ILIGAN CITY, Lanao del Norte, July 27 (PIA) — Mindanao is home to a wide diversity of religions and cultures. Therefore, one can find great variations in traditional feasts.

In the luxuriant homeland of Maranao tribe in Lanao provinces of Mindanao, the “Pagana Maranao” is given utmost significance because it fosters peace and unity; hence Pagana is inscribed on the lined-up activities of the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) as it holds the grandest launch of Kalinaw Kultura Mindanao on July 26-29, 2018 in Iligan City, in collaboration with the Philippine Information Agency (PIA).

Kalinaw Kultura Mindanao is designed to create a massive and intensive cultural dissemination and promotions program on the diverse Mindanao cultures through various media platforms. It features a collaboration of different institutions from the government and civil society organizations.

Nurturing the sense of unity and peace

While talking in the sidelines during Pagana feast at the Ethnic Center in Iligan City, a Maranao community leader Farmida Macabando said the Maranaos are best known for their love of beauty as shown in their art, poetry, the epic, and the royal type of Philippine architecture.

This penchant for beauty and grandeur is revealed in the warmth of their hospitality shown in their prestige feast called Pagana.

“When guests walk through our doors, we don’t take this lightly. Maranao people know that true hospitality takes to heart. It means much more than just greeting guests with warmth and a smile. It often means going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that our guests have surprising experiences and regaled with sumptuous foods—to even creating a sense of belonging with a friendly spell of our hospitality,” Macabando said.

She described Pagana as the traditional feast of Maranao. It is the tribe’s way of welcoming special guests and visitors. It means treating visitors and very important guests with the highest form of hospitality, symbolizing the host’s level of civility and indicates the degree of the host’s grace.

Pagana is afforded to guests during special occasions such as enthronements, weddings, graduations, engagements, merrymaking, and homecoming of people who had gone to the “Hajj” or Islamic pilgrimage—and during the two religious feasts, Eid’l Adha and Eid’l Fitr.

The occasion begins with a solemn prayer. After which, guests are lavishly welcomed with a sumptuous banquet, marked with vibrant native attire, traditional dances, and pleasant company.

“As wise old saying on culture says ‘Peace is in our hands,’ we trust that this (Pagana) builds a culture of peace because the Pagana reception is carried out in festivity and gaiety where we share stories over sumptuous dishes and pray together,” Macabando explained.

Savoring moments in the ‘Pagana Maranaw’ dinner

In the grandest launch of Kalinaw Kultura Mindanao graced by Undersecretary Harold Clavite of PIA and Dr. Pilar Banaag of NCCA, a Pagana dinner was afforded to the guests.

It is an occasion where the Kalinaw Kultura guests and advocates witnessed and experienced the Pagana revelry.

Professor Christian Aguado, Cultural Anthropologist of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology explained every detail of the occasion while guests savor the Pagana Maranao dishes.

The dining set is called ‘dulang.’ It is an arrangement of native cuisines showcased on brass food trays known as ‘tabak’ where four guests sit on cushions. The food trays are covered with tray cloths called ‘ampas.’ Also included in the dulang is water container for drinking water. Utensils and plates are put upside down that imply sanitation.

The whole display in the dining hall is decorated with accents of gold and silver, symbolizing the colors of prestige and nobility.

“Since Maranaos are Muslims, food should be ‘Halal’ or permissible by Islamic law. Pork is strictly prohibited in the dulang. The banquet of exquisite cuisine served to the guests features a unique blend of flavors and spices,” Prof. Aguado continues to explain.

The yellow tint of Maranao cuisine, which can be seen in many dishes including “kuning” or yellow rice, comes from turmeric powder known as “kalawag,” which is construed to have medicinal properties that keep the body healthy.

Some of the main dishes served include beef, chicken, and fowl. Aguado, however, said “occasionally, venison and chevon (deer and goat meat) are served. These foods are cooked and served with coconut shavings as the main ingredient, fried with vegetables or cooked in other ways.”

Aguado further explained that one popular spice included in the Maranao dish is “palapa,” which is made from onion bulbs, ginger, and chili pepper simmered in coconut oil.

Pagana’s festive air

To give a festive air on the occasion, traditional dancers perform the kapamalong-malong, which shows ‘101 ways’ of wearing a tubular piece of cloth called malong.

The performers also do the ‘singkil,’ where dancers step through clashing bamboo poles in gracious and intricate moves accompanied by the music of ‘kulintang,’ a brass gong ensemble.

The spirit of hospitality is highly valued by the Maranao seeing that it fosters a sense of belongingness, peace, unity, and harmony in their society.

The Pagana remains a signature of the timeless beauty of Maranao culture. (RLRB, PIA 10-Bukidnon)