Angono, Rizal’s Higantes Festival

From an outcry to a celebration of the town’s creativity and artistry.

At dawn, peasants clamor in front of a figure which appears to be a tall mestizo with his arms akimbo. A stance so familiar with everyone at the Hacienda. This figure is said to be of Zacarias’ the peasants’ landlord. ”Tangkad” as they refer to him, was made into an effigy as a symbol for an agrarian protest against the belittling Haciendero. A tale of the ”higante” passed onto natives since then. And documented by UP Prof. emeritus Ligaya Tiamson-Rubin.

But perhaps Zacarias’ coarse character led to an assault and not just mockery. Peasants refer to him as a real-life ”higante,” the standout tall arrogant mestizo landlord of Hacienda de Angono. Mad hired hands slashed their bolo and bruised the higante. A story shared by James Owen Saguinsin, FEU professor, an Angono native and Director of Angono Cultural Heritage Office, during our Walking Tour of Angono last Thursday.

Repurposed

Then in the 1940s, the figure resurfaced not as a satire but as a festive symbol. When Carlos ”Botong” Francisco, National Artist for Visual Arts 1973, created a version of the ”higante” to parade around town to defy the town’s sorrow post-WWII. And as per Owen, “higante” was a really a post-war icon.

Artemio Tajan was the creator of the couple higante, husband and wife, Owen noted. Then in the 70s, ”anak ng higante” giant’s child, was introduced to be part of the ”pamilya higante.” A decade later, Perdigon Vocalan, the brains behind the Higantes Festival amongst the town’s barangays. In the 90s, the municipality promoted Higantes Festival as part of ”One Town, One Product” campaign of the Department of Trade and Industry. Then eventually included in the recognized festivals of the Department of Tourism.

Angono higantes

Anatomy

The early figure of the higante was made from bamboo strips for the body and paper maché for the head. Some even used rattan for the body and same, paper maché, for the head. But how about the modern-day higante?

After the walking tour around town, I chanced upon roughly 100 higantes at the cemetery. The kid in me would’ve cried to death right then and then yet I went inside. Higantes all lined up all with aluminum bodies and fiberglass cast heads still with the signature arms akimbo. Aluminum is the perfect replacement for bamboo since it’s lightweight metal. Explained by a higante maker for around 30 years now, Totie Argana.

Totie Argana, Higantes, Angono Higantes

Totie, in white, together with some out of school youth, were assembling 100 higantes 2 days before the Higantes Festival at the Angono Municipal Cemetery.

Future

If we’ll take Owen’s research, the higantes have been around for almost 80 years. Maybe the old man is thinking of retirement already? Or maybe not, as Higante Makers and Sculptors Society and artists like Totie, Nemiranda, and the Blanco family are all keeping the tradition alive. Innovating it even to their own artistry.

Plus added twists, as the ”Karera ng Higante” race of the giants, was introduced in 2008. Which is said to be in replacement of the carabao race. There are competitions even, not just in Angono, but around the country. And Totie actively participates in such events. His 100 plus higantes were to parade around town for the festival. But how he managed to have a hundred higantes? It’s with a little help from little extra hands. He encouraged some out of school youth to observe what he’s doing and eventually help him assemble and safeguard the higantes. It’s also his way of passing on the tradition to the next generation.

”But why the cemetery?” I couldn’t help but ask. ”May tiangge sa plaza e dito may space,” he simply replied. Perhaps modern-day higantes are still an outcry of today’s passionate artists. Nevertheless, higantes are here to stay.

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