As Cebu's Sinulog and Kalibo's Ati-atihan festivals culminated and Iloilo's Dinagyang was set to kick off this Sunday, Antique quietly revived its own festival to begin the new year.
While the Cebu, Kalibo and Iloilo festivals were all being held in honor of the Señor Sto. Niño, Antique's Binirayan Festival is to remember the Malay roots of Antiqueños.
It was a timely way for the people of Antique to end the Centennial year when it revived last Dec. 29-30 the festival made famous by the late Gov. Evelio Javier, an activity that was also buried in oblivion after he was assassinated on Feb. 11, 1986.
Binirayan, held for the first time on April 30-May 1, 1974 and had become a yearly event until Javier's death, is a reenactment of the landing and settlement of the 10 Bornean datus in Barangay Malandog, Hamtic, Antique in 1240.
It is a theatrical presentation in local language, with the Bornean Datus and their families, priests and birays (flotilla of colorful sailboats)--all portrayed in full Malayan costumes--landing in the exact location where they originally anchored.
According to the Binirayan saga, carefully reenacted during the festival, it was in 1240 when Bornay (Borneo) was ruled by a despotic sultan named Makatunaw.
Unhappy with Makatunaw's tyrannical rule, the Bornean datus secretly plotted to stage an uprising led by Datu Paiburong, who was concerned that Makatunaw's infamous sexual appetite might harm his charming wife, Pabalunan.
Involved in the plot were Datu Bangkaya, who was reared in wisdom and cool-natured but adept in weaponry, military tactics and expeditions; and Datu Sumakwel, an intrepid seaman and master of the laws of Hindus, the Shri-Visayan and Egyptians.
But Sumakwel offered caution to prevent an imminent bloodshed. He brought into the group Datu Puti, the sultanate minister, who was able to convince Paiburong that it was better for them to seek a land where they can be free rather than face the dire consequence of an open revolution against a formidable foe.
Heeding the counsel of Sumakwel and Puti, food and water were prepared for a flotilla called binidays, outfitted with platforms and outriggers for the journey.
Datu Puti with wife, Pinagpangan, led the northward expedition one moonless night on April 15, 1240. With the flotilla were Datu Sumakwel with wife Kapinangan, Datu Dumangsil with wife Kabiling, Datu Bangkaya with wife Katurong, Datu Paiburong with wife Pabilaan, Datu Balkasusa, Datu Labay, Datu Dumalugdog, Datu Balinsusa, Datu Padohinog with wife Tibongsapay.
With them were their children, slaves and counselors.
''The fleet moved in swift tempo on shores of Borneo resembling a row of beads as the loneliness of the itinerants was compressed by their enthusiasm of finding a land to settle permanently where peace, freedom and contentment would reign supreme,'' so went the tale about the fleeing datus.
One early afternoon before sunset, they skirted the southern peripheries of Bagwas (Negros) and Aninipay (now Antique but initially referred to Panay Island) and inched toward the delta of Sinugbuhan (Barangay Siwaragan with a river in its name in San Joaquin, Iloilo) and proceeded to navigate inward to Andona creek just within the hamlet of Sinugbuhan.
Here, they rested and awaited the coming of Timway Marikudo, an Aeta chieftain, son of Pulupadan, Datu of Aninipay. It was through an Aeta fishing by the river bank that the visitors came to know about Marikudo, his tribes and the glory of his kingdom. Through this fisherman, an audience was sought with the Aeta King.
It was Datu Puti who declared his intention to make friends with the natives and to settle permanently in Aninipay, preferably on the site of Marikudo's settlement.
As Marikudo consulted his wise men on Datu Puti's petition, the Borneans returned to their binidays to wait for the decision.
Marikudo and his counsellors converged for a conference at the Embidayan, a flat rock sill that is in existence to this date.
A banquet was later offered by Marikudo for the guests, consisting of game fowls, crustaceans, edible shells and crabs. An atmosphere of joviality prevailed as the food was washed down with coconut wine.
The aborigines performed their favorite dances, urokoy and undok-undok. The Borneans responded by dancing their sinulog and dinapay to the tune of the flute-like instruments called lantoy and tipano and the rhythmic background of their drums called mangmang and gurunggurong.
The Borneans also showed off their wares and dazzling Moorish costumes and danced with wild abandon as they brandished sword and kris.
As the festivity went on, the real estate negotiations proceeded. Datu Puti asked how wide the Aetas' estate was and Marikudo replied, ''Should one plant palay, then commence to round the entire island, he would return to his place of origin right in time for harvest.''
Datu Puti's offer of a golden basin and golden sadok (wide headgear) proved irresistible to Marikudo, who danced with his new gift.
It was then that Marikudo's wife also demanded a gift--a necklace of gold reaching the ground, like that of Datu Puti's wife, Pinagpangan.
Pinagpangan conceded by parting with her gold necklace, sealing the barter of Anini-pay.
Consoled by the gifts, Marikudo and his subjects voluntarily gave up their place and relocated themselves deeper into the hinterlands where wild game and freshwater fish were in abundance.
The Borneans constructed houses in the abandoned area in accordance with Malay architectural design.
As Sinugbuhan was found to be a place too small for the settlers, Datu Puti sent Sumakwel northward with the Aetas as guides. They entered the rivers of Bokbok and Malandog in Hamtic, Antique, and discovered lush mountains, productive plains and bountiful shorelines.
Sumakwel reported this to Datu Puti and they set sail for a permanent settlement. Later, it was Sumakwel's clan who occupied Hantik (Hamtic, Antique). Datu Bangkaya settled in Aklan and Datu Paiburong in Ilong-Ilong (Iloilo).
Datu Puti went further north and settled by the fertile river banks in Batangas and his subsequent generations was later called Taga-Ilog (Tagalog).
To most Antiqueños, this is a tale worth retelling and reenacting year after year. And come December 1999, it will be retold anew.