MANILA, Philippines - Heightened appreciation of one's roots may reveal in great and colorful detail the culture and identity of a province.
The people of Antique have proven this point when they recently celebrated Binirayan festival, weeklong festivities highlighted by colorful street parades, beach shows, plaza concerts, beauty contest and trade fair.
The festival in San Jose started 34 years ago. It draws attention to the mythical founding of Antique by Bornean Malays in the 12th century.
Legend has it that 10 Bornean datus (chieftains) claimed Panay island and their leader, Datu Sumakwel, founded the settlement in Malandog, Hamtik town, Antique.
"Binirayan," which comes from the word biray or "sailboat" in Kinaray-a (Antique's local language), refers to the difficult journey of the 10 datus to reach Malandog beach, where they befriend the Atis (Aetas) and eventually start a civilization in pre-Hispanic times.
Antique's cultural educator Alex Santos, who also heads Antique's Binirayan Foundation, says the Binirayan celebration was started by Antique's hero, late Gov. Evelio Javier, who opposed the Marcos dictatorship.
Santos says the festival seeks to make Antiqueños become aware of their roots and identity.
During the feast, the legend of Sumakwel took a life of its own.
Each town sent representatives garbed in traditional Malay clothes to participate in the reenactment of the landing of the 10 datus on Malandog beach.
A song-and-dance number about the friendship between the Malays and the Atis done in original Kinaray-a music and lyrics was performed.
A long parade on Tobias Fornier Street and a dance competition on EBJ Freedom Park participated in by the different towns highlighted the events in the legend. A rock concert featured songs quite familiar
to Manila visitors but sung in Kinaray-a.
And the beauty contest participated in by young beauties from different towns featured not only grace and prettiness but the local culture, such as symbols of products incorporated in the design of the gowns.
Just to emphasize how serious Antiqueños are about Binirayan were, there was even a Binirayan Confab, a whole-day conference that assessed the celebration and tackled ways to collect local historical data to encourage the towns to document and preserve their culture and history.
Santos says Binirayan has successfully instilled in the mind of every Antiqueno not only a deep sense of the past but a proud identity as well.
"When I was young, I was already a big fan of Binirayan. I would always listen to Evelio Javier talk about the importance of knowing where you come from. He always said, 'Wherever you go, you carry with you the Antique identity.' "