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FILIPINOS are “visual” people when it comes to faith and history who like to tell stories by acting them out during festivals.
After a three-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Aliwan Fiesta returns this year as the streets of the CCP Complex on July 13-15, 2023 are filled with loud music and performances that show the abundance and diversity of festivals in the Philippines.
Since 2003, Aliwan is a three-day grand fiesta that brings together Metro Manila contingents from different regions, provinces, cities, and towns with the best cultural street dances, floats, and Reynas search.
Called the ‘Mother of All Fiestas,’ Aliwan comes from the word “aliw”, which means entertainment. It is usually held during summer in April or May but this year it is held in July.
Festivals are the primary manifestation of the Filipino’s fervent devotion and faith that is characterized by history, art, creativity, and love.
As the locals once worshiped many gods and had their own set of cultures and traditions, the Spaniards introduced Fiestas to the Filipinos as part of their strategy to colonize the Philippines through Christianity.
Patron saints are assigned to each town where locals are encouraged to convert and attend festivals to be saved from evil.
Processions and street parades are organized, featuring themed floats, dance groups in colorful costumes, marching bands, and people with face and body paint that attract millions of devotees and tourists.
Filipino Catholics are known to have a sincere, large, and intense expression of piety as the country has the third largest Catholic population in the world.
Fiestas serve as a profound Filipino way of remembering the blessings of past years, commemorating historical events, and expressing divine devotion to religious images.
This year’s Aliwan featured eleven street dance groups, ten floats, and 18 candidates for “Reyna ng Aliwan” from festivals in different regions.
The three Visayan festivals dominated the street dance competition. Other participants include Halaman in Guiginto Bulacan (4th), Victory in Negros Occidental (5th), Antipolo Maytime in Antipolo City, Heroes of Masinloc, Zambales, Love of La Union, Panagbenga in Baguio City and Kangga in Mogpog, Marinduque.
In Iloilo, the word Dinagyang comes from the Hiligaynon word “dágyang” which means “fun.” It is traced to the agreement between the Datu and the locals after the arrival of the Malay settlers and the legendary barter in Panay Island from the natives called Ati.
The main part of the festival is the Ati tribal competition consisting of many “warrior” dancers (holding a shield in one hand and a spear in the other) of a tribe (locally called “tribu”) dancing in a choreographed formation and patterns as well as singing to the sound of strong drum beats and improvised percussion instruments that are modified by each tribe.
In Cebu, Sinulog simply means “graceful dance” accompanied by drumbeats, a dance ritual that commemorates the pagan past of the Filipino people and their acceptance of Christianity.
This is the ritual prayer dance honoring the Santo Niño, which was the baptismal gift given by the Portuguese conquistador Ferdinand Magellan to Raha Humabon in April 1521.
The word Sinulog comes from the Cebuano adverb “sulog” which means “water-like movement in water” which describes the forward-backward dance movements of devotees wearing brightly colored costumes. The dance consists of two steps forward and one step backward, performed to the sound of drums.
In Guimaras, Manggahan shows a celebration of communal discernment and the abundant harvest of resources from bangus, dragon fruit, cashew nuts, and others brought by the sweetest mangoes in Guimaras.
I was in Guimaras this year during Manggahan in May while I was in Dinagyang in 2010 and Sinulog in 2011.
The grand winner of this year’s Reyna ng Aliwan is Kiara Liane Wellington of the Sinulog Festival! The Reyna search has been the starting point for many Filipinas who have achieved prestigious national and international titles.
Best in Float is the Garden in Guiginto, Bulacan.
Sinulog and Dinagyang compete for which is the best and the most beautiful festival in the Philippines.
Dinagyang has seven wins in the cultural dance category (2004, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2023) while Sinulog has four wins (2006, 2007, 2008, 2014). Manaragat in Catbalogan, Samar (2015, 2016) and Halad in Midsayap, Cotabato (2003) have two wins each. Buyugan in Abuyog, Leyte (2009), and Pintados de Pasi in Iloilo (2005) have one win each.
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