Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Spirituality of the Tinagba

(The beating of the patong or balalong, a hollowed wooden gong used as a communication tool during the pre-colonial days, today signals the start of the street parade of the Tinagba festival in Iriga. Image is from Feodor Jagor's Reisen en den Phiippinen.)

Spirituality lies beneath the etymology and practice of the Tinagba. In the early Seventies, the late Jose Calleja Reyes, a topnotch lawyer whose avocation is Bicol culture and history, first staged the Tinagba, as an expression of his own faith, his researches into the Bicol past and, as a tourism strategy for his nascent hotel business. Tinagba, whose root word is tagba, is defined by Lisboa in his 17th-century Bicol dictionary as "coger las primicias del arroz," or "to pick, gather or harvest the first fruit of rice." The tinagba is "las primicias,' the first stage of the maturation or ripening of the rice grain which we prepare as "pinipig." The practice of culling the first fruit is what gives the Tinagba its root and link to the ancient spirituality of the pre-colonial Bikols. For when our ancestors pick the first fruit, it was meant as an offering, of thanksgiving to the Almighty, the One whom they called "Gugurang" or the "Ancient One." The offering is made in a ritual called "atang" presided by a priestess called "baliana", who with the assistance of women chanting the "soraki", offer their harvest in an altar called "salangat" in a chapel-like structure called "gulang-gulangan." If we examine these elements, we can see why our ancestors were easily converted to Christianity by the Spaniards.

According to a note Reyes wrote about the tinagba, this spiritual aspect of the tradition was what moved him to revive this ancient practice in 1974 in Iriga where he was born. He had a personal devotion to the Virgin Mary in her manifestation as Our Lady of Lourdes; that is why, the Tinagba coincides with her feast on February 11. Understandably, the most prominent feature of his erstwhile Ibalon Hotel complex was the Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes. In this aspect, Reyes is a pioneer in the "festival" trend which picked up in the 90's as many local government units and places all over the country put up their own respective festivals as a tourism come-on. Reyes' motive, however, was more deeply rooted in Bikol culture than touristic ends. He was an active member of the Bicol Heritage Foundation, whose members included the late Fr. James O'Brien, S.J., Leonor Dy-Liacco, and Luis General; and Dr. Ma. Lilia F. Realubit. This group was responsible for the revival of interest in the study of Bicol history and culture in the late 60's and early 70's, and to which the current renaissance in Bicol literature, art, music, history and even philosophy, can be traced. Reyes was also a pioneer in giving attention to the Agta, some of whom live in his family-owned Hacienda Gumarok at the foot of Mt. Iriga. He it was who made them participate in the first staging of the Tinagba, and to which they have since then continually involved themselves.

In the 90's, street dancing was introduced as an added element to the caravan of carts loaded with farmers' harvest. This was an obvious gay imitation of the practices of other festivals, notably ati-atihan in Negros and sinulog in Cebu, all meant for spectacle and tourism. Looking at this from the perspective of the beginning or root of the Tinagba, one can see this development as a further secularization of an otherwise spiritual celebration. This is a development that is inevitable, however, given the current kitschy trend in what my Sorsogon historian-friend, Toots Jamoralin, calls "peste-vals." Nevertheless, the introduction of these foreign elements is an uninformed departure from the original idea of Reyes for the tinagba, which was to be a celebration of the uniqueness of the native and numinous culture of the Bicolanos.


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