Bohol: A well-rounded cultural destination

Published February 4, 2021, 8:00 AM

by Nick J. Lizaso


Bohol is a vibrant tapestry of colors woven by nature, history, and its people. Green for its landscapes and dense forests, blue for its extensive seascapes, and red for its history etched in blood by the natives’ resistance against foreign ways and subjugation.

Its claim to our recorded history starts with the “sandugo,” the shedding of blood to seal a compact of friendship, peace and cooperation between Datu Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Without that blood compact, the conquistador from Spain would not have been able to establish a friendly base to launch his conquest of the rest of the archipelago.

My mind’s impression of Bohol used to be very limited: the famous Chocolate Hills, the tarsier, which may be the world’s smallest primate, and lately its much acclaimed beach resorts and diving locations.

Sandugo Festival

But in getting to know more about Bohol, I began to uncover a cornucopia of riveting dramatic materials that any imaginative artist can spin into a number of movies, documentaries, plays, and novels. The story of Bohol has romance, myths and legends, blood and gore, triumphs and defeats. This is complemented by a gallery of characters from heroes to villains, from traitors to self-proclaimed saviors.

Two examples of interesting natives are Tamblot and Francisco Dagohoy. Depending on your perspective, they could be heroes or anti-heroes, definitely not villains. In 1621, Tamblot of Antequera, a charismatic babaylan or native priest led a number of his non-Christian followers to wage a religious war against the Spaniards for fear that their Bathala would be replaced by the God of the Catholic religion. On the other hand, Dagohoy of Inabanga, also known as Francisco Sendrijas, led the longest Philippine revolt against the Spaniards, lasting for around 80 years (from 1744 to 1829). Contingent after contingent of Spanish-led armed men sent to capture the rebels were repulsed time and again.

If these trivia don’t excite cinematically inclined minds, I don’t know what will. But I am being carried away by my imagination and fascination with history.

Sambat Mascara y Regatta Festival

My other interest in Bohol is its arts and culture. This seems to be another rich vein of knowledge and discoveries to draw any avid cultural enthusiast.

First things first. Why the name Bohol? Bohol is derived from bo-ol, a kind of tree that flourished on this island province, located in the Central Visayas region, southeast from Cebu island. Its land area of over 4,800 square kilometers make it the 10h largest island of the Philippines. It is a coastline that is 261 kilometers long, which makes it an appealing destination for divers and snorkeling enthusiasts. The Bol-añons are part of the wider Visayan ethnolinguistic group, who constitute the largest Filipino ethnolinguistic group.

The culture of the Boholaños was influenced by Spain and Mexico during colonization. Many traditional dances, music, dishes and other aspects of the culture have considerable Hispanic influence. But while this is true, Bohol’s native artistic heritage is even older. Boholanos already had a culture of their own as evidenced by artifacts unearthed at Mansasa, Tagbilaran, and in Dauis and Panglao.

The artistic wealth of Bohol and the creative ingenuity of its people and communities have been proverbial and legendary. From the native Bol-añon hearts and hands have come poetry, music, sculpted works. Their talent for poetry goes as far back as Karyapa, the 15th century babaylan (native priestess) the first known native poet. Carlos P. Garcia, its most famous son, was a consummate poet before he ventured into politics and became our country’s eight President.

This artistic tradition has continued down the ages, from the creations of native son National Artist Napoleon Abueva to the performances of the world-renowned Loboc Children’s Choir, to centuries-old crafts such as pots, brooms, and jewelry. Bohol has nurtured the flowering of many artistic organizations in music, dance, the visual arts, and literature that Bohol has nurtured. Everywhere you go in the island province, you will marvel at the unique craftsmanship of Boholano local artists and craftsmen. 

Talent for making music seems to be in the Bol-añon’s DNA. In many Bohol towns and particularly in Loboc, making music is a way of life. Friends say that in Bohol, almost every clan has an orchestra or rondalla. Continuing the tradition of brass bands, the Loboc Youth Band is an orchestra with well-acclaimed concerts here and abroad. The Dimiao Children’s Rondalla has won in national music competitions while the Alicia Musika Kawayan is an impressive bamboo orchestra. 

One example of a musically inclined native from Baclayon is a friend and a former colleague of mine in PETA Lutgardo Labad, the multi-awarded film composer and director. He now heads the NCCA dramatic arts committee and is a passionate arts and culture advocate and heritage promoter. In one interview, Labad credits his musical parents for paving the way to his creative life in music, theater and film. He is very much active in fostering and developing the Boholano creative genius and “local aesthetics.” He is the man behind the internationally-acclaimed Loboc Children’s Choir. The home-grown Loboc Children’s Choir has bagged prestigious awards in Philippine choral competitions and international music festivals and has successful concerts in many countries.

One should also mention prolific performing groups such as the Diwanag Dance Theater and the Lunsoranon Performing Arts.  

These can be seen in the annual Sandugo Festival  where arts forms like music, visual arts, theater, dance, and literature are in full display.

Architectural heritage is also one of Bohol’s attractions, for it is home to centuries-old stone churches, ancestral houses, and other historical sites. Among them are the Immaculate Conception Parish Church in Baclayon, the Assumption of Our Lady Shrine in Dauis, and the Clarin Ancestral House in Loay. The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon is considered to be one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. It is one of the best preserved Jesuit built churches in the region. A number of Bohol’s heritage churches, however, were destroyed or damaged by a major earthquake Oct. 15, 2013. These have been completely or partially restored since then.

Abatan River Community Life Tour

These diverse art disciplines progressively blossomed in Bohol since the past decades through programs of activities that help locals actualize their potentials and use the arts as a form of expression. And through these years, the CCP and NCCA have been consistent supporters and partners of Bohol in collaboration with the Bohol Arts and Cultural Heritage (BACH) Council, the Center for Culture and Arts Development (CCAD), Bohol Sandugo Foundation.

It is only fitting that Bohol should be hosting cultural events in recent years. One instance was last Feb. 3, 2019,  culture bearer icons of the seven arts: music, dance, drama, literature, visual arts, architecture, and film from all over the country descended to Bohol for the celebration of the National Arts Month (NAM) held every February.

A free musical concert by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra was already scheduled to be held in Bohol before the pandemic disrupted all plans. But the commitment still stands.

For at CCP and NCCA we wholeheartedly support local efforts to nurture their arts and cultural heritage. Let Bohol and its breed of talented artists and passionate advocates continue to show the way!