Thursday, February 11, 2010

110. The 'Carnaval' Comes to Town: PETIT FAIRS & PROVINCIAL EXPOSITIONS

Provincial government officials and regional participants who came to the city were witnesses to the success of the grand Manila Carnival. Many came away convinced that the success of the national event could be replicated at the provincial level. Besides, there were already some forms of festivities like Garden Day, agriculturals fairs and traditional fiestas that could be collapsed into one big provincial carnival. Just like the national Carnival, holding a provincial fair could boost local tourism, generate income and provide a venue for lively entertainment. Indeed, the first local carnivals served as a prelude for the province’s participation to the Manila Carnival, including the selection of the provincial delegate to the Manila Carnival Queen/Miss Philippines pageant.

Cebu was the first province to follow the lead of Manila by holding its own Carnival in 1913, just 5 years after the national carnival unfolded. Reigning in that very first carnival was the Spanish-Filipina beauty, Enriqueta Aldanese, who, in 5 years time, would conquer Manila by winning the 1918 Manila Carnival Queen title. Cebu Carnivals were held with regularity from the 1920s to thru the 30s. The 1930 edition would be remembered for its grand pageantry that was said to rival that of the Manila event; it was also an emphatic statement about pride of place, for the reigning Miss Philippines then came from the Visayas.

There was a Lerma Carnival in 1919, but the origin of this Carnival is rather sketchy—it may have been a staged affair by Jose Nepomuceno, an early moviemaker (extant photos are marked “Vanity Pictures”) or a sponsored event by Lerma Emporium.

Up north, the provinces of Ilocos held their own provincial fairs that lasted from the ‘20s thru the post-war years. As early as 1921, there was an Ilocos Sur Carnival that was held in Vigan. It was held consecutively till 1925, and again in 1930. In 1935, a Gran Carnival y Feria de Ilocos was held from January 18-27 also in Vigan, where a tall “Tower of Progress” became the fair’s centerpiece. After the war, the Ilocos Norte Carnival & Industrial Fair was held on Jan. 1946. Three years later, the Ilocos Sur Carnival and Exposition was put up in January, dedicated to Pres. Elpidio Quirino. Aparri, Abra and Cagayan also organized their own provincial carnival which mimicked the Manila edition right down to its themes. The Petit Carnival in Aparri held in 1939 was memorable because it featured little girls as carnival royalties.

Undoubtedly, the most exotic would be the carnivals held in the Mountain Province—there were two known editions: the 1915 Benguet Carnival and the 1923 Baguio Carnival and Exposition. In both stagings, lovely Ibaloi queens ruled the affair, crowned in their ethnic finery.

In Central Luzon, Bulacan and Tarlac both had their own fairs in 1927. But Tarlac towns like Concepcion and Camiling separately held mini-carnivals too. Pangasinan had three official carnivals in 1919, 1926 and 1928 while Nueva Ecija had two, one in 1926 and in 1927.

An Angeles Carnival was held in 1925, and the next year, an even bigger Pampanga Carnival was mounted to choose the lovely bet to the national Carnival Queen tilt. But the biggest carnival ever staged in the Kapampangan region was the 1933 Pampanga Carnival and Exposition hosted by San Fernando, organized under the directorship of Justice Jose Gutierrez-David. All the municipalities of the province converged in the capital town, setting up fancy booths that displayed the agricultural, commercial and industrial products of the town. The carnival generated a lot of media mileage on national dailies and magazines.

Other provinces in Luzon that celebrated their own Carnivals included Laguna (1924), Batangas (1928) and Albay (1935).

In the South, provincial and town carnivals were held in Mindoro (1926, 1936), Iloilo (1928), Negros Occidental (1929), Capiz (1929), Surigao (1929) and Ormoc (1932) and Bacolod (1939). Even Mindanao provinces took a cue from the colorful carnivals of Luzon and Visayas by mounting their own versions. There was even a Jolo Carnival, but the most spectacular was the 1938 Davao Carnival and Exposition that also had its own auditorium where evening shows were held, featuring folk dancing, balls and military parades.

As was to be expected, when interest in the Manila Carnival started to wane, so did the popularity of provincial fairs. The last big national event that aimed to revive the heady days of the Carnival was the Philippine International Fair of 1953, which attracted international attention. The initial momentum, however, was not sustained and thereafter, provincial fairs and expositions never regained their former glory. By the 1960s, they had become virtually extinct.

The success of these provincial events, however short-lived, owes much to the participation and support of thousands of people who came to infuse the karnabals with a strong sense of community spirit and solidarity-- the town officials, organizing committee members, brass bands and showmen, military officers, school personnel, town muses, students, tourists, visitors-- carnival revelers all. This is an achievement in itself, one that the provincial carnival fairs of yore will always be remembered for.

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