People wearing ornate, many-colored costumes swirled in the streets to the cadence of drummers in trucks. Expressions of joy, even ecstasy, lit up their youthful faces. And, as always, the air above them seemed tinged with the bright yellow hue of life celebrating itself.
I had seen it all before, of course, and written about it on several occasions.
But there were two big differences at this year’s Banok-Banok street-dancing fiesta in Surigao City. First, it represented the revival of an annual tradition felled by COVID for the past two years. And finally, it was the first time I envisioned the face of my little girl among those whirling dancers in the streets.
As I’ve explained before, the event highlights the city’s annual fiesta designed to celebrate the lives and legends of the indigenous Mamanwa tribe. They were the region’s first inhabitants, long before the Spanish conquistadors bearing swords arrived with their padres bearing crosses. But the event also pays tribute to the city’s patron saint, St. Nicholas de Tolentino, an Italian mystic often invoked on behalf of the suffering souls in purgatory. Which, I suppose, made him the perfect protector during those long COVID lockdowns.
But here’s the point: anyone willing to get up early enough to navigate fiesta traffic may gaze upon the remarkable sight of bright-eyed Filipinos dressed in native garb swooning over statuettes of a Catholic saint. It’s a wonderful confluence of religion and culture representing what the Philippines has become, a young country combining the best of a rich history and a percolating present pregnant with potential.
The last time I wrote about Banok-Banok, back in 2019, I said that watching the parade evoked “the feeling I sometimes get while watching a beautiful sunset or admiring a placid blue sea. Certain pieces of music have the same effect, as do my favorite works of art, literary passages and even cinematic scenes.”
Fittingly, it was also in that same 2019 column that I first announced the news that my wife was expecting another child. I even described our visit to an obstetrician’s office in Cebu where we stared at a small screen “as the grainy image from an ultrasound slowly took shape. There, unmistakably, lay a tiny arm stretched out above our baby’s head. Then, as we both held our breaths, the air pulsated with the sound of a tiny heartbeat. I knew then that God was in the room. Just as I did last week as the beat of my heart resonated with the pulse of those drums.”
Adira is two now and already loves to dance. Her favorite song is Let it Go, the theme from Disney’s animated movie, Frozen. “Let it go, let it go, I am one with the wind and sky,” Elsa sings, as Adira hums along, mouthing the words while throwing her arms open and stomping to the beat. “Let it go, let it go, you’ll never see me cry.”
I dream of the day, perhaps 12-15 years from now, when my beloved little girl will dance in the streets of Surigao. My fondest hope is that I live to see it.
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David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino,” is due out in January. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author, and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.