The recent Pakaradjaan, the annual festival that marked the 44th founding anniversary of the province of Basilan, was held last Feb. 27 to March 7. With a theme of celebrating the pride and culture of the indigenous Yakan tribe, Basilan Governor Jim Hataman Salliman, elder brother of Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman, said the Pakaradjaan festival aimed to make Filipinos more aware that the original inhabitants of the region are from Sulu.
The largest island in Sulu archipelago, Basilan consists of the Muslim groups of the Yakans and Tausugs and the Christians called Chabacanos. The Yakans are believed to have migrated from Borneo where the people are short, dusky in complexion, and have slanted eyes and straight hair. The Yakans are farmers who cultivate coconut, abaca, corn, cacao, and upland rice. Their most distinctive costume is the wraparound sash on the torso and the skirt around tight-fitting pants.
Breathtaking theatrical performances
Pakaradjaan, which means “merrymaking” in the local dialect, was held in the capital city of Isabela. Every year, the different municipalities produce theatrical performances depicting their values and traditions.
The group from Akbar won the first prize for its story about a cross-cultural love story between a Yakan maiden who falls in love with a Tausug. Despite the maiden’s previous betrothal to another Yakan and her tribe’s differences with the Tausugs, they fought for their love against all odds.
The 20-minute performance began with a celebration of Tausug and Yakan dances, with signature moves that featured the dancers’ sinewy arms and expressive hand gestures that mimicked nature. Then came the confrontation between the Tausug and the maiden’s fiancé in the tumahik or war dance, where the dancers showed their virility and sword skills. In the end, the maiden’s love for the Tausug convinced her family and her tribe. The winning team consisted of seasoned dancers from the La Cultura Dance Troupe, which also performs in other parts of the Philippines.
The first runner-up from Tipo-Tipo presented the paunjalay, an authentic Yakan wedding dance with the bride and groom, whose faces painted to ward off evil spirits. The style is characterized by eloquent arm and wrist movements and delicate footwork.
The second runner-up from the fishing town of Maluso were students who showcased a performance mimicking the fishermen’s lives from going to the sea, preparing for fishing, catching their harvest, to returning home from their expedition. Despite having no training in dancing, the students told their story with clarity.
The beauty of this festival is found in the authenticity of the dances and music. While many folk dances may have been stylized by mainstream cultural groups, there are cases where the substance is sacrificed for the dazzling factor. On the other hand, these local dances seen in the festival have been handed down from the tribal elders.
Through these kinds of cultural events, the stories, songs, and traditions are preserved as they are performed to the live music of the agung or wide rimmed suspended gongs and the kulintang, a group of gongs of different sizes. The events also encourage the locals to maximize the use of their famous Yakan textiles that are known for their bold geometric patterns and bright colors.
Celebration of beauty and culture
In the conservative Muslim world, women do not compete in a “beauty contest” but in a cultural pageant. During the recent Pakaradjaan festival, Governor Jim Hataman Salliman challenged Islamic purists by holding the Mussah si Basilan or the Pearl of Basilan.
Despite the tradition that Muslim women are not to display themselves in public, the pageant defied Western ideals of physical beauty. It became the province’s search for a young, elegant, intelligent, and most importantly, pious representative. These candidates prayed several times and honed their reading comprehension of the Quran.
“Their clothes should be culturally sensitive. They should show that beauty is in the character,” said Salliman. “We looked for presence, for their vision for their future, and for those who are role models in their communities.”
The winner, Florivie Caburnay, a student from Isabela, stood out among the six other participants for her poise and intelligence. She will help the provincial government in promoting civic projects.
The official attire for the catwalk were the head scarves and closed neckwear. Following the rules of Islamic modesty, there were no exposure of elbows and ankles. However, the pageant also highlighted culturally and environmentally driven fashion.
The first part of the pageant was the Recycled Gown portion, which showcased local and found materials. Although the clothes seemed outrageous, the looks echoed the ecological advocacies of the seven municipalities such as conservation of the coral reef, waste management, recycling, and disaster preparedness.
Caburnay’s costume was repurposed from rice and flour sacks. The hooped gown was dyed in bright colors and layered with giant woven fans and paper cutwork.
In her statement about the Tree of Life, first runner-up Anisa Malangkis, a student from Sumisip, wore a gown and a crown made of dried coconut flowers. Showing the resilience of the bamboo, second runner-up Jurin Culen from Lamitan City wore a terno made of bamboo buttons for the top and bamboo fringes for the skirt. Other contestants used recycled paper, dried leaves, abaca coir, and other materials on their ball gowns.
For the Yakan-inspired Gown portion of the competition, the highlight was the modern use of Yakan weaves for the evening gowns. Weaving is the province’s greatest heritage, said Governor Salliman. He wanted to correct the misconception that the Yakan fabrics originated from Zamboanga and not Basilan.
The gowns were spectacular examples of creativity and culture. Caburnay’s yellow gown was accentuated with python patterns on the bodice and sleeves. Malangkis, who was also crowned Miss Tourism, wore a royal purple column gown with diamond patterns. Culen, also named Miss Youth Ambassador, donned a black gown with colorful rainbow weaving and native brass buttons on the shoulders.
Governor Salliman said that the winners, as role models, can communicate their experiences as Muslim women to the rest of the country and change naive views about Basilan. Salliman said, “Culture is about honoring the best of the past and the present, wherein lies the foundation for a bright future. By encouraging our people to continually celebrate our customs and traditions, our values will continue on to the next generations.”
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