Historical Reenactment: Making History Come Alive

RFRG reenacting trench warfare

In many historic tourist destinations around the world, it is a common sight to see reenactors garbed in period costumes portraying typical chores of the time to create a complete multi-sensorial experience for visitors.

Popularly known as “heritage villages”, these modern recreations enhance the Old World charm of a locality, heighten appreciation of history and culture, and draw in more tourists as a consequence.

Locally, historical reenactment has been around in the country for decades but is sadly still in its infancy stage as earlier efforts have faltered along the way.

And as the country observes National History Month, we pause and look back once more on how we can imbibe the lessons of the past beyond the wearing of period attire or the usual fancy “cosplay” (costume play).

Passion-driven reenactment had its genesis at the University of the Philippines grounds in Diliman in the mid-2005 when like-minded friends, Pedro Antonio Javier, Selwyn Clyde Alojipan, Joey Felizco, and the late Nonito Flores formed the Buhay na Kasaysayan (BNK) Philippines, a branch of an earlier chapter founded in San Francisco, USA.

At the onset, the group did impressions of a wide range of colonial-era prominent Filipino heroes, warriors, and revolutionary leaders. With the eye-catching and elaborate designs of uniforms and paraphernalia, not to mention the action-packed battles being portrayed, military history became a favorite theme for both the reenactors and the viewing public.

Not long after, some members of the International Plastic Modelers’ Society—Manila chapter, the World War II Asian Airsoft Alliance, the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society, and freelance members started to take up reenacting activities or combining them in other events.

The composite group decided to form the Philippine Living History Society, mostly for reenacting World War II commemorative events and photo shoots and became a permanent feature in annual observances such as the Araw ng Kagitingan held at Mt. Samat in Pilar, Bataan, and Camp O’ Donell Death March Shrine in Capas, Tarlac.

Javier, an engineer by profession and one of the group’s pioneers, would emerge as the proverbial “poster boy” of historical reenactment with his extensive research and collection of military uniforms. He also became a production consultant for the historical movies “Heneral Luna” and “Goyo” to make them as authentic as possible.

Because of their close resemblance to the actual soldiers, the reenactors were made the models for “Warriors and Heroes,” a two-volume coffee table book of the Philippine Army that showcases the uniforms and equipment of the Filipino warrior through the centuries.

More than typical cosplayers who get the kicks donning the battle garb of our valiant forebears, historical reenactors pour time and effort to ensure the accuracy of the military uniforms, insignias, and weaponry being used, as well as the character of the personalities being portrayed.

They also invest in their own uniforms, mostly the World War II khaki pair, the Republican Army-style rayadillo Norfolk jacket, and trousers, and replicas of period-accurate weapons which are custom-made by fellow enthusiasts.

Arguably the most active and visible reenactor in recent years is the Republica Filipina Reenactment Group (RFRG) which was formed in 2019 to specialize in the Philippine Revolutionary Era, which is key in the attainment of Independence, and the formation of the Republic and Constitution, the first of its kind in Asia.

The said era covers the outbreak of the Revolution in 1896, the Filipino-American War in 1899, to the execution of General Macario Sakay in 1907 by the Americans.

RFRG has taken part in the 124th Independence Day parade at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite; the 128th Birth Anniversary of Apolinario Mabini at the Mabini Shrine in Tanauan, Batangas; and the recent Stop and Salute the Flag campaign of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines at the Rizal Park.

It has also made its presence felt at the History Month observances in cooperation with the local governments of Taguig, Taytay, and Meycauayan City which recently held its first His Con (History Congress) Pista ng Kasaysayan which gathered various reenactor groups, including the Philippine Living History Society, the Wartime Heritage Group, and its very own Brigada Ciriaco Tiradores.

RFRG has also forged a collaboration with the Intramuros Administration and Renacimiento Manila for the periodic holding of reenactments in the Walled City as an added attraction to the special historic district.

It has already mounted two events, which also became an opportunity to educate the Sunday visitors of Fort Santiago with historical tidbits on the Philippine Revolution, Republic, uniform, weaponry, insignias, and fighting techniques, among others.

Called Guarnicion en Intramuros (Garrison in Intramuros), the recent event recreated the Battle of Manila in February 1899 when American troops belonging to the 13th Minnesota Volunteers A Company attacked the city after the outbreak of the Fil-Am War. The reenactment featured the Brigade of Gen. Mariano Noriel and the Cruz Roja which demonstrated the administration of first aid to the Filipino casualties.

According to RFRG head Joshua Matipo, who essays the role of President Emilio Aguinaldo, the group intends to touch base with local governments and historical societies across the country for the formation of reenactment groups and relive the glorious victories of our freedom fighters.

He said that historical reenactment can create a big boost to the heritage tourism thrust of Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco and create more income opportunities for tailors, souvenir and merchandise makers, artisans, tour operators, and the reenactors themselves.

Meanwhile, down south, aficionados have also organized themselves into the La Liga Cebu Reenactors Group to bring historical appreciation to the grassroots.

Founded by Louis Kenneth Villaflor, Marion Makabenta, Bong Espenido, and Ferdinand Azcarraga, they made their public debut at the launch of the National History Month at Fort San Pedro in Cebu City early this month.

The group, which creates impressions of local revolutionary leaders Generals Leon Kilat and Arcadio Maxilom, aims to expand its ranks, make more public appearances and populate social media with their images.

With historic characters jumping out of textbooks, coming to life, and doing snapshots with the people, history has never been this exciting.

Image credits: Johnny Tillar


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