Feature Article
‘Kalilangan Festival Celebration’: A reflection in an indigenous perspective
The Kalilangan festival is perhaps one of the best ways to immortalize the historical narratives of Mindanao. It is a celebration that calls for healing, recognition of indigenous historical narratives.
Feb 27, 20243 min read
‘Kalilangan Festival Celebration’: A reflection in an indigenous perspective

Graphics: Dan Henly Sales

Photos: Leonard James Acla

When I was in elementary school, my parents and neighbors did not call General Santos City with the said name. They call this place “Diangas” or “Dadiangas”. When I traveled here in 2015 for college, I was dumbfounded that “Dadiangas” is a mere barangay. 

When I had the opportunity to work for Mindanao State University, I learned that “Diangas'' is a term for the dominant trees that easily grow in General Santos City. It is also believed to be an important material used for rituals of the Blaan people. 

I also learned that General Santos City was part of the Sultanate of Soguda Buayan, a principality governed by the Maguindanaons even prior to Spanish colonization. When the Americans came and the Treaty of Paris was signed, the whole of Mindanao was annexed to now, “the Republic of the Philippines”. Before it became the City of General Santos, it was formerly known as the municipality of Buayan.

In an article written by Al - Nezzar Ali (2016) which is displayed at the MSU General Santos City’s Museum of Cultural History and the Arts, he posited that early Christian settlers arrived in Soguda Buayan in as early as 1912. However, it was not to actually settle, but to take advantage of the economic situation in terms of agriculture and trade.

In 1916, Ali (2016) further claimed that the Olarte brothers arrived. Don Jose and Don Alberto established their agricultural business, and later on, one of them tied a knot with the daughter of a Blaan Fulong (tribal chieftain). 

From then on, several laws were passed that disinherited the established political system of the Moro and Indigenous Peoples. In June 3, 1939, the Commonwealth government passed into law the National Land Settlement Act (NLSA), in order to make Mindanao “the land of fulfillment”. 

On February 27, 1939, General Paulino Santos and his staff landed at the port of Dadiangas who embarked with S.S. Basilan. The immigrants General Santos carried were from different parts of Mindanao. Prof. Mario Aguja, a renowned sociologist and faculty regent of Mindanao State University, General Santos City, shared that the first to dock our waters were from Panay Islands. Then the Hiligaynons came. Last batch were the Ilocanos. 

Moving to present - day “General Santos City”, we are celebrating the foundation anniversary every February 27 along with its carrier event, the Kalilangan Festival. 

Perhaps you have heard of the official soundtrack of the festival. Surely, it will leave you with an LSS. “Hayayayayyyyyyy”. Does it ring a bell? The first words of the lyrics were: “Kapayapaan, Kasaganahan, Kagalingan, Karunungan … Sayaw na, sigaw na! Mag - Kalilangan….”. 

If we are going back to the history of our city, my indigenous heart would claim that its foundation led to the ‘disenfranchisement’ of a lot of indigenous peoples, and the Moro people. The system of the “Republic of the Philippines’ wiped out the long - established political identity of the indigenous cultural communities in Mindanao. Hence, a perspective on transitional justice is needed in order to heal the wounds of the past. 

The Kalilangan festival is perhaps one of the best ways to immortalize the historical narratives of Mindanao. It is not a mere activity where we just see colorful Pasandalans in the streets, witness performances in strategic locations of the city, visit food carts in the Oval Plaza, or attend a reggae party. It is a celebration that calls for healing, recognition of indigenous historical narratives, and campaigns for the unification of tri - people: the Indigenous Cultural Communities, the Muslims, and the Christian settlers. 

On one note, I would just like to leave a suggestion on how Kalilangan should be celebrated: I reckon that there is a need to revisit how the roles of indigenous peoples were portrayed in the opening productions. In my participation in the production for opening performances, I believe General Santos had always been the highlight. While it made sense that the festival also celebrated the foundation anniversary of the city, would it not be better if we have a conversation to achieve balance between giving praise to General Santos, and the ancestors of the indigenous peoples who first established the community we have today? Recognizing this portion of history where indigenous peoples made significant contributions in founding the city shall not only honor the latter, but also bring them back to the pedestals of the city's immaculate roots. Not as a mere spectacle, nor an accent to paint it as a “cultural festival”, but a significant part of the narrative should explain that indigenous peoples have also contributed to the present - day General Santos City. In short, there needs to be a decolonizing effort to balance tri-people recognition and representation.

As an indigenous person, I just hope that our history will not become a “footnote to a footnote”. May the Kalilangan festival become a genuine cultural festival; and to serve as a reminder to celebrate unity amidst cultural diversity, to heal from the remnants of colonization, and to unite as tri-people. 

“Sayaw na, sigaw na…. Mag - Kalilangan!”

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