It took me 12 years before I stepped my foot on back to the island of province of Catanduanes. And what better time than in the midst of their festivities. The 2018 Abaca Festival is on their 3rd year. The month long celebration aims to showcase their native abaca fiber or Manila hemp which is one of the main products of the province and source of livelihood. The month-long festival have pockets of activity culminating towards the 4th week of May. One of the much awaited is the Bicol Festival of Festivals Showdown where contingents from Bicol region participate in a dance showdown. A colorful revelry with heart pounding beats and awe-inspiring performance. An exciting return to what is now known as the Happy Island!
I like non-commercial festivals like the Agal-agal Festival in Tawi-tawi. They are refreshing and different. Unlike popular festivals that honors the Sto Niño, Agal-Agal Festival celebrates the way of life of the Sama people. From harvesting agal-agal (seaweeds), courtships, and even the supernatural. I was excited to see the Agal-Agal Festival 2017 since I enjoyed witnessing it the first time three years ago in Bongao. This year, the 44th Kamahardikaan Festival is hosted by the municipality of Languyan.
Isabela consist of 34 municipalities and 3 cities in a province. It is the second largest province in the country. The vast area consist of agricultural plains, forested areas of the Sierra Madres and coastal towns. As one of the top corn producers in the country, Isabela found the bambanti, an Ilocano term for scarecrow, as a significant icon, symbolizing Isabela farmer’s diligence and resoluteness to earn his keep, feed his family and produce for the community. Hence the Bambanti Festival was born in January 2013. It aims to unite the municipalities, showcase their creativity, unique products and increase tourism.
There was this undeniable rhythm to his every paddle. A smooth motion like a clock gear yet with precise force enough to propel his sibid-sibid, a local term for a small boat, forward. I call him the “man in the middle”, as he was positioned on the starting line with four others participating in the Bankarera 2015 competition, one of the key events of this year’s Isla Rancho Festival in San Pascual, Burias Island, Masbate. While the “Man-in-the-middle” was nowhere ahead at the race launch, now here he is pitted neck-and-neck to another strong paddler. Who will win this race? I never thought a small boat race like this would be exciting to watch.
With already so many festivals in the country, why check out the Isla Rancho Festival in San Pascual, Masbate? In a province known mainly for its vast fields for grazing cattle and cowboys overlooking the many ranches of its three islands, it is interesting to see how this cowboy culture is infused with their celebration in reverence to their patron saint San Pascual. The Isla Rancho Festival Streetdance competition was one of the highlights of their 8-day Isla Rancho Festival. This colorful spectacle from performormances from eight groups of the 22 villages in San Pascual creatively showcased the traditional festive atmosphere similar to many popular festivals in the country with a unique cowboy kick twist.
I’ve seldom talked about how Sagada has changed throughout the years. Yes, the roads have been paved for better access, more tourist are coming in, internet connectivity is just about everywhere and more structures being built to accommodate them. Despite the developments, Sagada’s is still rooted to their traditional cultural practices. One of this significant rituals is the Begnas, a rice thanksgiving ritual that usually happens three times a year. We were lucky to be there to witness their pre-planting ritual. It was a three-day event and the 2nd day was the time when the “Indians March”.
It was a feast to the senses. The vibrant colors move in a captivating array of patterns in purple, gold and rich green. The choreography was so just entertaining and their Pangalay (a type of Muslim dance) was just hypnotic in its graceful body movement paired with the elegant gestures of their fingers. I just came back in Tawi-tawi after more than five years since my last visit and already, I’m bombarded by this showcase of Sama culture in this Agal-agal Festival. Agal-agal is the local Sinama term for seaweed, an abundant commodity of Tawi-tawi. I can say what a festive way to welcome my return to the southernmost province of the country.