The pride of the Yakans, the indigenous tribe of Basilan, was the theme of the culture program at the recent Pakaradjaan, the annual festival that marked the 44th founding anniversary of the province. The largest island in Sulu archipelago, Basilan consists of the Muslim groups of the Yakans and Tausugs and the Christians called Chabacanos.
Pakaradjaan, which means “merrymaking” in the local dialect, was a week long event held in the capital city of Isabela. Every year, the different municipalities produce a theatrical performance, depicting their values and traditions.
The group from Akbar won the first prize for its story about a cross-cultural love story between a Yakan maiden who falls in love with a Tausug. Despite the maiden’s previous betrothal to another Yakan and her tribe’s differences with the Tausugs, she and her lover fought against all odds. The 20-minute performance began with a celebration of Tausug and Yakan dances, whose signature moves featured the sinewy arms and expressive hand gestures that mimicked nature. Then came the confrontation between the Tausug and the maiden’s fiance in the tumahik or war dance where the dancers showed their virility and sword skills. In the end, the maiden’s love for the Tausug convinced her family and her tribe.
The winning team consisted of seasoned dancers from the La Cultura Dance Troupe which performs in other parts of the Philippines.
The first runner-up from Tipo-Tipo presented the paunjalay, an authentic Yakan wedding dance with the bride and groom, where they also painted their faces to ward off evil spirits. The style is characterized by eloquent arm and wrist movements and delicate footwork.
The second runner-up from the fishing town of Maluso was performed by students mimicking the fishermen’s lives from going to the sea, preparing for fishing, catching their harvest, and coming home from their expedition. Despite having no training in dance, the students told their story with clarity.
The beauty of this festival was the authenticity of the dances and music. Mainstream cultural groups stylize our folk dances to dazzle the audiences but end up losing the substance. On the other hand, these local dances have been handed down from the tribal elders. Thus, the stories, songs, and traditions are preserved through these cultural events. It encourages the locals to maximize the use of their famous Yakan textiles that are known for their bold geometric patterns and bright colors. They are performed to the live music of the agong or wide rimmed suspended gongs, and the kulintang, a group of gongs of different sizes.
Basilan Governor Jim Hataman Salliman , elder brother of Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman, said the Pakaradjaan 2018 aims to make Filipinos more aware that the original inhabitatants from Sulu.
The Yakans are believed to have migrated from Borneo where the people are short, dusky in complexion and have slanted eyes and straight hair. The Yakans are farmers who cultivate coconut, abaca, corn, cacao, and upland rice. Their most distinctive costume is the wraparound sash on the torso and the skirt around the tight-fitting pants.
Salliman said, “Culture is about honoring the best of the past and present which lay the foundation for a bright future. By encouraging our people to continually celebrate our customs and traditions, our values will continue to the next generation.”