asianTraveler takes you to events and places that give a broader perspective on destinations and their people. Here’s a list of festivals, museums and galleries, and arts and crafts.
As the oldest street dancing celebration in the Philippines, the Ati-Atihan Festival in the province of Aklan was originally held to commemorate the barter of Panay between Datu Puti (the leader of the Bornean faction that escaped the tyrannical Datu Makatunaw) and the local Ati king Datu Marikudo. The island was said to have been sold at the price of a gold saduk (a wide-brimmed helmet), gold necklace, arms, and other trinkets.
To seal the agreement, a banquet of feasting and dancing was held, attended by the local Atis and the Bornean newcomers. In later years, when the Atis withdrew to the hinterlands as part of the deal, the new settlers continued the celebration in time of the blooming of the mango trees. They covered their bodies in soot to “make like the Atis.” Thus, the Ati-Atihan celebration was born.
After 300 years under colonial Spain, the Ati-Atihan has since evolved into a kind of Mardi Gras to honor the Sto. Niño, or the Child Jesus. In Kalibo, the province’s capital town, locals and visitors alike celebrate the ‘Big Three Days of Spiritual Street Dancing’ with drinking, feasting, and parading on the streets.
Like in the olden days, participants and onlookers alike rub their faces and bodies with soot, and take part in a street dancing that’s open for everyone who doesn’t mind joining a riotous line dance with thousands of other carousers. The festival ends amid a cacophony of drums and music as the faithful flock in a procession of light to say a final prayer in the cathedral.
When: Every 3rd Sunday of January
Where: Held in several towns of the province of Aklan in Panay Island, but the biggest celebration is held in the town capital of Kalibo.
It means “merrymaking” in Hiligaynon, and everything about Dinagyang is an invitation to party. Held every 4th Sunday of January, the Dinagyang Festival was inspired by the Ati-Atihan of Aklan and similarly honors the Sto. Niño and commemorates the barter of Panay from the Ati king Marikudo to the Bornean datus.
During the festival, food kiosks sprout along the main thoroughfares to serve food and drinks non-stop. Shops and stalls sell souvenir items, native trinkets, and commemorative articles, adding more color to the festive street ornamentation. Almost overnight, Iloilo City becomes an enormous street party.
One of the festival’s most awaited events is the Ati Tribe Competition. Here, “tribesmen” donning battle gears in vibrant colors and fantastic designs take to the streets and dance in hypnotic, synchronized moves to the rhythm of drums, percussions, and music. With painted faces and bodies rubbed with soot, they pay tribute to the Child Jesus and demonstrate the innate joyfulness of the indigenous Atis of yore.
When: Every 4th Sunday of January
Where: Iloilo City
Originally called Flores de Maria (Flowers of Mary), Flores de Mayo was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish Catholic Church as part of the Marian devotion and was said to have been first held in the country in Bulacan in 1865. It is a month-long celebration to show veneration to the Blessed Virgin Mary by offering flowers to her image, carrying out a novena in her honor, and praying the rosary.
The culmination of the Flores de Mayo is observed usually at the end of May in a procession called Santacruzan. The parade traces the journey of Queen Helena, or Helena Augusta, who was an Empress of the Roman Empire and mother of Roman emperor Constantine the Great. It was claimed that in her later years, Helena undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and discovered Christ’s true cross in Golgotha.
During the Santacruzan, important biblical and historical characters and titles are represented by some of the town’s most beautiful women in a parade that displays the history of the faith. This may include Reyna Banderada (Queen with a Banner), Reyna Judit (Queen Judith), Reyna Ester (Queen Esther), and of course, Reyna de las Flores (Queen of Flowers), Reyna Emperatríz (Queen Empress), and Reyna Elena (Queen Helena) with the young Constantino as her escort. Because of this “stellar cast,” Flores de Mayo is often referred to as “the Queen of Festivals.”
When: Flores de Mayo is a month-long celebration in May; Santacruzan is the culminating activity held at the end of May, usually on the last Sunday of the month.
Where: Held in many cities, towns, and small communities throughout the Philippines.
Held to express gratitude to the patron Saint Clement (San Clemente), Higantes Festival is a celebration in the town of Angono in the province of Rizal where giant papier-mâché figures are paraded in the streets on the Sunday before the town feast.
According to folklore, the giant figure symbolizes the agrarian protest of farmers against landowners towards the end of Spain’s colonization when Angono used to be a vast hacienda (a large agricultural estate). Legend has it that in those days the wealthy ruling class who ruled Angono strictly banned celebrations of any sort by the common people, except for a lone festival once a year. On this occasion, the people saw a chance to retaliate and display their scorn by creating oversized papier-mâché depicting the landowners.
Today, the higantes convey a more positive message. Many are made to represent a barangay during the parade. Others represent a product or industry indigenous to the village or community. Through the years, the higantes have also come to represent the people’s aspirations for greatness in whatever field of endeavor they are in.
During the celebration, people joining the parade are sprinkled or drenched in water by onlookers in a tradition called basaan. Apart from bestowing blessings and good fortune to participants, water represents San Clemente, the patron saint of fisherfolks. Joining the parade is the parehadores, a group of young girls in colorful costumes and wooden slippers walking before a marching band. The girls are made to hold the sagwan (wooden boat paddle) that symbolizes the devotees of San Clemente.
When: November 22
Where: Angono, Rizal
In the old days, the ethnic tribes of Davao would proudly display the best produce of their harvest—fruits, vegetables, flowers, rice, and corn grains—on mats in front of their house. This is done as a sign of gratitude for the blessings of a bountiful year. They would offer songs and dances, and perform rituals, to express their appreciation and pay tribute to their gods.
“Kadayawan” got its name from the word “madayaw,” a Mandaya word that means valuable, something precious or treasured. Today, the festival appropriately celebrates the 11 tribes of Davao City by showcasing their rich culture, as well as the rich harvest from Davao’s land and sea.
Highlights of the Kadayawan Festival include the Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan, a street dance-cum-parade where the various communities from Mindanao take to the streets in their colorful costumes and dance to the rhythm of gongs and other native percussion instruments.
Of course, the festival is also an excuse to indulge in Davao’s succulent fruits like the exotic durian, marang, mangosteen, and rambutan. At Hudyakan sa Kadayawan, shops and food stalls in Rizal Park offer other delicacies of the province, as well as delicious indigenous food like kinilaw and ginanggang served at the Panamnam Food Hall.
The festival closes with a grand parade called Pamulak Sa Kadayawan. Giant intricate floats bedecked in flowers and embellished with floral-styled décor make a slow crawl along Davao’s major thoroughfares as a memorable culmination to the festivities.
When: 3rd week of August
Where: Davao City
Commissioned by the Spanish Governor-General Don Luis Pérez Dasmariñas in 1593, the statue of Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario (more popularly known as Our Lady of La Naval de Manila) in Santo Domingo Church is a historic icon that is fervently revered.
Standing at approximately 1.52 meters, the image has a body made of hardwood. Its face, hands, and the Baby Jesus in its arms have all been carved in ivory. Considered the oldest dated ivory carving in the Philippines, the statue is dressed in elaborate garments and a crown. In 2009, the Philippine Government designated the Santo Domingo Church and the image as National Cultural Treasures.
The first celebration of the Feast of La Naval de Manila was held in Intramuros, Manila on October 8, 1646 to mark the naval victory of the Spanish and Filipino Catholic forces against the Dutch invaders. It is said that before each encounter with the invading fleet, the Spanish-Filipino battalion prayed the rosary between March 15 and October 4.
Led by Commander Lorenzo de Orella y Ugalde, the Spanish-Filipino regimen won despite having only 2 merchant galleons in the battle—the Encarnacion and the Santo Rosario—to face 18 Dutch warships. After 5 battles, the Dutch invaders retreated and left the country.
The practice of walking barefoot to the Virgin’s shrine began and has since evolved into the Grand Procession of the Santo Rosario where the image is taken out into the streets joined by millions of devotees and the faithful in prayer.
When: 2nd Sunday of October
Where: Quezon City
One of the most popular festivals on the Island of Camiguin is the Lanzones Festival. Held usually on the 3rd week of October, the festival corresponds to the harvest season of the lanzones fruit. At this time, the export of the fruit is at its highest, making it the prime money-making crop of the island. The Camiguin lanzones, known for its light brown skin, plump lucid flesh, and sweet flavor, is a sought-after product locally and internationally.
During the 4-day festival, the streets of Mambajao play host to frenzied street dancing where dancers in colorful costumes accentuated by bunches of lanzones fruits dance along the town’s major thoroughfares. A beauty contest is held at the ABC Gymnasium in search of the festival’s loveliest queen.
The Lanzones Festival likewise celebrates the creativity and unity of the people of Camiguin. Well-decorated agricultural cottages are set up to showcase farm produce and various cottage industries. Each barangay works tirelessly to decorate and beautify its area.
To cap the merrymaking and festivities, a street dancing contest is held in the morning, and in the evening the Mambajao Public Market becomes one big party place as the Disco sa Kalye takes place to culminate the festival.
When: 3rd week of October
Where: Mambajao, Camiguin Island
Every year, on the first day of February, Baguio City comes alive to usher “panagbenga”, or the season of blooming. A grand parade launches the Panagbenga Festival—a month-long merrymaking that celebrates the beauty of Baguio’s, and the Cordillera’s, blooms.
But more than a flower festival, the celebration began as a way for residents to recover from the devastating effects of the 1990 earthquake, and aims to showcase the history and traditions of this highland region.
For the entire month of February until the first week of March the city becomes a beehive of activities. On this occasion, the streets of Baguio are bedecked in flowers in eye-catching arrangements. There’s the Bazaar where tourists can get their hands on local crafts and produce; the Panagbenga Cultural Show which features traditional dances, songs, music, and rituals; the Baguio Blooms Exposition; the Fireworks Display; and the Panagbenga Cultural Dance Competition.
Towards the end of February, the much-awaited street dancing parade and competition take to the streets as performers in traditional Ibaloi wear, or flower-inspired costumes dance to the hypnotic sound of gongs and tribal music. This display is inspired by the Ibaloi dance of celebration called bendian.
Panagbenga’s main tourist draw is the float parade which happens on the 1st of March. Covered in colorful flowers and depicting a variety of shapes and characters, the floats appear to be moving gardens all a-bloom, or lush enchanted forests.
When: February 1 to March 8
Where: Baguio City
Our Lady of Peñafrancia, or Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia, is most often referred to as the Patroness and Queen of Bicol. Currently enshrined at the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City, Camarines Sur, this wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is venerated fervently by millions of devotees.
The Feast of Peñafrancia begins with a 9-day novenario to the Divino Rostro, an icon depicting the Holy Face of Jesus imprinted on the white veil of St. Veronica. At dawn, after the novena, both the Divino Rostro and the image of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia are transported to Naga Cathedral for the Traslación in the afternoon. A 9-day novena to the Virgin is held inside or sometimes outside the cathedral.
The highlight of the feast is the Grand Fluvial Procession where the images of the Divino Rostro and Our Lady of Peñafrancia are carried through the streets of Naga before transferring them in a decorated barge, called a pagoda. On the river, the images are escorted by a throng of male devotees aboard colorful paddle boats pulling the pagoda.
As the barge travels along the waters of the Naga River, devotees and tourists by the hundreds line both banks of the river hoping to catch a glimpse of the two images. The procession ends as the images are taken back to the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
When: 3rd Sunday of September
Where: Naga City, Camarines Sur
Sinulog Festival, also called the Santo Niño Festival, is considered Asia’s most colorful festival. It is held to honor the Santo Niño de Cebú—the icon that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan presented to Rajah Humabon of Cebu in 1521. This historical act heralded the beginnings of the Christian faith in the country.
The word “sinulog” comes from the Cebuano word “sulog,” which means “like the movement of the water current.” This is expressed in the signature 2 step forward and 1 step backward movement of the Sinulog dance, and is supposed to describe the current of Cebu’s Pahina River.
Prior to the festival, street parties break out all over the city where visitors can have their faces painted and get drenched with a rowdy beer shower. Food stalls sprout along busy thoroughfares serving some of Cebu’s most popular dishes such as the lechon and sutukil, and street food like sugba, siomai sa tisa and ngohiong.
The highpoint of the festival is the Sinulog Grand Street Parade. The lengthy procession winds through the city’s main roads with dancers clad in costumes of brilliant colors and fantastic proportions. As they dance, they would shout “Pit Senyor!” at the top of their lungs as a plea to the king (referring to the Child Jesus). A lovely lass would dance gracefully in front of the group while carrying and raising an image of the Sto. Niño.
When: 3rd Sunday of January
Where: Cebu City