Thursday, February 11, 2010

108. Carnival Mascot: BILLIKEN

“I am the God of Happiness,
I simply make you smile..
I prove that life’s wroth living
And that everything’s worthwhile
I am the God of Happiness,
My name is Billiken”

In the early part of the 20th century, a Missouri art teacher, Florence Pretz, designed an elfin image with pointed ears, an impish smile and a conehead topped with a stub of hair. She had conceived this charm doll based on a dream, legend say, and in 1908, she acquired a patent for it and the manufacturers who produced the figures gave it a name—Billiken.

The world soon started its love affair with the Billiken. The mysterious chinky-eyed imp was imbued with a new persona—“the God of Things as they Ought To Be”. The Billiken was looked at as a giver of good luck and also as a ”sure cure for the Blues, that Solemn Feeling, the Grouch, the Hoodoo Germ, Hard-Luck Melancholia, the Down and Out Bacillus”.

It was for this reason that the first Manila Carnival of 1908 adopted the Billiken as its mascot. It had also been picked as the mascot of the 1909 Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, and its likeness was carved by Eskimos in precious ivory.

The Carnival Billiken made its appearance in local newspaper editorial cartoons, a sort of a welcome official to Carnival visitors. There were also dressed-up Billiken mascots who joined the parades and fascinated the young and old alike. Surprisingly, the Billiken was not reproduced on Carnival medals—unlike the other carnival –the Red Devil.

True to its nature, the Billiken was depicted as a happy figure, always with a wide lucky grin and open arms for all. “As long as I smile at you”, a Billiken poem reminds, “bad luck can’t harm you. Grin and begin to win!”.

Indeed, the Billiken blessed the very first Carnival with great luck—after all the earnings and expenses were totaled, there was a sizable profit of P13,391.30 left. This, aside from countless orders for local products exhibited by the provinces in their booths (Laguna received P15,000 worth of orders from one foreigner alone). Equally valuable was the international goodwill generated by the national event. Well done for “the smiling god of good fortune, the original divinity of optimism”—the Billiken!

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