In the pursuance for animism and merrymaking thrived the idea of festivals in our country. Although Spaniards may have had influenced us these ideas, Filipinos, through time, have added their own, definite hue to the color of what Philippine festivals are today – more fun, more colorful and truly very Filipino.
In the small town of Hamtic in Antique lies an old custom which started at the arrival of Malays in the province ages ago, the Sumakwelan Festival held every third week of January. The festival, usually a four-day event, celebrates the bartering between the land of Ati for the golden salakot and necklace of the Malays. This event marked the molding of modern Hamtic, the entire province of Antique even, with how we remember the kinship formed between our natives and the Malays through preservation of our national heritage and through celebration of what we garnered after the barter. Today, we celebrate the festival with several activities in reference to the bartering, such as Malayan Attire during the Lin-ay kang Hamtic pageant and the very highlight of Sumakwelan Festival for the past few years, the Malay-Ati Tribe Competition.
The Malay-Ati Tribe Competition started back in 2012 with seven competing tribes, dancing in two judging areas, for their much-anticipated victories. For the years 2012 and 2013, January 20 had been marked the judgment day for the tribes which invested a lot for their winning performance during the competition day. The competing tribes are the six secondary schools and one university in Hamtic who sacrificed their time, rehearsing a 20-minute routine for almost a month; money for their elaborate and colorful props and costume that will feed the eyes of viewers and judges for points; their precious energy apparently exhausted every single day just to deliver a slaying performance in synchrony, overflowing bliss, energy and facial expression; and their hopes of a loud triumph for their tribe in the end after everything they have been through.
I was once a performer in these competitions. But I must say, it had been long journey for us towards victory – especially bagging the trophy for two consecutive years.
I remember our first performance, I was in third year. I dropped my kawayan in the first 10 seconds of the actual performance, making a loud noise among the anticipated crowd. That had me really nervous thinking of the points already deducted for that mistake. But that only made me more eager to compensate by doing well in the performance. But that kawayan-dropping incident never stopped our victory. During our second performance, I was in fourth year high school. I was having a flu during the day of the competition, burning up while having lunch. When the performance ended, I also ended up in bed for one day when I fell really sick to have been shivering like a vibrator when I was washing the paint off me.
As a first-hand witness to the glory of winning, I can say it’s very ecstatic to hear your tribe’s name called as champion. It all comes back to you in a matter of seconds, the late-night rehearsals, the rigid training to execute the choreography with justice, the pep-talks with teachers working late-night for costumes and solicitations as well, the blunt scolding, the bond over snacks with friends, and the thought of winning stuffed inside our minds to motivate us to win and bring home the bragging rights. Then reality kicks in as a pandemonium of yelling, jumping and crying tribe mates all around.
Looking at the bigger picture, this competition makes us one, more than it separates us as competing tribes. Yes, we may be in a competition but the pride we get by dancing the primitive ways of Ati and the graceful fan-dance of Malays is priceless, even more precious knowing how much fame and recognition our town gets with the very effort of students to perform. It’s a win-win situation, really, for both the Tourism office and the schools participating. We don’t only get a marvelous crowd that will eventually build up to fame let this event be continued for the future but we also get recognized as performers that I hope can equal the grandeur of established festivals in the country, like Ati-Atihan, Dinagyang, Sinulog and a lot more.
Two years of winning taught me a lot of things which now I willingly share to those about to face the battlefield that is the delicate eyes of the judges under the scorching one o’clock heat while managing pressure, anticipation and nervousness all at once. First, my experience with good choreographers and critics taught me you can never cheat the performance. The character must be internalized – deep and sincere. Ati should have very defined distinction between the Malays in terms of movement and gestures. And one who cannot understand his character will surely fail to deliver the appropriate execution.
Second, if you’ve started investing, invest for the highest possible profit: victory. I got this from my teachers who will tell us how hard it was also for them to do the production work, equally exhausting to what we do every single day, if not more tiresome. They would tell us that since we have committed ourselves to joining, we must win. Losing is out of the question. We do that by pushing ourselves beyond our limit, physically for endurance and personally to become good performers and people at the end of our Malay-Ati Tribe Competition journey.
Third, you can only prepare so much. When you are in the actual performance, you all are on your own. Teachers may be at the back waiting to assist the costume change but once you perform in front of the judges and audience, you are responsible for the execution, gestures and mistakes you make. This is where pep-talks would enter the picture as constant reminders to the performers to keep the most important things in mind while performing: Focus, Expression, Don’t Be So Obvious When You Commit a Mistake and Enjoy the Moment. So listen to what your teachers and choreographers tell you because they know what it is out there and you, as performers, can really do with tips and reminders.
And lastly, that teachers also cry. Even the toughest ones did when the results were announced, claiming our tribe as champion. As high school students, we look up to them as adults who dictate our grades with their powerful pens but during those particular moments of the competition, they are your friends, parents, assistants, and teachers all wrapped as one in a yellow ‘Tribu Tigre’ shirt. These are the moments when you appreciate them more for their unity as an administration and as our supporters, as well.
To my tribe, Tribu Tigre, for which I first learned my first lessons in performing, good luck! If you can produce such talented alumni as me (chos!), I am pretty sure victory is just around the corner for us once again, just waiting for our radiant smiles behind the brown paint and our feast-to-the-eyes performance. Let’s get some real shit done, eh? We will claim the performance area and we are nailing it on Wednesday!
P.S. I have no idea if there had been previous Malay-Ati Tribe Competition prior to the 2012 one, so I claimed it to be the first. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. 🙂