty showcase, a cultural presentation by our theater group and circle of friends from the performing and visual arts and a binayle.
On full moon nights prior to the mid-summer festival, clad in colorful wrap-around patadyongs, we would hang out at the Ishiwata bath house grounds to rehearse for our presentation and to brainstorm on the manpower and logistics needed for the event over bottles of beer and rum and fried frogs.
Chris Garzon, son of prolific Murcia sculptor and “Artista sang Banwa” awardee Felix Garzon, with his cousin, musician Nick Lucasan, and the adjacent Barangay Minoyan boys would join us for a free-wheeling banter and tribal-inspired music and dance jam. It was in those wild nights that the multi-colored clay of Mambukal would leave its indelible mark in our lives.
Intoxicated with liquor, we would dab our faces and bodies with clay, which Louie nonchalantly called “mudpack,” amidst spirited shouts of “Halleluiah, bulan (moon)!”
On some nights, our playmates, the kids from Minoyan and Mambukal, who introduced us to the volcanic clay that is believed to have healing properties, would join the fun.
That one day midsummer festival held on a Saturday of May in 1986 was memorable not just for our group, but also to the residents of Murcia, who drove to the resort to support, and for some Negros artists who had been a part of the Mudpack Festival until now.
We did not even call it Mudpack then, but the common expression, “Halleluiah, mudpack” prevailed. The iconic presence of the Mambukal clay during the festival sealed it.
When the Negros Integrated Development Corporation (NIDCORP) leased Mambukal from the provincial administration in the 90s, Louie and I were tapped as consultants and event managers for the first organized Mudpack Festival.
The management decided to hold it annually every third weekend of June. An appropriate choice of date since June is declared as World Environment Month and the Provincial Environment Week is also celebrated on the third week of June.
Since then, we still dance, drink and dab our bodies with the invigorating clay of Mambukal during the festival. We officially count the 2014 edition as the 18th year of the Mudpack Festival, but those magic moments in the summer of 1986 would forever be etched in our hearts.
We recall with fondness the people who had been a part of the festival with their creative and organizational energies—the Llamas family and Desiree Segovia of NIDCORP who initiated the institutionalization of the festival; the late Bob Aizpuro who brought in the famous La Carlota Pasalamat drumbeaters which inspired us to hold the drumbeating competition; Art Alvarez who did the festival décor and the fabulous sets for the Miss Earth Mambukal pageants, Ruel Calansingin, who introduced the solo dance improv competition and choreographed the Miss Earth Mambukal pageants; musician Ems Lucasan and former Pinikpikan members who hailed from Negros Occidental—Tito Martinez, Jerry Baguio, Boy Garovillo and Diokno Pasilan for their mystical drumming in the early years of the festival; perennial judges Clem del Castillo, Bamboo Tonogbanua, the NCCA Dance Committee circle—Franco Velas, Rodel Fronda, Peter de Veyra and their group and countless friends and groupies who had their baptism of being “mad about mud.”
This year’s Mudpack Festival at Mambukal Resort will be on June 21-22, with the theme, “Saving, Healing and Celebrating Mother Earth.”
Activities on the first day include photo and mixed media arts competitions, poster-making for kids, drumbeating and group tribal dance competitions. A concert and a dance party will cap the evening.
On the second day, activities include public viewing and judging of the installation and performance art competition. In the afternoon will be the solo dance and clay body-painting competitions.