A young ifugao doing an Ethnic Dance during the Imbayah Festival 2011
A young ifugao doing an Ethnic Dance during the Imbayah Festival 2011

The Philippines is known for its numerous festivals and apparently, some towns even ‘created’ a Festival just to somehow draw in tourists to their place. Most of these popular festivities, which are usually posh, glamorous and heavily choreographed are in honor of the Sto Nino. But up in the highlands, there is another festival that is somehow underrated, yet after seeing it I think should also be one of the top festivals along the likes of Sinulog, Dinagyang or the Maskara Festival. The Imbayah Festival in Banaue, which happens every 3 years is a grand festivity highlighting the rich and colorful culture of the Ifugao and it’s 10th year was recently held last April 26-29, 2011.

A girl being prepped for their group's performance
A girl being prepped for their group’s performance

For a brief background, Imbayah came from the word “Bayah” which means Rice Wine. “Bumayah” or “Imbayah” implies abundance, the overflowing wine from their heritage jars and a feast for mortals and gods.

An elder drink Rice Wine during the performance
An elder drinks Rice Wine during the performance

In the olden days, Imbayah were originally performed by the elite Ifugaos. A rite of passage for common people ascending to nobility. These days its their grandest celebration held very three years to preserve and revive the Ifugao culture. On years in between, an annual town fiesta Urpih is held.

An Ifugao Kid prepares their props
An Ifugao Kid prepares their props

I was headed to Banaue to arrange logistics for our upcoming Backpack Photography Photo Adventure so I thought I’ll take a chance to catch what I can of this 4 day Imbayah Festival. I missed out on the first day which was said to be the highlight. Aside from everyone in Ifugao donning their best traditional garbs, each village would bring out their treasures and antiquities to the open and parade them on the streets of Banaue.

An elder brings in his Bulol
An elder brings in his Bulol, the Ifugao Rice God

It was day 2 when I arrived but it wasn’t short of activities. I headed to the plaza where most of the events where held and was just in time for the Street Dancing to start. Surprisingly, there were only a few photographers there taking photos of the event, probably because it was a weekday. Aside from the foreign tourist, the ABS CBN was also there to cover.

A beautiful chant performance about children from this group
A beautiful chant performance about children from this group

The sun was hot but good thing the breeze was cool at that time, and we were waiting patiently for the first group to arrive. Each of the 18 villages has group performers though one backed out from the competitions. The street dance competition was different than I expected. I was used to the heavily glamorous and choreographed performances I’ve seen in some Sto Nino feast but the Imbayah Street Dance was a welcome departure. While it has touches of modernity, it was simple, unpretentious, personal and kept to its Ifugao ancestral roots.

Impressive choreography from this group with Rice Fans and Hats
Impressive choreography from this group with Rice Fans and Hats

I could see that from the far off villages, their performances were a lot traditional like the group from the Senior Citizens. A more modern performance from the young adults but still kept to it’s Ifugao styling, there’s also this beautiful chanting/song from group four which I really liked and talked about the future of children. Then there was this mesmerizing synchronous performance of fans from group 6 which the crowd also enjoyed.

Blue Ifugao Teens
Blue Ifugao Teens

Their costumes were also simple, most of them have elements of rice, garlic, wine and ethnic symbols. Some even have large amusing board cutouts of vegetables from the favorite folk song “Bahay Kubo“. It was really humbling to see the subtle yet heartfelt performances from each group which stayed true to their Ifugao roots even with a touch of modernity.

A slightly modern performance from the teens
A slightly modern performance from the teens but still retains an Ifugao touch

Afternoon was a time for some ethnic games. Some of the names skipped me as it was just fun watching them especially their reactions when they win. There was the Guyudan (?) which is a tug rope competition where 4 groups battle it out on strength. Then there’s this ethnic game where they throw straw stalks from a plant and their objective was to hit the back of the person from a distance. Before this was used to settle arguments and strife.

A young gril during the Children's ethnic Dance Category
A young gril during the Children’s ethnic Dance Category

Later in the afternoon the Ethnic Dances were performed. There were 5 groups each and they have really impressive native wear and elaborate headdresses. The Children’s Ethnic Dance came in first and it was amusing to watch them even an unorthodox speech after from a girl after a resounding “Woo-Heee” which was usually done by a male. I couldn’t understand what she was saying but it was funny and the crowd responded with a laugh as well.

Elaborate headdress and accessories during the adult ethnic Dance
Elaborate headdress and accessories during the adult ethnic Dance

The Adult Ethnic Dance was a lot serious and I could actually see the performers into to their shuffling trance-like movements. Then lastly there was the Salidumnay where they chant/sing songs. There were only 2 groups. The first one was simple but their hymn and chant was melodious and moving. The second one has more production in it and it seems to be a song about farming and harvest.

An ifugao ethnic game
An ifugao ethnic game where the objective is to hit the other person at the back with the most number of plant stalk

A Wood carving competition is simultaneously held during this presentations. About 5 sculptures were busy finishing a piece with a head of a wooden horse under a native ifugao house where pictures of the Ms Imbayah contestants were also hanged. People were encouraged to vote for their favorites for 1 peso each.

Ifugao athleticism and test of strenght during the Guyudan
Ifugao athleticism and test of strength during the Guyudan

Those were the bulk of activity for the 2nd day of Imbayah Festival. I sure wish I was able to come in earlier in Banaue to catch the highlight parade. I also wasn’t able to catch the other activities on the 3rd and 4th day since I was away at Batad and Bangaan. Activities include the g-string marathon to the viewpoint and volleyball exhibition games, more ethnic games, cultural presentations, wooden scooter race and finally ending with catching a greasy pig let loose in town. Even if I have cheap tickets, I have to wait til 2014 to catch the whole of this festival again. For more Imbayah Images, check out my flickr set

Beautiful Songs and Chants at the Salidumnay
Beautiful Songs and Chants at the Salidumnay
A wod carving competition ongoing through the afternoon
A wod carving competition ongoing through the afternoon
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Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.

16 Responses to “Ifugao: Banaue’s Imbayah 2011, A Festival Three Years in the Making”

    • Salamat James! I’m not really a fan of attending festivals din but this was different and I enjoyed it as well. I’ll make sure to attend the opening parade on 2014 😀

  1. hi ferdz!
    i planned to see attend this one too, speciallly when I learned from the locals it’s only celebrated one every 3 years. too bad naman kasi, after ng holy week. di keri magleave na naman..
    haay hanggang photos nalang ulit ako. thansk for sharing. sana sa 2011 – for real na imbayah na! =)

    • Good question Photo Cache! I actually thought about that. I’m not sure if the number has any cultural significance but one thing I learned about talking to one of the ifugaos helping out on their tourism, it’s not easy for them to mount such a grand celebration every year. One is that they don’t always have financial means since a lot of their villages are not that rich, and second, most of the villages are on the outskirts, cut by mountains, rough, unpaved roads. Those may also be some of the factor why they can’t do it annually.

  2. romulo aromin

    Evocative, visual feast!

    I look forward to joining one of your conquests. r u able to shoot notices through my e mail?

    Again, regards


  3. the event is so interesting and it’s a sin to miss it but please include all ethnic games and their definitions so that other people around the world will be informed of the importance, excitement and origin of our ifugao ethnic games. it would also be a reference to our school children. thanks for your kind consideration to this comment. God bless.

  4. grace ananayo

    Thank you so much sir for your appreciation and sharing what you have captured during your visit in our province..Hope your other friends can make it next year for the 2014 Imbaya celebration..More power and God bless..

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