(COMING at the heels of Cebu’s Sinulog Festival and Aklan’s Ati-Atihan Festival is the grand Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo. It traditionally takes place during the fourth week of January and, like the Sinulog Festival and Ati-Atihan Festival, is in honor of the Sto. Nino.
In anticipation of this grand event, I am sharing with you the story that I wrote on the Dinagyang Festival of 2016. It first appeared in Appetite Magazine‘s April 2016 issue.)
DRUMBEATS roll, the festive sound reverberating in the air, louder and louder, in a rhythmic crescendo. The energy level is high. The crowd filling the Freedom Grandstand in Iloilo and overflowing into the side streets cheers and applauds as groups of “warriors” with painted faces, colorful costumes complete with oversized headdresses, and spears and shields on hand, rush forward in a friendly charge. The “warriors” thump their feet and raise their spears, nod their heads and spread their arms, swinging and swaying to the beat of the rumbling sound, in one of the most compelling performances of “tribes” during the Dinagyang Festival. All ten “tribes” competing in this year’s Iloilo Dinagyang Ati Competition moved in basically the same rhythm, each engaging in a seven-minute performance routine that traces the evolution of their faith.
Being a first-time witness to Iloilo’s Dinagyang Festival in 2016, I watched in awe at the color, excitement and revelry of the entire celebration.
A much-anticipated annual event that draws big crowds to the Western Visayas province of Iloilo, the Dinagyang Festival takes place every fourth Sunday of January. A series of activities over the preceding days lead up to Sunday’s highlight of the festival, the Iloilo Dinagyang Ati Competition. The Dinagyang Festival itself is a religious and cultural festival held in reverence of the Santo Niño, who is the image of the Child Jesus Filipinos revere. It also traces the arrival of the Catholic faith in Iloilo and the devotion that the Ilonggos have to the Child Jesus. The Ati Competition shows the history and evolution of this faith in choreographed street dance routines, and it’s something that festival-goers look forward to watching because it is marked with painted faces, elaborate and colorful tribal costumes and traditional Ati style dance movements.
On the Dinagyang Festival’s 48th year in 2016, the Ati Competition once again took center stage at the Freedom Grandstand in Iloilo City, where each tribe performed to a full-house crowd before moving on to its four other performance stages spread all around the city—the Iloilo Provincial Capitol, Delgado corner Mabini streets, Quezon corner Ledesma streets, and Iznart St.—to entertain other groups of eager spectators. Each tribe’s performance was as compelling as in the past years, with awesome backdrops and props, several costume changes and adrenaline-pumping dance movements that went on and on.
Simultaneous to the Ati Competition was the Parade of Floats, which consisted of fantasy-themed floats put together by major corporate sponsors of the Dinagyang Festival. The crowd gathered at the Freedom Grandstand caught sight of these colorful floats, as they moved down the streets in between performances by the Ati competitors.
While huge crowds built up around the performance stages, the streets all around them also carried on the festive mood. They were lined with food stalls and makeshift dining areas put up just to cater to crowds of spectators who came to watch the Dinagyang Festival. The aroma of a signature Ilonggo dish, Chicken Inasal, cooking on the grill wafted in the air and whetted the appetite of revelers, a lot of whom were wearing Dinagyang Festival shirts and feathered Dinagyang tribal headgears that have become icons of the festival. It was also a curious sight to see mounds upon mounds of fresh oysters in some of the roadside eateries. Just order a basin full of oysters, and the stall owners would gladly steam them so they could be enjoyed on the spot.
Also available were street foods such as Bibingka and Boiled Sweet Corn.
A showcase of the rich heritage, history, faith and devotion, and fun-loving spirit of the Ilonggos, the Dinagyang Festival has become one of the country’s most spectacular religious and cultural festivals. It takes place after Cebu’s Sinulog Festival and Aklan’s Ati-Atihan Festival every January, with all three festivals being held in honor of the Santo Niño and collectively opening the series of festivals lined up for the new year. They are such major festivals that some tourists somehow find a way to do the rounds of all three festivals despite being held only days apart. While there, they take advantage of the time to go around to see historical places and tourist attractions as well as sample the food in the host provinces.
I have seen a lot of festivals around the country, and I could honestly say that the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo is one of the grandest, most colorful, truly exciting and most important festivals in the country. It’s an absolutely compelling tourist attraction that never fails to draw crowds every year. No wonder hotels and hostels, even bed-and-breakfast places in Iloilo are booked one year in advance.