Tradition at the infinite waters of Zamboanga
At four in the morning, when the graying dawn still embraced the whole of Zamboanga, a young woman stood on the stern of her vinta and called on to the breeze of the ocean. The call began with a few strums on her wooden three–string bow, accompanied by hollow beats from several percussion instruments which one of her four brothers played. They produced music of waves lapping on the shores of the island-city; the graceful ebbing and flowing punctuated by every beat and gentled by every pluck on the bow.
The dance of their people—the boat-dwellers—was a dance for Omboh Dilaut, the god of the sea. It was a dance that meant being one with the sea and limber to the touches of the wind. It was a dance of slow sensuous sways and precise hand movements—a careful balance between freely-flowing grace and rigid specificity. It was a dance that the young woman learned as a child, probably when her mother was still young enough to dance during Regattas herself.
The Regatta de Zamboanga
The Regatta de Zamboanga happened only during October but the Badjaos always took pains in having year-long preparations for the event. Men worked hard in carving their own boat or lepa-lepa, making sure that it was watertight and that the balance was just right. When the boats were done, local shamans performed rituals for the vessel to have a spirit that would guide it in the waters. The weavers made sure that the sails—those of vertical bands and intricate patterns of bright colors—for the vintas were as beautiful as the jeweled Regatta dancers themselves. Beauticians would extract fruit juices, wait until many full moons and mix them with dried leaves to produce paint for the dancers’ faces. And the dancers—those young maidens who were a picture of innocent sensuality—woke up before sunup each day to dance to the waves.
During the actual Regatta, the whole of Paseo del Mar, a bazaar by the sea, was transformed into a labyrinth and everywhere were stalls that sold Badjao goods. The colorful vintas lined the coast and here and there were dancing Badjaos along with a
group of street musicians. There was so much merry-making and music that people tended to forget that they had been there since dawn.
But the highlight has always been the dancers. The young woman’s face is now made-up, but there was no mistaking the artless beauty that hid behind those colors. Her bronze hair was held together by jewelled combs but the ends were let loose to sway with the gentle breeze. Gold and silver dots outlined swirls and curves around her brave Badjao eyes. As the traditional Badjao attire, everything is elaborately embroidered and accessories are that of metal crafts with interlocking curves, thinly gilded by gold, silver and brass wires.
Amidst the wild merry-making, the Badjaos remained true to who they have always been: the proud nomadic people, who watched over the infinite waters of Zamboanga.
/// Written by Sigrid Gayangos, The Philippines