Sunday, 28 January 2018

It's More Fun @ Iloilo City's Dinagyang Festival!

'Dagyang' is a Hiligaynon word that means to have fun! And this festival in Iloilo City (where Hiligaynon is spoken) in the Philippines is all about having fun!

After decades of not having attended the Dinagyang Festival, my sister and I crossed the Iloilo Strait from Bacolod City, and stayed for three nights to enjoy the Dinagyang.

We stayed at a small business inn near the center of the city, which was very convenient. The Freedom Grandstand, the San Jose de Placér Church, Roberto's, Iloilo Public Market, and the Ortiz Wharf were all walking distance! It was fun and convenient!


The Dinagyang Festival is more like a spin-off from Kalibo's Ati-Atihan Festival. It is also a celebration of Panay Island's history and culture.

Back in the 1200's, ten datus from Borneo sailed and landed in Panay Island to seek refuge. They asked the local aeta (or 'ati' in the local language) tribes to let them live in the low lands of the island. The local aeta tribes agreed, and in exchange, the ten datus from Borneo, led by Datu Puti, gave the chieftain of the ati tribes a golden salakot and other valuable ornaments and fabrics, including a legendary golden necklace that was so long it reached the grown when worn.

                            (Tribu Obrero)

The highlight of the Festival is the ati-atihan competition among several tribes represented by local high schools. It is held on the last day of the festival.

These tribes were judged during the competition on their choreography, performances, costumes and other criteria. But since we were staying along the parade route, we simply waited for the tribes to pass.

 (Tribu Abiador represented the Asian College of Aernautics. 'Abiador' is the Ilonggo-nized word for 'aviator'. Its warriors were actually future pilots.)

How we wanted to watch the performances, but it was very crowded at the performance areas, and the seats at the stage were being sold to as much as 1,000 pesos. And you wouldn't even have a good view of the tribes performing. So, we skipped that expensive option.

What we did was just to wait for the tribes to pass our way and mingled and had photos with the performers themselves! I was able to chat with some of the high school teachers and the students in costumes! One even told me they had to wake up as early as 2AM to start preparing! Such commitment!


Each tribu could include at least 30 drummers to make sure the drum beats are loud and the rhythm really created a festive, upbeat mood that translates into an energized performance.

Although the drummers stood inside the performance area, they were not required to paint themselves or wear costumes.

(Tribu Salognon of the Jaro National High School was the champion at Dinagyang 2017). Here, I am trying to pose with the tribe's official pole.)

Congratulations to Tribu Pan-ay for winning the 4th runner-up prize! The tribe performers were students from the Fort San Pedro National High School.



Before the 1200's, during the era of the Ati Chief Datu Pulpulan and his son, Marikudo, Panay Island was called 'Aninipay' from the words 'ani', meaning harvest, and 'nipay', a hairy grass found all over the island. Above, I was posing with the descendant of Marikudo, representing Tribu Amihan.

His elaborate, expensive headdress and armor were embellished with orange and red feathers that were probably plucked from a few ducks. My costume, on the other hand, was a small 'ati' headdress made of colored crushed seashells and chick feathers dyed in pink and worth a hundred pesos. I bought it the night before from a female vendor whose stall on wheels was standing along the main street.


Now, this red-orange ensemble is worthy of a national costume! These Tribu Ilonganon's creative costumes in hues of fiery red and orange easily captured attention with the drama the colors alone brought. Adding the figures of wings and oversized warrior headdress, this creation could have easily been a favorite at an international costume competition.

 The Tribu Obrero warriors in fresh green costumes, serious stare, and black curly wigs were about to move to the performance area at the Freedom Grandstand.


These kids from Tribu Obrero were rehearsing a few steps of their choreography before their actual performance.

 As these ati tributes participating at the Dinagyang Festival competition were from local schools, these students were from the same sections in order to make it easier for the school officials to arrange the rehearsal schedules as well as the makeup classes. This way, the performers, which were all classmates, had an easier time working and learning the whole performance and routine because they personally know each other. This whole concept clearly showed on how the performers behaved with or without the judges watching.



These female performers from Tribu Obrero looked enchanting in their costumes: shaded arms, elaborately beaded headdress, brown make-up, native woven dress and skirt, all accentuated with an islander's charming smile.

A few moments after I complimented them "Ka guapa sa inyo!" (You all look pretty!), another local tourist told them the same thing.




Some tribes brought with them real 'ati', whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of Panay Island. Since these aetas married among themselves, they retained their dark skin colors and curly black hair characters.



The competition rules allowed the tribes to bring props into their performance. These props were always cultural or religious characters that would reinforce the storyline of the dance. If I were the concept director for this tribe, instead of non-smiling ati faces, I would have made them smile showing a few teeth that would define the state of dental care back in the 13th century.

These black-gray feline costumes are part of Tribu Buntatalanit's theme.



Chaos in the street as this tribe prepares for their next performance. That helpful pole is where they hang their costumes in-between performances.



Since the tribes had to move from one performance area to another, they temporarily put their props and costumes on a rolling storage. This allowed them to free themselves from the heavy costumes during the move. They later pick them up to wear them again before the performance.
Glam Squad: In-between performances, the dancers had to have their make-up repainted as sweat erased their colored facemasks.


In 1967, a replica of the image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu was given to the Iloilo faithful who welcomed the statue with a parade from the airport and into the city. 

Every competitor in the Dinagyang is required to have a segment about the Sto. Niño in their performance to tell the audience that these performances are both a religious and cultural celebration. Some tribus bring small Sto. Niño icons while others have oversized ones. This one above is carried from the inside by one performer. Notice the whole on the chest where he could peep through.


Like a pro, this lady performer from Tribu Pan-ay represents a Spanish señorita and carries a small Sto. Niño while wearing a thick, uncomfortable big dress under the warm sun. Carrying a doll-sized Sto. Niño all morning was probably a tough workout. But they all were doing this for pride and glory of their schools. 

This tribu's giant Sto. Niños were carried by participants. I wondered if after the Dinagyang, they'd end up as icons for someone's religious altar at home. 

While most Sto. Niños were carried, this cute one walked with the parade and looked like he was enjoying it.

As in any festival in the Philippines, there's always a beauty competition, whose winner becomes the ambassadress for the festival. This group of ladies taking a groupfie above a float included the winners of the 2017 Miss Dinagyang Festival.


Along the popular Valeria Street in the city center were rows and rows of barbecue stalls that competed for customers and tourists. You can order chicken barbecue, or pork or any other seafood that they'd grill on the spot.

You see? We didn't have to buy those expensive seats at the performance areas to enjoy Dinagyang. Our plan was even better! We had the freedom to move around and have photos with the performers in very colorful costumes! If we were seated at the stage, we could have been stuck there for hours and couldn't even move to get something to eat!

Before the start of the festivities, the cops of the Iloilo City Police Department walked around to disseminate information on public safety and order. We felt safe walking around the city day and night because of police visibility. 

As my sister and I were walking towards our hotel from the church on the morning of the competition day, a group of police officers led by PO1 Ferolino gave us flyers on the safety measures during the festival. A photo of me while chatting with the police officer ended up at the police department's Facebook page.

If ever I have the chance, I'd go back to Iloilo City and attend the Dinagyang Festival again. 

Wherever you are in the Philippines, it's worth flying to Iloilo for this. In our case, it was worth crossing the Iloilo Strait for some 'dagyang'.

(Fireworks capped the 2017 Dinagyang Festival!)

So, if you're attending the Dinagyang Festival tomorrow, have fun with a lot of dagyang!

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