Festivals of Negros: Telling the story of our people

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How does one understand the Negrenses? Study their festivals.

That’s over 100 festivals in 13 cities and 19 towns for you, not counting the 662 barangays which also have their equally unique festivals during their fiesta celebrations.

Indeed, what’s a better way to dissect the culture of a people than through their festivals— a collective rendition of their struggles, triumphs, dreams and aspirations, lifestyles, history, and tradition? In the case of Negros Occidental, each festival is one colorful piece in one giant mosaic that tells the Negrenses’ story in one sweep.

Bailes de Luces of La Castellana.
Photo by Arthur Ang

In terms of origin, the festivals of Negros Occidental are categorized as either born out of faith [religious], legends, history and tradition, or simply creative frivolity or “biga-biga” as they jokingly call it in Ilonggo, says performing artist Rudy Reveche, whose work on grassroots theatre eventually brought to break ground on what is now known as festival development. Reveche had helped in the conception stage of almost all the festivals of Negros Occidental.

More often, the festival is anchored on the traditional fiesta or foundation day (Charter Day). In the fourth category would be the festival that is a reflection of the people’s lifestyle, he said.

In his years of helping many local government units (LGUs) create their own festivals, Reveche discovered that oftentimes while a festival’s origin is not exactly as breathtaking as it sounds, it nevertheless helps make an LGU popular.

Sometimes, a festival is anchored on a plant, a flower, maybe a bamboo or a type of leaf that is endemic to the place, or a practice often done by some group, an expression, a type of mud, or the unique lifestyle, he shared.

From there, festival organizers and choreographers create a dance or a song and merry-making activities to go with it, he said.

Thus, you have Calatrava’s Lilas Pandan which celebrates the crafts and culture that the pandan plant has spawned; the Salapan of Pulupandan that calls to mind the fishing practice of “salap” and the uses of the pandan plant, the Pabalhas or Pagdagyaw sa Tablas of Candoni that commemorates the Tablas tree that proliferated in this valley; the Mudpack Festival of Mambukal in Murcia that focuses on the uses of volcanic mud that is abundant in the area;

MassKara Festival of Bacolod City.

Hugyaw Kansilay of Silay that celebrates the famous tree of that city; Pintaflores of San Carlos that revolves around sunflowers of the place; Sinigayan or the abundance of shells in Sagay City; Ilog’s Kisi-Kisi festival that takes off from the movements of the crabs it is famous for and the Babaylan Festival of Bago that highlights the folk healers of the place.

And who can miss the Kalag-kalag (formerly Sakada) Festival of Isabela, our own version of the Halloween, that started as a fun activity of a barangay beside the town cemetery that eventually evolved into the town’s major tourism activity?

“It’s really the people’s creativity to ‘sell’ their place by weaving a story out of what they have,” Reveche said.

BIRTH OF FESTIVALS

Sinulog Festival of Kabankalan City. Photo by Arthur Ang.

Reveche shared that Negrense’s love for festivals blossomed in the 1980s. It can be divided into three phases.

The Pasalamat Festival of La Carlota blazed the trail when it started in May 1980. It was followed by the MassKara Festival of Bacolod City in October of the same year.

These two paved the way for the second wave of festivals, which was the birth of festivals anchored on the celebration for the feast of Santo Niño, patterned after Cebu, Iloilo, and Aklan. Thus we have the Sinulog Festival of Kabankalan City and Dinagsa Festival of Cadiz City.

In the early 1990s, the Provincial Tourism Office, in cooperation with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, conducted a festival summit among the LGUs of Negros Occidental to begin institutionalizing their respective festivals.

In the summit, the LGUs were encouraged to “search their own identity” in creating their own festivals.

In 1994, about the same time of the conception of the Panaad sa Negros Festival, a number of LGUs participated in the Parade of Dances by showcasing their newly created festivals.

Pintaflores Festival of San Carlos City. Photo by Arthur Ang

Some of these were Pintaflores Festival of San Carlos, Sakada (which was later changed to Tigkalalag) Festival of Isabela, and Tinabu-ay Festival of Murcia.

This further encouraged other LGUs to create their own festivals. By the 2000s, almost all 32 LGUs were competing in the Festival Dances of the Panaad sa Negros Festival.

Reveche said it is also fascinating to note that some of our festivals have evolved through the years—like, changing their names, altering the original concept and choreography—to be able to stay relevant and viable.

Some of these are the Malihaw Festival of Victorias, which was changed to Kadalag-an Festival when the town became a city; the Sakada Festival of Isabela, later changed to Tigkalalag Festival; and Kabulakan Festival of Pontevedra, later changed to Ponte de Piedra, then to Marayo, and now to Handurayo Festival.

Another interesting facet of our festivals, Reveche adds, is that a number of them can be described as “co-terminus festivals,” meaning their birth and death happen under the terms of their chief executives (mayors) or in some cases, tourism officials.

It must be noted that those festivals that were unaffected by the turn-over of officials are the ones that generally grow and prosper, he said.

TOURISM PROMOTION

The effect of the festivals on the economy cannot be underestimated as they fuel tourism programs.

In fact, it keeps the local economy alive because of the influx of foreign and local tourists to the place, says Cristine Mansinares, supervising tourism operations officer of the Provincial Tourism Office.

Last year, the partial record of visitor arrivals in Bacolod and the rest of Negros Occidental reached more than 1 million, or translated to an estimated partial tourist receipts of P2.1 billion, she said. The figure covers only 20 of the 32 LGUs who have reported data as of this writing.
In 2011, total tourist receipts even reached P3 billion, she said.

Mansinares said the LGUs report to them that their tourist arrivals increase every time there’s a festival in their place.
Their hotels, restaurants, and pension houses are fully booked, she added.

The festivals bring in more money to the LGUs, benefiting more sectors because of the money inflow, she said.

Aside from that, they are very important to the people because they help develop a sense of pride of their place, she stressed.

The people appreciate their culture more, and it also improves the social aspect of our people because it is often during the festivals where people renew ties, like families getting together, or classmates holding reunions and alumni homecomings, she said.

Mansinares said that the tourism development and promotion is a thrust of the provincial government. It is included in the 11-point Legislative-Executive Agenda of Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. called NEGROS FIRST. It is letter “T” for Tourism Promotion.
CROWD DRAWER

Mansinares said that based on their assessments of the festivals, the festivals of Bacolod, Kabankalan, San Carlos, Cadiz, La Carlota and Sagay are “crowd drawers.”

The festivals of Bacolod City, Sipalay City, San Carlos City, Kabankalan City, Cadiz City, and Bago City also draw more tourists partly because these places have better accomodations, she said.

She added that the festivals that have “matured” in terms of preparation are the festivals of Bacolod City, San Carlos City, Kabankalan City, Cadiz City, Silay City and Bago City.

The Provincial Tourism Office is continually helping the LGUs by regularly conducting tourism-related capacity building trainings.

The provincial government and the Department of Tourism are also giving financial assistance to the LGUs for their festivals, she said.

In terms of marketing, the Provincial Tourism Office also joins national tourism fairs and exhibitions to showcase the different festivals of Negros, she added.

FIESTA ISLAND

So, with more than 100 festivals in 32 LGUs year round, Negros Occidental could very well be dubbed “A Fiesta Island.”

Negros Occidental is not only known as the “Sugar Capital of the Philippines” but also for the affluent lifestyles of its people reflected in their festivals.

Every week, there’s a festival or two in every town and city in Negros Occidental—sometimes overlapping with each other—drawing foreign and local visitors alike to their colorful fiestas.

Sometimes a city or a municipality has two or more festivals for the whole year.

Negros Occidental’s festivals are a testament to the good life that its people have enjoyed through the years, their warmth and hospitality, religiosity, and way of life.

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