Dinagyang Festival

January 24th -27th 2014

The last weekend in January marks the beginning of Dinagyang Festival celebrated in the Philipines. The main event takes place on the islands capital lloilo City, Panay. The festival honors the Child Jesus and native Christian inhabitants of the island. The festival is fairly recent, dating back to only 1968. “Dagyang” means “Happy”. “Dinagyang” in llonggo refers to “merry making.”  The festival is sister festival to the larger Ati-Atihan, which happens just a few weeks before hand in the Philippines.

The small island comes to life with an explosion of colourful clothing and costumes. People shout prayers and make offerings to the beat of drums and a rhythmis chant of “Hala Bira” by tribe members is heard loudly as they celebrate on the streets. A special parade where people wear colorful clothes and honor Saint Niño is dramatized. The “llonggos” are the tribesmen of the area who participate  in the festivities, although it has recently become a popular tourist event. The festival has been honoured a patron saint “Santo Sto Niño“was believed to possess miraculous powers especially when there was drought and famine and is thought to bring luck to the year by honouring him.

Ateendees are encouraged to wear as colourful clothing as possible, adorened with as many feathers and beads as possible. This is because, in maintaining traditional Aeta culture, The town is painted black. So liven up and dress as crazy as possible when attending. The Aeta tribe wear colourful costumes, but are dark sikinned naties of the island. The early Christinas celebrate them for their help when they first arrived on the island, by mimicking them; they paint their bodies blac and wear the traditional warrior Aeta costumes. The costumes were brightly colured to scare off enemies. Dance was also a part of their warfare, so expect to see some exciting artistic formations and entrancing dances.

The festivals main event is the procession in the town which is marked with an opening ceremony. The ceremony has several Christian elements, making it like a mass. It is known as “Kasadyahan”. An image of the saints is carried down the main street by hundreds of people. Spectators are able to watch from the streets. The parade begins at Fort Sand Pedro the mouth of the Iloilo River. The procession passes by the infamous San Jose Church, which has become the favourite viewing spot by tourists. Arrive early to get a good spot amongst the crowd. Towards the end of the festival, there are contests for the best participating tribes. If you miss out on the main festival, be sure to arrive for this. All tribes who participated come dressed in traditional clothing and perform. There are a set of Special Awards that the tribes try to win, such as Best in Costume, Best in Music, Best in Discipline, Best in Choreography and Best in Performance.

Recently, spectators have been encouraged to take part in the festival. Filipinos are by nature polite, engaging and welcoming, and you may be expected to return their hospitality by learning the tribal dances with the locals and joining in! Expect the area to be very busy thought out the festival, arrive early. A lot of attractions happen around the main airport Iloilo International Airport (ILO). Flying is the best way to reach the island, though getting there by boat is also an option. It is therefore wise to book accommodation nearby so that you may travel on foot to most events. Be aware that traffic and travel may be long, congested and irregular. Try running your stay another week to celebrate Ati-Atihan!