I have been to many different places in the country, but oddly enough I have never set foot on South Cotabato soil, which is the better half of Cotabato (North), my home province. I was so outdated to have just learned lately that the Marbel I knew of before is the same place that is now called as Koronadal City. I thought they were different! It was a pity. It is a lesson learned that I should have visited my neighbor first before wandering anywhere else. Nonetheless, it is not too late to swing by, I guess.
I first heard of the T’nalak Festival not a long time ago. I have only witnessed one performance during the Aliwan Fiesta last April at the Quirino Grandstand. I was so lucky to have positioned myself at the photographers’ area to witness the T’nalak Festival up close for the first time. I was in awe! I knew very well that the members of the T’nalak contingent speak the same native language as I do. It makes me proud. I could not recall anything else except their showmanship and the colorful costumes of course. Although they did not bag the crown, they had imprinted in the minds of everyone present that there is one colorful festival at the heart of Mindanao that they should go see, and that is the T’nalak Festival.
When I checked the list of Philippine festivals last June so I could make a news article for my blog, I was blessed to have found the T’nalak for the second time around. I believe I was at the right timing then to have written and published the article on July 5, eight days before the festival kicked off.
I have yet to make this dream of experiencing the festival come true, though I am planning to hopefully and finally attend the event next year. And I already marked my calendar that come July it will be time for the T’nalak Festival again. Here is a list of what I am looking forward to next year:
1) The Street Dancing Competition
Witnessing the T’nalak Festival at the Quirino Grandstand made me think that it has its own identity because I was able to compare it from the other festivals in the country, although the one I saw in Aliwan is only one contingent of the T’nalak and I know it is incomplete. Seeing the rest of the contestants, their different antics, choreography, the sound of gongs, varied music and the festive mood will make it whole for me. I believe it’s going to be a different experience witnessing the entirety of the T’nalak Festival live.
2) Colorful Costumes
The variations and harmony of different colors make photography perfect. I know it is the same thing for the T’nalak Festival. Among the different street dancing competitions I’ve seen and witnessed, T’nalak speaks of aesthetics, assorted hues and shades. To personally experience the whole T’nalak for me is to immerse myself in a picture perfect festival.
3) Mutya ng South Cotabato
I have seen different beauty pageants in Luzon and the Visayas, but I have yet to witness what Mindanao has to offer. I know South Cotabato has matahum nga mga lin-ay (beautiful maidens) that could place the province in the map for beauty queendom. Mutya ng South Cotabato will soon be on my list and the first for Mindanao.
If Bukidnon has Del Monte, South Cotabato has Dole. For now, I have to satisfy myself with the pineapples I buy at the back of our office building along Ayala Avenue in Makati City. When I come to South Cotabato for the T’nalak Festival next year, this will be one of my major to-do things. I tasted fresh South Cotabato pineapples way, way back in the ‘90s and yet the memory still lingers. It was the tastiest I have ever had and I still yearn to have it, even right now!
5) Trade Fairs
I am always fascinated by trade fairs because there are certain products that you can only discover in an expo. South Cotabato, having fertile land and industrious people, has a lot to offer. And I am looking forward to the day that I can bring home something unique and special from South Cotabato.
6) The City
Every Philippine city and town has unique characteristics. What I am looking forward to after arriving in Koronadal for the T’nalak Festival is to discover and feel its sense of distinctiveness, that feeling and sensation when you discern something you can then say, “Ahh, this is really Koronadal and this is truly South Cotabato.”
7) The Locals
When I travel to different places around the country, I always make it a point to try and mingle with the locals because it gives me a glimpse of how it is to live with them and be one of them. The different people from different places I have met before had imparted some wisdom or two that I can never learn somewhere else. This I have yet to unearth and experience at the T’nalak Festival.
“You are what you eat. It’s the food that binds us together.” Name all the quotes about food but it goes to one saying: Your food is your identity. What’s in store for me in South Cotabato? I know the T’nalak Festival will also showcase a cuisine that would satisfy every visitor when it comes to gastronomic gratification. Myself, I love to cook, so I am looking forward to bringing back with me a new menu when I return home after the festival.
9) Horse Fight
I have never seen horse fighting on TV and even live in person. I like to think that I have a special affinity with horses being born in the Year of the Horse myself. Horses fascinate me. However, one of my frustrations about that is painting a horse; I am actually inept at it. That aside, I hope that the horse fighting spectacle at the T’nalak Festival would be grand and awesome!
10) Lake Sebu
A very dreamy place indeed. When I look at pictures of Lake Sebu, it invokes peace and serenity. Lake Sebu is like an embodiment of South Cotabato, and so South Cotabato should exude peace and serenity. An overnight stay perhaps at Lake Sebu after the T’nalak Festival will be the best relaxation ever! Wouldn’t you agree?
11) Mt. Matutum
I am a mountaineer, though as of late my doctor advised me to minimize any form of strenuous physical activities due to my thyroid condition, which is a bit sad, but maybe not until I have my treatment this October. So after the T’nalak Festival and an overnight stay at Lake Sebu, what about a trek to Mt. Matutum? That would be hitting three birds with one stone!
12) T’nalak Weaving
If Miag-ao, Iloilo has the sinamay and the patadyong, South Cotabato has the T’nalak. This is no ordinary weaving. This is a mythical weaving. This is dream weaving. Fu Dalu might bless me to see how the T’nalak is woven when I come for the festival so that I can witness how a 20-foot abaca cloth is painstakingly done in 70 days.
13) Iloilo in Mindanao
A lot of people have told me that when you are in Koronadal it is like you are in Iloilo primarily because the dominant spoken language in the city is Hiligaynon. A lot of Ilonggos have migrated from Panay Island, settled and enriched the province that is now South Cotabato. I still have to witness and appreciate that myself.
14) The T’boli Culture and Tradition
More than anything else, with my advocacy for the preservation of culture and tradition, the T’nalak Festival is a celebration of life. It is the celebration of the T’boli people, their culture and their traditions. The festival helps in uplifting the spirit of the T’boli tribe and the affirmation of their existence. Amidst the diversity of people, South Cotabato has weaved the fabric of unity blessed by the spirit of abaca, Fu Dalu, and harmoniously interlaced the loom that has created a beautiful and a progressive province. A saying goes, and I quote, “Don’t tell me how many countries you have visited, tell me how many cultures you have experienced.” When I come for the T’nalak Festival, this is one of the firsts in my agenda, to celebrate with the people who have been blessed with the weaving of the T’nalak. And I am enthusiastically looking forward to that very day.