Religiosity misplaced in ‘tribal wars’

By Herbert Vego

THAT the annual Dinagyang Festival stands out as Iloilo City’s top tourism event, there is no doubt. Both Filipino and foreign tourists flock here for its colorful cultural presentations.

This maverick, however, laments its traditional identification with the Catholic Church. After all, its fans also include non-Catholic Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, even atheists and agnostics.

Contrary to what Dinagyang projects, there had never been tribal wars among the Atis or Aetas. Its template about tribal warriors fighting and later reconciling — throwing their spears away, chanting and raising the Santo Niño image – anchors on no historical ground.

To this day, we hardly see Atis inside a Christian church, but more often outside begging for alms.

The alleged conversion of 13th century Aetas into Christianity never happened, since the Aetas or Negritos were animists who believed in the anitos or spirits of their ancestors.

Remember, it was not until the 16th century in the year 1521 that a Portuguese sailor, Ferdinand Magellan, “discovered” the Philippines in the name of King Philip II of Spain on the pretext of converting the natives to Christianity.

Looking back to what we learned from history, not a sentence confirms the notion that the Aetas were warriors. Legend has it that they made peace with the anchoring 10 Bornean datus – Puti, Sumakwel, Paiburong, Bangkaya, Parohinog, Lubay, Dumangsil, Dumangsol, Dumalugdog and Balensuela — who had sailed on boats all the way from Borneo to Panay to escape the tyranny of Sultan Makatunaw.

They landed at the mouth of the Siwaragan River, near the present town of San Joaquin, Iloilo. They moved on to what is now barangay Malandog in San Jose, Antique and met with the local ruler, King Marikudo, and his wife Maniwantiwan.

Marikudo agreed to barter the lowland to them in exchange for a gold salakot (a native helmet) for Marikudo and a long gold sumangyad (necklace) for Maniwantiwan.

But even the migration of the ten datus from Borneo to Panay Island has provoked doubts on its authenticity among modern-day historians who think it could have evolved from legend or spoken history that ended up as a document known as the “Maragtas”, written by Pedro Monteclaro in 1907.

Anyway, the big lie on the Atis’ conversion to Christianity is not originally Dinagyang’s but a take-off from Kalibo, Aklan’s Ati-Atihan. According to the late Aklan historian Roman de la Cruz, the name of Aklan’s capital town is short for “isa ka libo” in memory of 1,000 native “Indios” who were herded by the Spanish friars to undergo mass baptism on the third Sunday of January 1569. No doubt, the converts were post-Magellan lowlanders, not Ati warriors.

Dinagyang kicked off under the name “Iloilo Ati-Atihan,” a copycat of Kalibo’s. It began in November 1967 at the San Jose Parish Church at Plaza Libertad, Iloilo City, through the initiative of Fr. Ambrosio Galindez.  His faithful parishioners danced on the streets, their bodies covered with soot and ashes, to simulate the Atis dancing while carrying images of the Santo Niño.

In 1977 when the country was still under martial law, President Ferdinand E. Marcos ordered the various regions of the Philippines to come up with festivals or celebrations that could boost tourism.

It was then that the parish handed over to the Iloilo City local government the responsibility of organizing the annual Iloilo Ati-Atihan.

As a result, the then Iloilo City Mayor Zafiro Ledesma launched a contest to rename the festival.  One of the contestants, the late broadcaster Pacifico Sudario, came up with “Dinagyang” – “merry-making” in English – which was judged as the winning entry.

Picoy — the famous host of the early-morning farm program “Uwa Mangunguma” on radio station DYRI in the 1950s — was not a Catholic but a Jehovah’s Witness. I should know; I knew him personally.



WE have seen linemen of Iloilo City’s sole power distributor – MORE Electric and Power Corporation (MORE Power) – working 24 hours a day to keep the power supply stable in this week’s hectic celebration of the Dinagyang Festival.

To quote MORE Power Vice President Bailey del Castillo, “We are ready in terms of facilities. Even our substations are well-conditioned to provide proper working conditions.”

Under the able leadership of President/CEO Roel Z. Castro, MORE’s preparedness goes as far as feeder patrolling, surveying critical areas, checking thermal scanning, and upgrading of the distribution transformers, among others. Their response teams are now spread out and on standby for emergency deployment.

However, MORE Power is not in control of the transmission facilities, which are owned by the monopolistic National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), which bears the brunt of public anger over the four-day rotational blackouts throughout Panay.

Anyway, on the positive side, the Dinagyang could be an opportunity for NGCP to make up for “loss of love”.