March 10, 2009

The La Bella Filipina Token & The Manila Carnival

The Philippines has been one of the patrons of beauty contests since the United States forces arrived on the archipelago. Fiestas or town festivities were usually celebrated at the beginning of summer and before the rainy season to thank the bountiful harvests. During the "Peace Time" or the era between the birth of American governance and the invasion of Japanese Imperial Army, one particular event embodied the whole period. It was the famous "Manila Carnival".

The carnivals have been held at the old Wallace Field or Bagumabayan(now known as the Luneta). It would last for two weeks and culminates with the coronation of the “Queen” just before Ash Wednesday. The Manila Carnivals are actually intended to showcase the agricultural and industrial potential of the Philippines under American occupation. People gather to the event dressed in different costumes in line with a theme every year. Fluvial parades are also being staged during the two weeks; various floats represent regions showing their top produce. This period of pre-war beauty pageants is fondly recalled as the “Carnival era.”

The election of a carnival queen often begins at the provincial level. The young lady who takes center stage will be that year’s Miss Batanes, Miss Laguna, Miss Cavite, etc. The rest of the provincial beauties would be given runner-up titles, like Miss Luzon, Miss Visayas or Miss Mindanao and then made part of the queen’s entourage.

The method of choosing the queen varies each year: either by a panel of judges from the highest echelons in society, or done through ballots published by sponsoring newspapers. The queen, usually, is a daughter from a family of “impeccable credentials”—someone beautiful beyond comparison—clued-up in fine points of comportment and etiquette, so that her parents, siblings, relatives as well as her countrymen could look on her with pride.

At the coronation night, people look forward to the pomp and pageantry: These ladies are the center of it all. They’re adorned with lavish costumes—from the Filipiniana, Egyptian, Thai, to the Arabian nights. There are even instances that security men are hired to guard the expensive sets of jewelry that prettify the winners.

This era lasted for 31 years, from 1908—nine years after the American armada sailed into Manila Bay—to 1939, two years before the Japanese soldiers hit Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and Nichols Field in Manila. It produced 29 queens. There were no contests in 1910, 1911, 1919 and 1928. In some years, meanwhile, two queens shared the spotlight: the “Queen of the Orient” representing the Philippines, and the “Queen of the Occident” standing for the United States.

Aldo Basso first mentioned "La Bella Filipina" token on his book, to commemorate the yearly celebration of the carnival. The token depicts a head of a Filipina similar to that of Queen Isabella coins but as sharp as the Liberty's head of the U.S five cents, or seems more of a combination of both.

A similar music of the same title was exclusively composed to serenade the Queen of the night, that up to now can be occasionally heard being played by brass bands on local fiestas.

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