Festivals are a fun way to discover the culture of a people. And the islands of the Visayas are hosts to a variety of festivals that deserve any traveler’s attention. The many islands of the Visayas come alive every so often with festivals and fiestas that are marked with merry-making, color, pomp and pageantry, so much so that these events have come into world-wide acclaim.
Festivals are also a time when natives now living abroad come home to relive their pasts and re-experience their roots. Tourists from other areas or countries also visit to get a taste of the best of Philippine culture. The influx of tourism became the very fuel that made organizers think of new activities to spice up and differentiate their festival and attract more tourists.
However, there are five festivals that have stood out in recent years. Here are the Top Five Visayan Festivals that you should not miss in your lifetime!
1. Sinulog Festival
Location: Cebu City Philippines
The Sinulog Festival is held in Cebu and lasts well over a week, culminating in the street parade or Mardi Gras that falls on the third Sunday of every January. The feast venerates the Senyor Santo Nino de Cebu. For many years, Cebu’s Sinulog has featured different activities such as the Miss Cebu beauty pageant, the fluvial procession, the solemn street procession, the film-making contests, the arts contests, among others. But most people, especially non-locals, equate Sinulog with the Grand Parade.
During the Grand Sinulog Parade, dozens of contingents representing the different locales of Cebu City and Cebu province take part in different categories: free interpretation dance, traditional Sinulog dance, best float and best “higantes”. In the recent years, guest contingents have been allowed to participate and join the Cebuanos in the fun dancing, including contingents from Manila, other provinces and even other countries. Major thoroughfares of the city are closed for this parade, as people flock the streets and the Abellana Sports Complex to watch the pomp and pageantry, the burst of color and the lively beat of drums.
It is rare that an entire city joins in the celebration of one festival, but Cebu has always primed its citizenry to celebrate as a whole during Sinulog. No wonder that even as 20 years have gone by, Sinulog is still the most looked-forward event for all Cebuanos.
2. Ati-Atihan Festival
Location: Kalibo, Aklan Philippines
Aklan plays host to the annual Ati-atihan festival, coinciding with the third Sunday of January. Like the Sinulog Festival of Cebu, the Ati-atihan celebrates the many miracles of the Child Jesus or Santo Nino.
The festival is probably more well-known for the black paint that most participants put on their bodies. The black paint that covers the whole body contrasts starkly with the colorful costumes and ornaments.
The Ati-Atihan, though honoring the Santo Nino, has tribal and pagan origins. But together with the city’s Christianization, the festival has taken a new meaning.
3. Dinagyang Festival
Location: Ilo-ilo City Philippines
If you have the Sinulog or the Ati-atihan on your travel itinerary to catch the colorful Visayan Festivals in January, then surely your next stop would be Ilo-ilo, where the Dinagyang Festival is held on the fourth Sunday of January.
The Dinagyang Festival still venerates the Child Jesus, but also commemorates the conversion of Filipino tribes to Christianity.
Today’s Dinagyang Festival is much anticipated with several events serving as highlights, including the search for Iloilo’s prettiest ladies in the Miss Dinagyang pageant, the Atis street dancing, and the Kasadyahan street dancing. Like the Sinulog and Ati-atihan, prayers, drum beats and colorful costumes litter the streets of Iloilo for the Dinagyang.
4. MassKara Festival
Location: Bacolod City Philippines
Bacolod City holds its Charter Day on the 19th of October every year. Coinciding with its Charter Day is the MassKara Festival, a week-long activity that is currently dubbed as the Festival of Smile, a take on Bacolod’s own monicker as the City of Smiles.
Unlike other festivals in the Visayas, however, the MassKara is not religious or tribal in nature. Instead, the Festival ironically traces its roots on tragedy. The festival was first held in 1980, at a time when sugar cane and sugar prices plummeted and the livelihood of Bacolenos suffered. It was also during that year that a terrible maritime tragedy left more than 700 Negrenses dead when the Don Juan and the tanker Tacloban City collided with each other and sank.
To eclipse the tragedy and the sorrow, Bacolod held its first MassKara Festival. The term MassKara was coined by Ely Santiago, meaning many faces. It also became the festival’s trademark: smiling masks worn by the participants.
Today’s Masskara features the search for the festival queen, street carnivals, competitions, food fests, sports and music events, garden and agricultural shows and other activities.
5. Pintado-Kasadyahan Festival
Location: Tacloban City Philippines
Lasting a whole month, Tacloban City holds the Pintados-Kasadyahan Festival culminating on June 29. The current festival also includes the Leyte Kasadyaan Festival of Festivals, the Pagrayhak Grand Parade, and the Pintados Ritual Dance Presentation. The festival commemorates and fleshes out how the Spaniards saw the early Filipinos when they arrived in Leyte: bodies filled with tattoos and holding weapons which were previously heated in open fire. In fact, pintados is how the tattoo-covered natives were called, and that’s how the festival got its name.