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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Friday, October 21, 2005

entry arrow6:10 PM | Buglas in the Heart

I was in grade school -- a distant time when I was a skinny bookworm of a boy the wind could have blown away like a paper doll -- when the province of Oriental Negros turned a hundred years old right at the very start of the 1990s. This period, to me, marked itself as the quintessential Buglasan, perhaps even before the Buglasan* that you now know was ever invented as the current "festival of festivals"; it was the magnificent precursor to all things we see now coagulated to a showcase of booths and cute (and sometimes fascinating) tourist traps, and so many nights spent under the stars celebrating whatever it is we are celebrating at Dumaguete's Freedom Park. But we had no bands playing in all-night concerts then, not even Guinness World Record-breaking motorcades -- yet I remember those days as being particularly heady, and rich.

(I must be careful here. Remember I was a young boy then, and everything in memory, one soon learns, will always be giant versions of their original.)

Yet that celebration in 1991 is burned into my memories as a particular molder of an interesting life (mine). I danced my way through most of the towns in Oriental Negros, always on some fiesta night, from Canlaon to Amlan. I danced. From the elegantly Spanish La Jota to the coconut percussion of the Maglalatik, in a repertoire of folk dances we all had struggled to master under the withering look of one Mr. Corsino, who was my Math teacher in the Special Education section of West City Elementary School. I danced with a company of other pubescent upstarts, their first names -- Georgia, Jonathan, Janleah, Ricky, Jay, Erwin, among others -- a caramelized recollection, the way we remember childhood in panoramic recall.

I never quite reached the southern end of the province in the year it took Oriental Negros to celebrate its hundredth year. By the time the dance troupe I belonged to sashayed its way down to the towns of Bayawan and Basay and later straight on to Manila for a grand performance at Hotel Nikko, I had retired my dancing shoes, and couldn't be bothered to get away from my books. I was about to start high school in Silliman University. It was also a year of moving on.

But looking back, I realize now that my sense of being an Oriental Negrense has always been molded by that singular experience of being a very young boy swept away in a grand tour of what was -- and is -- home.

This is something quite rare for anyone of eleven or twelve years to be able to do so. When you're of that age, your comfortable boundaries probably remain that of home and the immediate vicinity of neighborhood, and perhaps downtown. Travel probably remains a heavily chaperoned activity, with parent or sibling in tow, to big cities like Cebu or Manila, or to some resort town like Boracay. When I was 11 going on 12, it meant bus rides through the hills and plains and mountains of Oriental Negros, discovering that there was so much more to my "home" beside the lazy, semi-cosmopolitan comforts of Dumaguete. With only Ma'am Bennie Vic and Ma'am Erlinda and Sir Plutarch to watch over us as mother hens (and rooster -- but never in an iron-clad way, thank God -- we had a good run of the Oriental Negrense countryside.

We went to the fiesta nights in Jimalalud, and La Libertad, and Guihulngan, and Tayasan, and those other towns with airy names, where we performed our dances in town squares and open-air auditoriums and basketball courts. It was enough for most of us to see the throng of fellow Negrenses, their brown faces round with delight. It was enough to hear the applause; when you're twelve and you get applause for something as tricky as Maglalatik or something as dexteriously impossible as Sayaw sa Bangko, you get a boost that could sustain your self-confidence for years to come. It was for me an early effort in conquering performance anxiety, as well as an early education in sociology and cultural studies. I think it was in La Libertad where I first saw the most extensive (and dramatic) production of a Santacruzan ever. One doesn't get this kind of cultural education every day.

The bus rides were a fascination in themselves, and the various destinations a thrilling discovery. When all performers (the Sidlakang Negros performing group, which included the SPED Dance Troupe, was a bevy of other talents plucked from all corners of the province) would finish a late-night performance in some nearby northern town and proceed to chug on home to Dumaguete, we would always stop by the Sycip Farm in Manjuyod where, in a rest house in the middle of a beautiful, extensive farmland, we would feast on catered food, and rest for a while. Imagine that. A feast late at night, in the middle of a rice field, under the light of moon.

I still remember the early morning ascent to Canlaon on a zigzagging road carved out of the mountainsides, with cliffs plunging down right beside us. The excitement over the dangerous possibilities of a tumbling wreck was palpable in the faces of everyone in our bus, but that was quickly coated over by the delight in our seeing the trees, millions of them, as far as our eyes could see. We had emerald jungle facing us from everywhere. We craned our necks to see the depth of the ravine, but we saw no bottom, only a sea of green. And then there were the flowers. And the birds. That was my first time to see a hummingbird, or what I thought was a hummingbird.

The city itself proved charming enough. We stayed in a hostel on top of a hill. That afternoon, we explored the place and discovered a paradise of vegetables. That evening, we danced. When I woke up early the next morning, I found myself the first to go to the shower. I remember that there was barely any light in the sky yet, but I wanted to be the first in the group to take command of the small bathroom. When I felt the icy Canlaon water touch my naked skin, I swear, nilupad ang akong espiritu. It was the coldest water in the whole wide world -- a therapy of sorts, I must say, because my body felt vibrant the whole day.

To come back down from Canlaon to the plains below, we crammed into our trusty bus again. We were all there -- the Silliman Band and a host of other performers from all over the province -- and were all getting chummy, like a haphazard family. How many fiestas have we gone to together that year? Six? Nine? Twelve? I still remember this tall mannish woman with a very deep voice -- I forget her name -- who performed in "the American Colonial Period" part of the show. Her signature number was a high-heeled performance of "New York, New York." I remember the whole bus egging her on to give an impromptu performance on the leg home. Without much ado, she tensed her body into that poise she began her songs with, and then her deep voice rang out: "Start spreading the news... I'm leaving today...." The whole bus roared. She performed all over the aisle, kicking her legs for effect like a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. By the time she ended her song, we ended with her, crowing out "New York, New York!" at the top of our voice. You don't get a bus ride like that everyday.

Those, indeed, were the days.

Those early days gave me my first taste of what it was like to explore beyond one's comfortable boundaries. It ignited a wanderlust in me that has yet to be sated. It ignited as well a sense of wonder for what goes on beyond our horizons.

At the same time, like the best of one's travels, it made me take stock of where I came from. It showed me my roots in the best way possible. And I know that wherever I may be in the world in the years to come, in my heart of my hearts I will always be an Oriental Negrense.

*to the non-Negrense, the Buglasan is Oriental Negros's equivalent of the Sinulog of Cebu or the Maskara festival of Bacolod. It is an umbrella celebration held once a year that gathers together all the other festivals of the various towns and cities in the province. Buglas happens to be the pre-Spanish name of Negros Island.

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