Saturday, February 09, 2013

What Taboan Means

This week, a host of writers from all over the country congregated in Dumaguete. Not an unusual occurence given the literary heritage of the city, but off-season considering that it's only February and not summer when such gatherings do take place.

This is Taboan, the Philippine literary festival. First held in 2009 in Manila, the festival brings the spotlight to writing from the regions. Owing to its concept, Taboan is supposed to do the rounds of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao every three years. Thus, the Taboan 2010 was held in Cebu; Taboan 2011 in Davao; Taboan 2012 in Pampanga; and now Taboan 2013 in Dumaguete.

Taboan holds a dear place in my heart. I was a delegate in the first two festivals, and an organizer of the third held in Davao. I skipped Pampanga, but when Taboan comes to Dumaguete, I'd be remiss if I didn't find an excuse not to come home.

This time around, I'm not an official delegate so in effect I'm travelling on my dime (my wife and I, actually.) But that's all fine: the first two times I already got free travel, board, and lodging. Nevertheless, I got roped into the panel tribute to the Tiempos. A chance to honor my literary mentors? Gladly! A thousand times so!

Taboan to me has become a reunion of sorts. Over the course of these five years, I've made friends with writers, performers, and teachers from Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Tacloban, Bacolod, Samar, Legaspi, Pampanga, and many other places. It's always a pleasure to trade notes and experiences, and really just to catch up on a personal level.

The geographic spread and diversity is what really differentiates Taboan from other literary gatherings. Taboan, I think, has its roots in the discourse between the center (Metro Manila) and (or perhaps more accurately, versus) the regions; between what the intellectual mainstream says is so, and what the rest of the country might say is otherwise.

The points of contention are varied: language, themes, mythologies, history, criticism, culture, heritage.... The grand, glorious, cacophonous mess of Philippine literature and what we think it should be.

And this is the year that I think that we've started to move away from the specter of the center vs. regions debate. It's not any specific thing that I can point out to, but a sense of the general mood.

From the delegates there's much more confidence, owing in part to experience and to comfort in each others' presence. And the delegates are noticeably younger, too; and with that youth comes excitement and possibility, infectious and invigorating to jaded veterans.

This is Taboan: a bazaar of ideas -- to trade in, to exchange, to bargain, and to barter. You take away as much as you give. But at the end of the day, it's more about the experience than the gain that you end up the richer.

A final word: kudos to the working committee led by Dr. Christine Godinez-Ortega. Each Taboan has its own unique flavor, and this one carried that distinctly warm Negrense hospitality. A real pleasure, too, to see the different Dumaguete universities contributing and hosting various events.