Bohol’s Prince of Peace

by Ronnie Hoyle

THE island of friends stands out head and shoulders above the rest of the Philippines…and July is the month when the locals set out to prove it. Then they try to dance their feet off and get rid of the excess weight they built up during the real fiesta month of May.

Not content with letting Cebu hog the limelight with their January street-dancing in the Sinulog, Bohol aims for a month of festivities by producing the Sandugo, and street-dancing is the culmination with a Mardi Gras-style celebration.

Begun 18 years ago, the new tradition has already gripped the islands and the Sandugo is fast drawing in the crowds as one of the main celebrations of the Philippines – because it pays homage to the Prince of Peace, Rajah Sikatuna.

It was Sikatuna who first proposed a harmonious relationship when the Spanish came to visit, and instead of going to war with the invaders put forward the hand of friendship, for which the island is noted.

Instead of the war dance that islanders had given them in other places as a preliminary to the fights that ensued, the Bo-ols gave a warm welcome, dropped their spears and bows and arrows, and set the scene for the Blood Compact and the ultimate result: establishing the principles on which the United Nations Charter is based. What better way to celebrate than to have a dance and a feast with your new mates?

There is now a dispute as to whether Bohol’s leading and original politician signed the peace pact at Bo-ol or Loay, and whether it really was on March 16, 1565, or later in the same year – but that is an argument that Boholanons are quite happy to leave to present-day politicians and historians to fight over…let’s just get on with the dance!

Since Bo-ol is now a district of ‘Friendship City’ Tagbilaran, the city is the main centre of attraction during the festivities and the main dance ends on Bohol Day, July 22, when local towns fight it out for the crown at the Sports Complex in ritualistic manner in their colourful costumes.

The street-dancing begins at the pier with its’ carnival atmosphere of stalls and proceeds through the city while the crowds throng the streets and wonder whether Panglao town will do it again, as they seem to be threatening this year: to take the championships for the fourth time and really cement their claim to be the ‘Dance Capital’ of Bohol.

After being asked to take a back seat for a few years after winning the contest three years in a row, Panglao will certainly be pulling out all the stops to impress, especially as they look on the Sandugo as a practice session for their own dance festival, the Hudyaka sa Panglao, on August 28th each year.

Watched carefully, the dances by the many town groups during the Sandugo themselves impart some of the history of the Visayas and the struggle for survival, with many of them depicting scenes from the animistic past of the people and include elements of sun, mountain and nature worship, with the primal tribal beat of the bands echoing the sound in the hills from over five centuries ago.

The drums of decades ago which passed on the messages may have been relegated to the souvenir and antiques shops by the cell phone, but now other towns in the Visayas are joining in to make the event even more spectacular and hope to invoke the spirits of the past to join in the celebrations of today.

Naturally, the events during the Sandugo celebrations have evolved since the beginning and all aspects of life are involved in the happenings in the city and every day you will find something interesting going on.

The Bohol Sandugo Foundation is certainly looking forward to a humdinger of a month that threatens to sink the city with the weight of visitors and Boholanons returning to their roots from around the world and will all-out to decorate the city and make it an inviting and exciting destination.

July on Bohol promises to be an all-round sensation this year…all it needs is you to come and witness the events to make sure they will be a fitting commemoration to the chieftain of the past who inspired a worldwide organisation and the highest award the Philippines can give: the Sikatuna Peace Medal.