Dinagyang Festival: The Biggest Highlight of Iloilo City, Philippines

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At the beginning of year 2014 I was lucky enough to experience Dinagyang Festival, which is the biggest event of the year of Iloilo City, Philippines.

First, let me tell you the history behind this religious and cultural festival of Iloilo. Dinagyang Festival is held both to honor the Santo Niño (a Roman Catoloc religious, vested statue of the Child Jesus; known as the oldest religious image in the Philippines)  and to celebrate the Malay settlers’ arrival at Panay island and the purchase of the land from the Ati, the first inhabitants of Philippines, who are now an ethnic group there. According to history the hills were left to the Ati people while the plains and rivers to the Malays.

Dinagyang is Iloilo City’s created version of the Ati-Atihan festival widely celebrated not only in Panay Island but also in other parts of the Philippines. The term Dinagyang means revelry or merrymaking in Ilonggo (the language spoken in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines). This title of the famous Iloilo festival was created in 1977 by llonggo writer/broadcaster Pacifico Sudario. Before that it was known as “Iloilo Ati-Atihan”.

loilo Ati-Atihan started in 1967 when a replica of the image of Señor Santo Niño was first brought from Cebu by the San Jose Parish to Iloilo City. The image, accompanied by devotees from Cebu, was received at the Mandurriao Airport by the people of Iloilo. In 1969 the Ati-Atihan contest began as a part of the celebration with only four tribes participating. Since then, the celebration of the this festival has progressed into a huge event with more than 10 tribes and groups competing in each category. You can find more about the history of Dinagyang festival on their official website.

My insights about the impressive dancing performances are simply indescribable, but I’ll try my best. Drum beats creating the fit atmosphere, professionally performed warrior-like dance moves polished to the smallest detail, attractive smiles of the performers dressed up in vivid, colorful costumes or simpler native style outfits: these are just some of the characteristics which make this a qualitative and enjoyable performance.

You can tell this is really a big deal for the locals looking at the preparation time starting several months before the festival and the finances their investing. Though it is totally worth it, regarding the emotions shared, experience, and memories they are gaining. And of course, the prizes are tempting as well: the champion gets 175 000 php (about 3900 $); and there are other prizes as well.

The festival is highly visited not only by the locals but also the foreign tourists; and Filipinos are kindly welcoming each and every one of them. The organizers were saying greetings and thanking us for coming and honoring the Dinagyang Festival with them. Attending the festival as a press representative from Latvia, a country still mysterious and exotic to Filipinos, we were even interviewed several times. That was a great chance for us to feel like celebrities for a while and share our insights on the wonderful dancing performances and beautiful country of the Philippines as well as let the world know more about our country.

In particular aspects Dinagyang Festival remind me of our own Latvian Song and Dance Festival, which is the main cultural event in Latvia held every five years dating back in 187. Due to the spectacular song and dance performances, magnitude and quality it is one of the main attractions for tourists. However the outfits and style of dances and music differ completely from the tribal theme at Dinagyang.

Below are some of my favorite shots I captured at Dinagyang 2014. 

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  1. […] by performing traditional dances. The Cultural Competition may not be on the same scale as the Dinagyang Festival, but with only six tribes performing they did a wonderful job, delighting the audience with […]

  2. […] Festival, organized every year on the forth weekend of January, is definitely the biggest highlight of Iloilo. It’s what this City is famous for and there’s a damn good reason for it. Spectacular […]

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