Story by Bernard Supetran / Special to the BusinessMirror
Photos by Rodrian Gonzalez
GENERAL Santos City conjures images of the world’s best-tasting tuna caught off its waters which has tickled the palate of gastronomes around the globe.
But beyond being acknowledged as the country’s “Tuna Capital,” GenSan, as it is fondly known, is a city of divergent cultures being a frontier land in Mindanao once upon a time.
This kaleidoscope of cultures was brought to the fore once more as it recently celebrated its 79th foundation day as a municipality with the multiawarded Kalilangan Festival.
The city traces its roots to February 27, 1939, when Gen. Paulino Santos, head of the National Land Settlement Administration of the Commonwealth government under President Manuel L. Quezon, landed at Rajah Buayan village on the shores of Sarangani Bay.
A native of Camiling, Tarlac, he led the relocation of 62 Christian settlers from Luzon aboard the steamship Basilan of Compañia Maritima, composed mostly of agricultural and trade graduates to cultivate the area which was then under the American-era Empire Province of Cotabato.
After the first influx of pioneers, thousands more Christians from Luzon and the Visayas subsequently moved into the promising land for farming and fisheries.
The migrants dwelt among the B’laan and T’boli indigenous tribes, as well as the Moro communities who have been inhabiting the area since time immemorial.
By virtue of its strategic location, the town known as Dadiangas became the hub of commerce, education and transportation of South Central Mindanao.
As the municipality prospered economically, it was converted into a city on September 5, 1968, and named after him. Over the years, General Santos has grown into a first-class city and an important urban center in southern Philippines, being the hub of business and the tourism gateway of Region 12.
The city’s economic and cultural evolution is portrayed in Kalilangan, derived from the word Kalilang, which means celebration in the Maguindanaon language. The festival derives its inspiration from the traditional Muslim social gathering marked by the exchange of amenities among ethnic leaders, elders and townsfolk for a stronger community life.
With this year’s theme “Cultivating Cultures: Inspiring New Ways,” the weeklong event brings to the fore the convergence of the lowland Christian population, the Muslim tribes and the indigenous peoples who have made General Santos their home.
General Santos City Mayor Ronnel Rivera said the festivity is a tribute to its founding pioneers including its early inhabitants, emphasizing their shared histories, cultural heritage, tapestry of traditions, especially their decades-old harmonious coexistence.
Major events included the cultural village-themed exhibit which showcased the way of life and rich heritage of the city’s tri-people—the lumad tribes, the Moros and the Christian settlers.
The festival’s locus is the “Parada ng Lahi: Kadena de Amor,” a dawn reenactment of the landing of Gen. Santos and the so-called pioneers to demonstrates the people’s unity as they march together toward the public plaza for the commemorative program.
“I would like to emphasize that although our gathering is indeed a manifestation of our deep love, loyalty and dedication to our pioneers, this is also our way to make sure their legacy will be remembered and passed on to the next generations,” he said during the Parada ng Lahi rites.
A central activity within the program is the wreath-laying of the city’s local officials and descendants of General Santos and the pioneers at the Plaza Heneral Santos to honor their entrepreneurial spirit.
“The General Santos City government is sincere in its effort to preserve the legacy of our pioneers. In fact, more than continuously holding the Parada ng Lahi and celebrating the Kalilangan, we pursue the preservation of our culture and traditions, not only by building the City Museum, but also integrating Gensan history in the academe,” Rivera said.
He added that the city recently launched the renaming of the Circumferential Road as Albert Louis Morrow Boulevard to commemorate the 75th year of heroism and martyrdom of Morrow, an American civil engineer who died during World War 2 to spare the lives of Filipino hostages by the Japanese troops.
Morrow designed and supervised the construction of the city’s irrigation system, as well as its settlement plan and urban layout.
Capping the festivity was the Kadsagayan or street dance parade around the main thoroughfares and culminates at the city oval. But far more than the typical display of pomp and pageantry, the parade mirrors the city’s tri-people’s way of life as interpreted by the participating school contingents from General Santos and nearby provinces.
Adding spice to the celebration are the Aral di Munan indigenous peoples’s dance showcase, Kadidang sa Tademan Moro dance tilt, the Sayaw Pinoy lowlanders dance competition and the Sonata sa Kahaponon which featured senior citizen musical talents.
There was also a variety of sporting, entertainment, musical, socio-civic and community-oriented special events which put the spotlight on home-grown talents and less on showbiz celebrities who often grace provincial shows.
Now on its 29th edition, Kalilangan is organized by the Mindanao State University (MSU) General Santos campus under its chancellor Abdurrahman Canacan.
Under MSU’s watch, Kalilangan Festival has been elevated to the Hall of Fame by the Association of Tourism Officers in the Philippines for having won top honors for three straight years in the Best Tourism Event (Culture and Arts Category, City Level) search.
“Their [pioneers] experiences continuously inspire and motivate us to become more grateful despite all the challenging times. We take pride of the growth and development of our city amid diversity and adversity. We learn to thrive despite our differences,” Rivera said.