By David Haldane
Sept. 20, 2018
I have always loved parades. Only one, however, has made me cry. I’m speaking of the 34thannual Bonok-Bonok street dancing spectacle held last week in Surigao City.
The disclosure that it brought tears to my eyes, frankly, is a bit embarrassing. I, after all, am supposed to be the cynical hard-bitten former newspaper reporter who’s seen and heard it all; no maudlin sentimentality here! And yet, as I watched the city’s finest youngsters dance their hearts out bathed in colorful costumes from somewhere east of Wonderland, well, it spoke to me in a way that few events ever have, what can I say?
Bonok-Bonok, of course, is the town’s annual fiesta honoring its patron saint, San Nicolas de Tolentino. As anyone who’s spent any time in the Philippines can tell you, every city, town and even the tiniest barangay has one each year. There are so many, in fact, that wherever you are in the country it’s a safe bet that, at any given time, at least one fiesta is raging nearby. And, for many Filipinos, the local fiesta is the most joyful time of the year next to Christmas.
In Surigao, Banok-Banok – referring to a traditional dance of the native Mamanwa tribe thanking the gods for abundance –features the celebrated street-dance parade followed by a huge ethnic dance extravaganza in the provincial sports complex and, of course, the usual lechon feasts citywide. In truth, this wasn’t the first time I’d seen it; several years before, when Ivy and I were still living in California with only vague notions of moving to Surigao, we’d visited the city during its fiesta. Though I’d enjoyed the parade immensely, however, its memory was marred by another one considerably less pleasant; being literally trapped in the overcrowded stadium by security guards who, for reasons not quite fathomable then or now, simply refused to let anyone go.
This time we skipped the big show, contenting ourselves with just the parade. And as the first group made its way down the street with drums banging out a loud cadence and school-age children gyrating in unified splendor, well, a strange kind of chill just took hold.
I think it had something to do with the intensity. “Viva Surigao, maradjao, karadjao!” the dancing young people chanted, their faces glowing in pleasure with lips streaked by smiles. “Viva Surigao; very good!” And it occurred to me then that I hadn’t seen that kind of gleeful ferocity in ages; certainly not on the faces of children and never about anything other than a winning sports team.
Anyone who’s ever practiced journalism will tell you that it invades your blood and stays there long after you have taken your leave for saner pursuits. And so, without even thinking about it, I found myself standing directly in the path of the parade with a line of actual credentialed journalists snapping pictures as the adrenalin pulsed. That’s when I felt the telltale drop in my eye, an unstoppable surge of emotion sparked, yes, by being part of the action again but, more than that, by the sheer expressions of joy on the faces of those children.
Several times my comrades and I had to be physically shoved to the sidelines by security guards determined to make way for the parade. Later, a reporter for the local radio station grabbed me for a live man-on-the-street interview regarding my reactions to the day’s events. “Spectacular!” I breathed into his proffered microphone. “Splendid! I love the fervor; it uplifts my soul.”
Just another day, I reflected, in my new hometown.
A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the chronicle of that adventure.