Along a narrow river, several bamboo rafts rendezvoused in an orderly fashion. One raft after another crossed the river. A few blocks away, on a bridge's platform, hundreds and hundreds of spectators watched as the rafts disembarked at the adjacent dam.
In the past, those who lived in the riverbanks used a lantay (raft) as the means of transportation. To get from place to place, it would freely pailig (drift) with the aid of the river's current. Thus, pailig it lantay aimed to maximize the potentials of the river as well as addressing several environmental issues.
Pailig it lantay was one of the unique activities that the people of Sigma, a small town 30 km southwest of Roxas City, showcased in its annual Hil-o-hanay Festival held last June 2004.
Filipinos have often thought of bayanihan as the act of helping a neighbor transfer into a new house. This scene is usually depicted in paintings wherein several people carry a payag (hut) for a few meters. Others have also thought of it as an act of hospitality.
Although that has long been the traditional way, the bayanihan spirit could also be manifested in other forms such as in hil-o-hanay (reciprocation), a virtue wherein the people of Sigma celebrate a festival in the honor of St. John the Baptist.
In the bygone days, long before rice threshers and other machineries were invented, farming was a manual labor. Farmers depended on each other to accomplish the annual cycle of planting, harvesting, winnowing, and threshing crops.
When the cycle finished, farmers and their families gathered and shared native food and drinks while dancing and singing along to the beats of indigenous songs.
Not only did the two-day festival impart a euphoric atmosphere, it also conveyed the essence of reciprocation while making the people of Sigma more appreciative towards arts and culture.
For those who are living in the rural areas, the payag remains to be a conventional home. In the case of Sigma, where bamboos and other native materials are abundant, the payag-payag contest emphasized on preserving folk architecture as well as promoting the innovative business of payag making.
While many Sigmahanons still consider composo as a pastime, there was composo contest among children and adults. Most of the songs imparted the meaning of hil-o-hanay .
Another unique aspect of the festival was the hil-o-hanay sa plaza , wherein everyone congregated at the town plaza and shared native food and drinks.
This year's festival culminated with the magnificent concert of the highly acclaimed choir from the University of San Agustin , The Troubadours. The Sigma Civic Center was filled with people from all sections of Sigma's society – rich and poor, old and young.
The Hil-o-hanay Festival had its modest beginning in 1990. For more than a decade, the theme of the town's annual fiesta revolved around the concept of hil-o-hanay .
It was only in 2001 that it was institutionalized as a festival.
With an executive order from incumbent Mayor Roberto Sualog, the Sigmahanon Foundation for Culture and the Arts Inc. (SFCAI) was legally appointed to spearhead the annual festivity.
Established in 1996 under the name of Sigma Municipal Council for Culture and the Arts (SMCCA), SFCAI became an independent institution that pushed for the revival and development of Sigma's rich cultural heritage.
With a vision of making Sigma as the “premier culture and arts center in the Province of Capiz ,” SFCAI has indeed made unprecedented progress. In only a matter of years, it has facilitated workshops for choral singing, creative dance, poetry in motion, and theater arts. It has also revived storytelling as an oral tradition and organized the Dagway Sigmahanon, Sigma's first community theater arts group.
For many Sigmahanons, this year's celebration was a huge reassurance that the hil-o-hanay spirit lives on.