Floy Quintos has a fascinating article in the Arts and Culture section of the Inquirer today about a Cordillera tribal festival he witnessed recently.
"The site was the town of Dumalneg, at the northeastern tip of Ilocos Norte, at the foot of great, mist-covered mountains. The people celebrating were the descendants of the legendary warriors, the Apayao," he writes.
"The festival was called Panagwawagi, a celebration of brotherhood between Ilocano lowlanders and the Cordillera people. And the festival demanded a magtatpap, a meeting where the indigenous peoples of the towns of Dumalneg, Adams, Nueva Era and Carasi would come together in a modest, but very authentic show of tribal heritage."
The Apayao people came to the festival in their proud native finery, and they were magnificent to behold. We know that not just from Floy's words, but from the arresting images that accompany by article, by photographers Jay Javier and Lawrence Dionisio.
Floy, a noted connoisseur of Filipino tribal lore and culture, waxes ecstatic at the rare sight of the Apayao in their ceremonial garb, which made them "seem like a people from a different country altogether." But there was more to it than their costumes. "The real signs--the proud glint of the eye, the erect posture, the knowing and inscrutable gaze that took in the overeager visitors and remained unimpressed--these were the Apayao, indeed."
Jay Javier had the inspired idea to take "portraits against a bamboo backdrop, much as the early American photographers had. The difference would be that we would not be colonizers recording a subjugated people." The unplanned co-optation of a central trope of American colonialist imagery results in forceful, resonant images.
Since the rest of Jay's pictures only appear in the print edition (the online version's template can accommodate only one or two images), I've uploaded them here, together with Lawrence's more portrait-style pictures, taken at random during the festival. These images are a record of a hardy race proudly holding on to their ancient heritage while slowly adjusting to modern ways. (For this age-old ritual, the Apayao had gathered not in an open field, but in a covered gymnasium, and the folk from neighboring towns came by truck.)
"In Dumalneg, that rainy Sunday," says Floy, "the boundaries created by time and politics, by language and geography were blurred. As they once were, as they should be in magical places where cultures seek only to live with and by each other."
[Updated: The complete article here.]
[Slide 1 photos: Jay Javier/Copyright--Philippine Daily Inquirer. Slide 2 photos: Lawrence Dionisio]