The Dinagyang is a religious and cultural festival in Iloilo City, Philippines held on the fourth Sunday of January. It is held both to honor Santo Nino and to celebrate the arrival on Panay of Malay settlers and the subsequent selling of the island to them by the Atis.
The main part of the festival consists of a number of “tribes”, called “tribus” who are supposed to be Ati tribe members dancing in celebration. There are a number of requirements, including that the performers must paint their skin brown and that only indigenous materials can be used for the costumes. All dances are performed to drum music. Many tribes are organized by the local high schools. Some tribes receive a subsidiary from the organizers and recruit private sponsors, with the best tribes receiving the most. The current Ati population of Iloilo is not involved with any of the tribes nor are they involved in the festival in any other way.
My Dinagyang memories were mostly during my childhood. Months before the festival, Mama would gather me and my siblings, my cousins, her nephew, our helpers and whoever she finds into our trusty jeep and we would roam the chilly streets at night watching the different tribes practicing their routine on the streets. We were just happy watching them, listening to the loud drums and eating hot pandesal (bread). And on the day of the Dinagyang Festival, we would try to push into the crowd ,with our face painted with hearts & whatever shapes using my mother’s bright red lipstick, to watch the dancing tribes. But with the heat of the sun and the impatience of a child, it wasnt long until me and my siblings would secretly wish the whole contest to be over so we could go home safe from the burning sun.
But somehow someone managed to inject some Dinagyang fever in me. We decided to buy tickets for the festival. Actual seats! With a shade (away from the burning sun)! I couldn’t help get a little bit excited. Even after a late night of partying, we drag our sleepy butts early in the morning to secure our seats. We bought foods from Jollibee because we know the streets are going to be crazy as the day sets in in.
There were 14 tribes competing. The Mayor of Iloilo announced the opening of Dinagyang Festival, the crowd roared. The air was very festive, the drum beats were infectious and the bright colors were buffet to the senses. I was suddenly transported to place of primitive glee and wonder. I clapped and I cheered and I almost secretly weep with amazement ( yes! I am such a crybaby). I was in total awe with how creative Ilonggos are from the intricate detail of costumes, the choreography, the warriors energy, the dancers cheerfulness & grace, the feverish music and the props that was cleverly & superiorly made.