By Klein F. Emperado, FU Content Manager
As Buglasan is celebrated every October, the story of its beginnings needs to be retold. This time, the narratives collected came from the people who were present since day one of Buglasan – the prime movers.
Ms. Jacqueline Veloso-Antonio, the current tourism officer of Dumaguete City, wrote the first detailed and exact narrative of Buglasan’s beginnings. And the reason behind her work was to correct the wrong narratives which were circulating about the festival’s beginnings.
“Foundation (University) has always been at the forefront, and continues to be, of Culture and Arts,” Veloso said in an interview. She also narrated that at a time when festivals were not yet that popular, the University already possessed the kind of idea for celebration. Veloso mentioned about the first Buglasan Festival held inside the campus of Foundation University in May of 1980 with the support and collaborative efforts from artists and organizations in the community.
According to Veloso, “After several years, it (Buglasan) became too big for the University to sustain. This was (then) turned over for the province (Negros Oriental) to sustain.
Coinage of the Festival’s Name
If there could be someone who could tell the beginnings of Buglasan, one name can be pointed out immediately – Bobby Flores Villasis, a multi-awarded literary artist and noted cultural worker. He was among the prime movers of Buglasan Festival upon its inception along with the late Prudencio “Prudi” Sirilan, Bobby Café, Dr. Peter Dayot, and Daniel M. Delfin who at that time, were all connected with Foundation University and were active with cultural work in the community.
According to Villasis, what the group wanted was to coin the name of the festival using the dialect. They were able to consult his grandmother, Engracia Celis-Torillo and was given a suggested name, “Buglas” which was the old name of the province of Negros Oriental. Buglas refers to a type of weed that grows up to three feet high and at present, is called “bugang.”
Buglasan, as Villasis shared, was purposed at collecting the various festivals of Negros Oriental’s towns and cities in order to respond to the invitation to the first Philippine Folk Arts Festival in Manila. Due to the nature of the Buglasan, the term “festival of festivals” was attached since it is a showcase of the varied celebrations of the component towns and cities of Negros Oriental.
Buglasan Festival of Festivals, as of the present time, is still true to what it has been conceptualized by the prime movers – a one stop shop and show window of Negros Oriental’s culture, history and the arts.
Why at Foundation University?
Foundation University, the home and hub of the prime movers of Buglasan Festival during its inception, became the outright venue of Negros Oriental’s prime fiesta.
Villasis recounted FU President Marcelino Maxino who offered the rooms inside the campus to be converted into booths. Each LGU (local government unit) had an assigned room converted into a booth, decorated and made ready for display of exhibits neither for sale or for tasting.
On the other hand, Ms. Yolly Sirilan, the wife of the late Buglasan prime mover, Prudi Sirilan, shared during a phone interview that at the beginning of Buglasan Festival, Foundation University generously offered to provide the venue.
It cannot be denied that it was Foundation University, with its aim to promote and preserve Filipino culture and identity, who nursed and cradled Buglasan during its infant years.
“In May of 1980, Foundation University treated Negros Oriental to a cultural re-awakening. Buglasan, the first Negros Oriental Folk Arts festival, was an attempt to offer the underlying pathos of the Negrenses’ celebration of life through festivals. The meaning was brought home when the festival turned out a milieu of original folk dances, songs, recipes, and entertainment from all areas of the province. These bespoke the Negrense way of life.” (pg. 97, Handuraw, the first fifty years of Foundation University)
People’s Involvement and Collaboration
Another factor of Buglasan’s success was the participation of individuals and organizations in the community. One of which was Balikatan, the women’s group led my Ms. Coleta Aranas. It came in as a support group during the early years of Buglasan.
Ms. Sirilan recounted that the very reason behind asking for help and assistance from the said group was due to its composition. This was due to the fact that most of the mayors’ wives and mothers and other influential women in the towns and cities were members of the Balikatan so, invoking the group’s help was the easy way to convince the local government units to participate and support the event.
She also remembered that the late governor, Lorenzo “Dodong” Teves also gave his full support and financial assistance especially during the first years of Buglasan being the head of the province during that time.
Ms. Sirilan even revealed an inside story about rifts between prominent people in the community that were mended due to the holding of Buglasan. People had to let down of personal pride and political interests and biases in order to work together for the success of the festival.
In truth, the festival did not only bring out the best of Negros Oriental’s culture and the arts but it coincidentally, united the people from various sectors and organizations to gather and work hand in hand in celebrating Negros Oriental’s unique history and culture through the Buglasan Festival of Festivals.
Prudi and his artistic work
If Bobby Villasis was the brains behind concepts and ideas pertaining to Buglasan, it was the late Prudencio “Prudi” Sirilan who transformed those ideas into flesh. In short, he was the man of action. Villasis freshly recalled that it was Sirilan and Dr. Dayot who artistically crafted the actions and movements especially during dance and cultural productions.
More than a concept shared among friends at a usual tête-à-tête, Buglasan was made possible through Sirilan’s artistry both in the areas of visual arts and in dance – being a dancer and an esteemed choreographer.
Ms. Jacqueline Veloso-Antonio reminisced, during an interview, that she looks up to Sirilan as an artist who bears so much passion in promoting culture and the arts. She was able to work with him even up to his twilight years.
For her, Sirilan was a cultural worker and artist who never thought of the payment and the price. Veloso said, Sirilan just wanted to get things done and the monetary aspect came as a second priority. Up to this time, she can never compare Sirilan’s commitment and passion to any of today’s cultural workers.
His death a year ago came as a sad news in time for the celebration of the annual Buglasan. His passing on to the beyond has left a void mostly to the cultural workers and the whole artist community in the province as they knew of Sirilan’s essential contributions to the cultural life of the province being one of the prime movers of Buglasan.
Victory of the first Buglasan
Not known to many, the reason behind the holding of the first Buglasan was prompted by many factors and one of which was, the invitation to the first Philippine Folk Arts Festival in Manila. Negros Oriental had to come up with a festival of its own to be presented at the country’s capital.
Years before Negros Oriental was invited to the festival in Manila, FU’s cultural officer Bobby Villasis felt the need to reorganize the University’s dance troupe to highlight and honor the nationalistic vision and identity of its founder, Dr. Vicente G. Sinco. But his primary problem was the choreographer and trainer so, he asked for his plan’s approval from then FU President Marcelino Maxino and promptly sent a telegram to Bayanihan Dance Company member, Loury Urtula-Lacson. Lacson also happens to be the daughter of Bayanihan’s founder, Lucresia Reyes-Urtula, who according to Ms. Sirilan possessed so much love for Negros Oriental having spent several summers in the province due to her father’s work assignment.
Surprisingly, Lacson arrived at FU one afternoon of 1979 and gave everyone, especially Villasis, a shock as he thought of the compensation to be afforded for an esteemed artist in dance who was able to marry a local of Basay, Negros Oriental.
The reorganization of the cultural group now called Buglasayaw Dance Troupe made a lasting impact not only to the cultural life of the University but as well as to the whole province. Unexpectedly, it led to the renaissance of arts and culture not only inside Foundation University’s premises but also for the Province of Negros Oriental.
And what was more remarkable about the first Buglasan was the documentation of the so-called “lost dance” discovered during the cultural presentations performed by the participating towns and cities. The Polka Biana of Zamboangita town was the “lost dance” referred to by folk dance enthusiasts and they were surprised to find it while in the province.
Siaton’s Inagta won the first Buglasan but because the guests from the Folk Arts Theater were delighted at the cultural presentations, they recommended that the other four presentations such as: Zamboangita’s Polka Biana, Dauin’s Kasal Dauinonan, Manjuyod’s Amamanhig, and Tanjay’s Sinulog de Tanjay were to join the contingent representing Negros Oriental for the first Philippine Folk Arts Festival in Manila.
In 1981, at the actual event in Manila, Lucresia Reyes-Urtula chose the “Palihi” as the opening rite for the festivities.
The Uniqueness of Buglasan
Villasis, being one of the prime movers of Buglasan, envisions Buglasan to become a staple of Negros Oriental’s cultural life. When in fact, when asked why they began Buglasan, he answered that it was mainly to promote the province.
Buglasan’s very idea was conceived among friends who shared the same passion for culture and the arts. At its inception, it was cradled inside Foundation University – an institution that continuously promotes creativity, Filipino culture and nationalism. But one undeniable fact about Buglasan, present up until today, is the cooperation and collaboration between government, schools and people’s organizations. This is the very nature of Buglasan – various sectors working together in order to achieve the goal of promoting Negros Oriental and to celebrate its unique culture, tradition and history.