Ateneo De Naga high school 1980

Those who do not remember history are bound to live through it again.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Sarong Banggi remembered

July 2, 2010

After working through two and a half grueling days at the office, I was finally able to finish all the work that had piled on my desk. To ease the discomfort of stress, I decided to just stare at the open window and watch the flower garden outside our building that had been kept immaculate by a team of landscapers.

Summer just started here in California and the weather outside is just gorgeous. While staring at the flowers of the Day Lily plants that were swaying from the afternoon breeze, I remembered the humid and lazy afternoons at our farm in the town of Sagrada, Pili, Camarines Sur during my childhood days.

Our family owned a rice farm and I remember that when summer season begins, the rice plants would fully mature transforming the fields into a golden carpet. After the harvest, our tired workers would go home to their small “bahay Kubos” to enjoy simple pleasures in life.

After dinner, a few of them would pull out aging guitars and one of the common song that I would hear them sing in a very slow tempo is the native Bicolano song, “Sarong Banggi”.

The song, “Sarong Banggi”, is deeply marked in the Bicolano heritage, just like the national anthem, “Lupang Hinirang” to all Filipinos. Though the song is familiar to Bicolanos, only a handful nowadays remember the history behind the song. I am writing this article to revive the story of the birth of “Sarong Banggi” and its rise to popularity among Bicolanos.

The song was composed by Potenciano “Polin” V. Gregorio. The parish records of Libog (now called Santo Domingo, Albay) indicated that Potenciano was born on May 19, 1880 and was baptized on May 22nd that same year. Potenciano was the second child of Narciso Gregorio and Canuta Valladolid. The young Potenciano was a child prodigy and played violin at age three. His first teacher was Fr. Jorge I. Barlin, who was the curate of Libog town from 1883 to 1885.

As Potenciano grew older, he wrote music for the town church and also collaborated with his elder brother, Bernardo in composing songs. Potenciano lead the town band named “Banda de Libog”.

Some historical accounts claimed that Potenciano composed the Sarong Banggi song on 1897 and another one claimed it was composed on 1910. Below are narratives from two of Potenciano’s relatives who were interviewed a few decades ago.

In 1962, the nephew of Potenciano named Justo B. Gregorio recalled that when his uncle Polin was only 17 years old, he woke up one evening after hearing the noise coming from the chirping of the birds and rustling of the leaves outside their house. According to Juston, it was that evening when his uncle wrote the first lyrics of the song.

Resurrecion Gregoria, who is the great grandson of Potenciano said that his Lolo Poten wrote the song because he wanted to dedicate it to a local Bicolana girl named Dominga Duran who later became his wife. Resuccecion also claimed that his grandfather wrote the song during the Mayon eruption in 1897 when his lolo Poten’s family evacuated to their farm at Barangay Salvacion. His lolo was inspired to write the song after hearing the rumbling of Mayon volcano.

The original copy of the composition was destroyed when the ancestral house of the Gregorios in Libog (Santo Domingo, Albay), burned down during a fire that hit the town on January 19, 1961.

The song Sarong Banggi was first played in public on August 15, 1910 during the Guinobatan fiesta. It took another seven years before the folks living at Libog town were able to hear the song when it was played in the Libog town Fiesta on the first Sunday of October 1917.

One of Potenciano’s friend was Judge Albert Somerselle of Daraga, Albay. Judge Somerselle encouraged Potenciano to join the Philippine Constabulary band which was then being led by an African-American US army officer named Colonel Walter H. Loving.

Potenciano traveled to Manila for a job interview with Col. Loving. During the interview, Col. Loving asked Potenciano to demonstrate his musical ability. Potenciano played “Sarong Banggi” on banduria then on piano. Upon discovering that Potenciano is a composer and also is able to play many different types of musical instruments, Col. Loving immediately made Potenciano a member of his band.

The Philippine Constabulary band under Lt. Col. Loving became renowned world wide during the early 1900’s. During the band’s performance at Luneta park, Potenciano played Banduriya or piano to the delight of the park visitors.

In 1938, Potenciano was chosen to compete against other musicians at the Golden Gate International Exposition in the United States. While on board the S.S. President Pierce, he contracted pneumonia. He was rushed to Fort Shatter Hospital in Honolulu where he died shortly thereafter. He died with a rank of corporal.

Potenciano’s remains were brought back to the Philippines and buried with honors at the La Loma cemetery in Quezon City. In 2005, his remains were exhumed from La Loma Cemetery and were flown to Legaspi City on May 18, 2005.He was survived then by his wife, Dominga Martinez Duran and his children, Salvador, Victoria, Narciso, Eriberto, Monico and Potenciano. There is only one surviving child of Potenciano who currently resides in Pasay City.

Sarung Banggi was acclaimed not only in the Philippines but internationally as well. Bicol’s immortal love song was sang during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in Flushing Meadow in New York. USA in June of 1951. The late Philippine Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo was then the president of the UN General Assembly.

Potenciano Gregorio was honored through the executive Proclamation No. 1s. 2002, signed by Honorable Mayor Herbie Aguas on January 8, 2002. This proclamation gave birth to the Sarung Banggi festival.

The soothing tune of Sarong Banggi song has eased the tired nerves of hard working Bicolanos for decades. It has also been used by budding Bicolano bachelors to serenaded pretty Bicolanas that had smitten their hearts. Personally, I think the song is more than just a song to croon out during courtship. It is a song that brings pride to the heritage of the Bicolano spirit and brings us back to the roots of our proud ancestors.

Author's note:
The town of Santo Domingo was originally named Libog. Albay historians say that there are a number of stories regarding the origin of the name Libog. One version is that libog was derived from the Bikol word “labog” meaning unclear water for there was a time when there was no potable water anywhere in the locality. Another has it that the town might have been called after “labog” (jellyfish) which abound in its coastal water. “Libod” (behind) is another version because the town is located behind the straight road from Legazpi city to Tabaco town.Still another version is the corrupted form of the word “libot” which means round about or winding way. In the early days of Spanish invasion, there were two routes passing through the town of Libog on the way to the town of Tabaco. One trail was straight which is considered as the shorter route. The other one goes around in circle (Libot) and this route passes through the center of the town via the town of Poblacion. When the time came to classify and arrange the town of Libog, the town’s name became corrupted. Libog became Libot. As a result, this town was named “El Pueblo de Liboug” by the Spanish conquerors.