For quite a long while (not since the 70’s in fact), the Dinagyang Festival has not had the chance to feature the very people who have inspired their colorful celebration. But this year, the indigenous people of Panay were well represented by Tribu Miro, a guest tribe composed of authentic Aetas (or Atis) from Barotac and Anilao.
History lesson. The Aeta are believed to be Australo-Melanesians, sharing descendants with the Aborigines of Australia and the Papuans and the Melanesians of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji (yes, its a small world after all). They are scattered throughout the Philippine archipelago in small settlements particularly in Tarlac, Olongapo, Pampanga, Bataan and Panay (yes, they can even be found in the famous island of Boracay).
They are known for their dark brown skin, curly hair and small stature. However, unlike other Australo-Melanesians in some parts of the world, they are by far the most resistant to change, foregoing the modern amenities of life for a nomadic existence that has not significantly changed to this day.
And this resistance, this beautiful cultural rebellion is evident in the simplicity of their performance during the Dinagyang tribe competition.
Stripped of any paint and void of feathers and fancy headresses, I believe the tribe offered the crowd so much more. With their simple rhythmic presentation they showed a glimpse of a culture that is uniquely their own.
Their performance was blessed rest from the perfectly timed and choreographed dances of the other competing tribes. These were movements that were handed down to them in rituals and incantations. These were dances that defined their day-to-day existence in hunting, in weaving, in prayer.
It is interesting to know that this whole festive affair centers around a story about these brown-skinned people, how they sold their land to the Malay settlers and how the trade ushered Christianity to the islands.
And although I do love the heavy drum-beating and the perfectly timed, magnificently choreographed dancing, it was a privilege to see the Dinagyang celebration and the brown-skinned people who inspired its beginning.