Budayaw Festival

Colorful dancers at the Budayaw festival
Roel Hoang Manipon

Budayaw Fest celebrates the cultural affinity of four nations in Southeast Asia
By Roel Hoang Manipon


The ikat dyeing technique for handwoven textiles is practiced by several ethnic groups not only in the Philippines but also in other Southeast Asian countries.

There are similar or parallel stories that are being told and retold within the region, the most notable of which are the various versions of tales from the Indian epic Ramayana.

This commonality in traditional culture and heritage is best seen in the Southeast Asian countries of the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. These shared heritage and traditions, as well as the diversity of cultures, were highlighted by the first Budayaw: The BIMP-EAGA Festival of Culture and the Arts held on September 20–24, 2017, in General Santos City in South Cotabato. The festival featured lectures, workshops, performances, exhibits, tours, and others.

“Budayaw showcases the links of our diverse cultures within the equator surrounded by or attached to the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas, a very rich area of natural resources, but at the same time very blessed with diversity of cultures,” said Nestor Horfilla, a theater veteran and cultural worker who served as the festival director. These links, he added, were forged in the 11th to the 13th centuries.

The BIMP connection

Before the current political boundaries were established, the peoples of what are now the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia had been in contact with each other through trade mainly. Beyond economic transactions, they were influencing each other culturally.

Aside from geographical proximity, the enduring links among the four nations became the basis for the establishment some 20 years ago of the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), a cooperation to bolster socio-economic development in the region with a shared strategy.

The BIMP-EAGA originally focused on tourism, environment, connectivity and transportation, and food production. In November 2015, the socio-cultural and education pillar aspects were officially added as area of focus.

Horfilla said, “Twenty years of economic cooperation in the BIMP-EAGA led to the realization that culture is a vital element in sustainable development of the four countries in the equator.”

Virgilio S. Almario, chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, said at the festival’s opening ceremony: “I am doubly glad that our East Asian Growth Area has recently included culture and education as one of its focal points. Culture remains at the very core of all of our endeavors. It must perform its role as a motive force in the relationship of nations. The arts—our arts—are the distillations of those cultures, manifesting the best in all of us.”

Slated to be held every two years, the Budayaw festival is the first major cultural project of the BIMP-EAGA. The Philippines was chosen to host the first festival, whose name was coined from two words—budaya, Malay for “culture,” and dayaw, a word in several Philippine languages that means “bounty” or “praise.”

As the official Philippine representative in the BIMP-EAGA socio-cultural development working group, the NCCA hosted the festival, providing about P10 million in funding, in collaboration with different agencies and institutions, including the Mindanao Development Authority, Department of Tourism Region 12, the city government of General Santos, the provincial government of Sarangani, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the Philippine Information Agency.

Through the festival, the Philippines was able to showcase the cultural richness of Mindanao and Palawan, islands often overlooked in the development plans of the national government.

Spiritual kinship

Underscoring the affinities that bind the BIMP countries, Almario said: “As we join the festivities, whether as creators or audience, we fortify our connections in a more profound kind of togetherness. We grow in understanding, in a spiritual kinship that will strengthen us as connected peoples. And we are enriched with the awareness of our humanity, whose magnanimity can only be revealed in art and culture.”

The shared heritage, as well as cultural diversity, was exemplified in both traditional and contemporary arts and crafts, in events such as musical and dance performances, talks, demonstrations, exhibits and drama, all held in the major malls of General Santos City. Malls are a favorite convergence venue of Filipinos.

Dance and musical performances, which made up a substantial part of the festival, proved to be the most popular. Performing troupes, both school- and community-based, from the BIMP-EAGA countries, made the round of the venues and also visited a few communities in Sarangani as part of the festival’s outreach program. Their repertoire was made up entirely of folk and traditional performances.

“Soundscapes of the Earth” featured indigenous music as performed by traditional musicians.  It was meant to highlight the shared heritage in music such as the prevalence of gongs, bamboo instruments and string instruments in the region. “Young Voices Rising” was a youth chorale concert, culminating in a “grand tutti” where all participants had one dramatic performance.

“Under One Sky: BIMP-EAGA Visual Arts Exhibit” featured paintings and sculptures of BIMP-EAGA visual artists, serving as a platform for establishing and examining common ground.

“Muslims in the Philippines: History and Culture” highlighted the most significant shared heritage among the BIMP-EAGA countries—Islam—and focused on the religion’s history in the Philippines. The informative and attractive exhibit featured artifacts such as weapons, musical instruments, and decorative items, showing the religion’s influence on native aesthetics.

Tapestry of Dreams: Ikat Master Weavers’ Pavilion unveiled the handwoven textile traditions of mostly Mindanao ethnic groups such as the T’boli, Blaan, Yakan, Maranao and Maguindanao, with displays of textiles and weaving demonstrations.

“Reframing Kasalikas: Mindanao Theater” was a grand theatrical production that showed the “Maharadia Lawana,” the Maranao version of the Ramayana story. Dramatic treatments were crafted from episodes of the folk prose story by five Mindanao theater groups—the Sining Kambayoka Ensemble of Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City; Sining Kandidilimudan Ensemble of MSU in Maguindanao; Kabpapagariya Ensemble of MSU in General Santos City; Kaliwat Performing Artists Collective of Davao City; and Kagay-an Performing Arts Troupe of Cagayan de Oro City. The treatments were strung together and performed during the festival.

The Budayaw Colloqium consisted of a series of talks and lectures on cultural exchanges and preservation in the BIMP-EAGA, safeguarding cultural diversity and policies and practices affecting cultural exchange.

Other events such as a tourism expo and trade fair, a traditional pagana, a fashion show and special tour packages made the festival a more immersive experience in exploring the richness of Mindanao culture.

Unity in diversity

Horfilla said Budayaw aims to gather experiences and proposals to craft strategies to enhance cultural exchanges among the BIMP-EAGA member countries, which will be submitted to different cultural ministries “so that they will open more windows for cultural exchange for artists.”

He added, “Roots of tradition and routes of development in culture are the key issues that we would like to highlight in the Budayaw Festival. We also want to emphasize the right of people to appreciate different cultures.”

In showcasing the diversity of creative expressions of BIMP-EAGA cultural masters and artists, the festival hoped to raise awareness and foster appreciation for the cultures and arts of the region, thus generating understanding and solidarity among the peoples of the BIMP-EAGA. Achieving a unity of nations and cultures may be a difficult feat but it is something to behold when achieved, as expressed in a poem Almario wrote for the event:

(Sermong alay sa BIMP-EAGA)

Ay, hirap magkaisa!
Kahit alam nating ito’y mahalaga.
Upang mas tumibay
Kaylangan ng lubid ang maraming hibla;
Walang nabubúhay
At lumiligaya dahil nag-iisa.

Upang mas sumarap
Kaylangan ng luto ang maraming sangkap.
Mas maraming kulay,
Kahit bahaghari’y lalong dumidilag;
Mga bayan pa bang
Nabigkis ang hindi lalong magsiunlad?

Ngunit nahahati
Ang ating planeta sa mga lunggating
Hindi magkatugma,
Hindi magkasanib sa iisang mithi.
Ay, hirap magkaisa!
[May apat? Nagsáma? Maligayang batì!]

(Sermon for the BIMP-EAGA)
(Translated by Marne Kilates)

Alas, it’s so hard to unite!
Even if we know it’s important.
To be strong
A rope must have many strands;
No one can live
And be happy because one is alone.

To be more delicious
A dish must have many ingredients.
With more colors,
Even a rainbow is lovelier;
And countries bound
As one, didn’t they progress even more?

But our planet
Is divided with aspirations
So disparate,
So separate, not one in purpose.
Alas, it’s so hard to unite!
[Oh, four? Together? Them I must greet!]

Roel Hoang Manipon
is the managing editor of Agung, the newsletter of the NCCA, and the assistant editor for the lifestyle section of The Daily Tribune. He graduated with bachelor degrees in Journalism and Literature from the University of Santo Tomas, where he was editor in chief of The Flame of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, president of the Thomasian Writers Guild, and associate editor of The Varsitarian. (gridcrosser@yahoo.com)

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