Niyogyugan Festival 2017
It was my second time to witness the Niyogyugan Festival. Last year was a spectacle of colors and the jingle “Tara na! tara na! Niyugyugan. Tara na! Tara na! Niyugyugan. Niyugyugan! Queeeezzzoooooonnnn….” left an imprint in my mind that I could hear it in my head for a week. The same thing happened this year as I tried to ward off the beat by listening to Verdi’s Rigoletto.
I am not complaining. It was a catchy beat. Ati-atihanesque, maglalatikesque and hyper-bass pumping greeted everyone’s ears upon entering Lucena City’s provincial capitol grounds. The smell of coconut oil enticed the senses as each booth under the sun roasted each fiber of their basic building material. And that is, of course, the coconut.
The ten-day affair started on August 17 and ended with the street dance competition last Sunday, August 27. Upon arrival, we were made to make tagay and were given a primer by Jun Bay, Quezon Province’s Provincial Tourism head.
The art of tagay
When I was eight years old, I read Alejandro Roces’ We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers. It’s a story of a Government Issued* (GI) soldier named Joe and a farmer with a carabao named Carpio. He explained to the GI what lambanog was as the American boasted that he could drink anything –from tequila to Chanel Number 5.
Well, of course, the tagay was unfortunate for the American while the Filipino farmer brought the soldier to his camp.
The process of getting drunk by lambanog traces its roots way back as men and women of Quezon made the umpukan a method of settling disputes, merry-making or simple get-together. As the crowd gather, the people sang or paawitan. The lyrics goes something like this:
“Inom na’y inom na
Sa kamay ko galling
Ay sukdang ito’y lason
Ay ‘di ka papatayin
Kung magkasakit ka
Sa akin ang dahil
Ako’y malayo man
The umpukan is led by a well-respected person called tanggero. The person leads the drinking spree by first carrying a big clay jar of lambanog and second, pouring the content to a smaller bottle without any spill. Skill, accuracy and precision are among the qualities necessary to be a tanggero as it reflects his values of justice, fairness and maturity. He will pour the first shot and then throw the contents to the Earth to give homage to the life it gives.
Everyone is entitled to be a part of the umpukan. Men, women and children can participate but of course, kids and pregnant women can’t drink. A round of drinking is called lipos as the glass roams from one hand to another after pouring equal parts of lambanog. During the process, people talk about their agenda and the lipos ends once they have reached a settlement. Or maybe, when no one can lift the glass to their mouths anymore.
The tanggero will pour lambanog to a glass and will give it to the next person as he says “Naay po” and the reply should be “Pakikinabangan po.” It means that each grace must be made of use in all manners possible. As I said earlier, kids and conceiving women can’t drink or if someone refuses to take the shot, another person must take the round and will say “Sasakupin ko”. But of course, the individual will not lose the shot meant for him.
When a lady wants to pass the round, she will say “Timtiman ko lang” as she presses the glass against her lips. She will wait for a man to take her drink. If someone takes interest, he will say “Sasakupin kita” and will drink the contents opposite the lipmark. “Napakatamis ng tagay mo” will be his reply after downing the lambanog. Well, if nobody wants to “sakop” the shot, the lipos won’t end. Just kidding.
Nowadays, the “tomaan” happens anywhere at any time and at any occasion, or lack of it. We must never forget that the tagayan has etiquette to follow – it’s so methodological but aims for respect and unity.
I will not bore you with figures of how much the festival earned as far as sales from the booths or other fund raisers are concerned. The seven figure earnings and the exponential growth over the years since the Niyogyugan was conceptualized six years ago is a proof of the potential crowd bringer comparable to the Ati-atihan in Kalibo or the Flower Festival in Baguio. Though Lucena City itself is not ready to accommodate large volumes of tourists arrivals due to shortage of hotels near the vicinity where the festival is held annually, the booths are crowd drawers. Each municipality as near as Tiaong and as far as Jomalig showcased their products with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture.
I am a sucker for leaf and fiber weavings and it was my bad to look for Luisiana crafts (forgive my geographical idiocy, it is in Laguna). Last year I was able to buy a purse, which I still have as of this writing and I was looking forward to see more and if the weaving industry has evolved. It was quite disappointing seeing that there were no improvements. I know I expected a lot after touring weaving communities from various parts of the country and attending trade expos and saw how each strived to innovate as they adjust to market demands.
The food and delicacies are still as good but assistance in branding and labeling of their products is a must. Some missed putting expiry dates. Some products are great but were lacking in presentation in terms of packaging while I doubt that others practiced food safety considering the crazy weather that affects environmental temperature.
It was fortunate that some produce found buyers asking them if they can be suppliers. They were given a deal to buy wholesale, re-label and dilute the original formula for mass production while adding preservatives to extend shelf-life, when in fact, we can all buy direct from the sources and get the best quality sans the harmful additives.
Since the Niyugyugan Festival gave them the opportunity to show-off, it is up to us well-meaning individuals to give aid in our own way. Lend our expertise to the communities who cannot afford to pay consultants. Help them innovate and learn how they do things then integrate all these criteria for a meaningful production then find an applicable market for their craft. Or if not, introduce them to the mainstream.
Merry-making on the streets
Costumes with coconut shell appliqués, the streets of Lucena were like New Orlean’s Mardi Gras. I assume that dancers were 13 and up who devoted their time in order to win the street dance contest. I admire their courage to soak themselves to the mid-day sun given the hot weather (but believe me, last year was hotter than this year).
I just found myself laughing over some not-so put together costumes like the Maria Clara dress and the Japanese umbrella ensemble. Plus, Ms. Quezon wearing four-inch platform shoes when they could have created better elevation space on the float. It must have been agonizing for her wearing those shoes that every time the float stopped, she slightly stumbled. I just wish that organizers would stop punishing women by wearing footwear like that on floats where they are made to stand for prolonged periods.
Municipality and city contestants danced with one tune and it took great skill and creativity not to make each group move in the same step. I was amused with Lucban’s costume where longanisa leis adorned their dancers’ necks. I am not a dance expert and my rhythmic skills are terrible but I was trying to figure out if the movements were apt representations of their communities. That, I have to find out in my next expedition.
As far as marketing and promoting the event is concerned, the Tourism office from both local and regional levels did a great job. The parade is a touristic spectacle of colors and a major show-off of how Quezon Province will always survive all the storms that hits the area. And how, this region will keep on growing upwards, steadfast and resilient, like the coconut.
“Itataas ko na’y
Hawak kong tagay
At sa aking ulo
Ang laman ba nito’y
Agua de kolonya?
Ay sa atay ko’t puso
Ay do’n ko kinuha
Ang tagay na iyan
Ay sukdang lason
“Tagay pa more!”