The plain truth about Dinagyang

NO DOUBT the Dinagyang Festival occupies a top niche among tourism events in the Philippines because  of its colorful tribal presentations. But as a non-conformist, this writer begs to disagree with the inaccurate mix-up of history and religion, thus propagating falsehood.  

While I believe in freedom of religion, I find it ridiculous that the festival thrives on intentional distortion of history through drum-beating an event that never happened in the past, specifically the “war” that ended happily with the integration of our aboriginal ancestors – the black, kinky-haired Aetas or Negritos — into Roman Catholic Christianity, supposedly dating back to the arrival of the 10 Bornean datus in the 13th century.

From what we learned in the elementary school, the kinky-haired black Aetas did not make war; they made peace with the arrival of the 10 Bornean datus led by Datu Puti who had cruised on sailboats from Borneo to Iloilo to escape the tyranny of Sultan Makatunaw.

Aeta leader Marikudo agreed to barter the island (what is now Panay) for a golden salakot and jewelries.

While that legend could also be more mythic than factual, there is no excuse for its substitution with an obvious lie.

Unfortunately, the Iloilo Festival Foundation, Inc. (IIFI) has not lifted a finger to correct the basic “historical” theme among participants of the tribal presentations, where Aetas or Atis go to war and end up worshipping the Santo Niño.

The natives of that era (which historians estimate to be in the year 1212) could not have embraced Christianity because they were still 300 years ahead of the arrival of the first Christians in the Philippines – Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan and his Spanish crew.

The natives of that period could not have embraced Christianity because it was only in 1521 or 309 years later that Magellan arrived in Cebu with an image of the Santo Niño, to which Lapulapu and most other inhabitants were hostile.

The choreographed presentations of tribal wars among contesting groups during Dinagyang in Iloilo City are a take-off from Kalibo, Aklan’s Ati-atihan.

“Kalibo” is short for “isa ka libo” in memory of 1,000 native “Indios” who were forcibly herded by the Spanish friars to undergo mass baptism on the third Sunday of January 1569.

The Dinagyang thus duplicates Ati-Atihan in perpetuating the false belief that the colonizers vanquished the native warriors, who surrendered by way of throwing their spears and raising the Santo Niño image while chanting, “Viva Señor Santo Niño!”

The sham reminds us of Adolf Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels, who wrote in 1939: “A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.”

Dinagyang kicked off in 1967 as “Ati-atihan,” too, through the initiative of Fr. Ambrosio Galindez, parish priest of San Jose Church at Plaza Libertad.  His parishioners – their bodies covered with soot and ashes – paraded and danced on the streets while carrying images of the Santo Niño.

Ten years later in 1977, President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the various regions of the Philippines to come up with festivals or celebrations that could boost tourism. The Church then willingly handed over to the Iloilo City local government the responsibility of organizing the annual Iloilo Ati-Atihan.

So as not to confuse it with Kalibo’s, the city government under Mayor Zafiro Ledesma launched a search for a new name. The entry submitted by the late Ilonggo writer/broadcaster Pacifico Sudario, “Dinagyang” – which means “merry-making” in English – won the search.

From that meaning, Sudario must have classified it as nothing more than entertainment. He was a Jehovah’s Witness; therefore not a Santo Niño devotee. ([email protected] /PN)


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