Most festivals in the Philippines take inspiration from a distinct product or industry of the town. This product usually dictates the theme for the activities, decor and street-dancing costumes, which seem to be a staple of every Pinoy fiesta. In the official Tourism AVP, it’s pointed out that, “we have rice fiestas, flower fiestas, giant fiestas, mask fiestas. We have one every day of the year. And everyone’s invited.” And because the country is blessed with so many products and industries, this has resulted in some rather out-of-the-ordinary fiestas as well. Here are five of the weirder inspirations for Pinoy festivals I’ve come across.
BAGOONG (SHRIMP PASTE)
Where: Lingayen, Pangasinan
It’s not everyday that you see dancing shrimp or walking bagoong bottles on the street. Bagoong is a popular Pinoy condiment made of partially or completely fermented fish or shrimps. It goes great with green mango and a lot of Pinoy dishes like kare-kare (beef stew) and pinakbet (mixed vegetables). Lingayen, the capital town of Pangasinan is known for being the best makers of bagoong in the country.
Thus, residents of Brgy. Pangapisan, Lingayen honor the talents of industry workers and the rituals of bagoong-making in their Bagoong Festival held every April. Aside from the typical costumes depicting fisherfolk, the bagoong-inspired costumes and life-sized bottles made from baskets have got to be among the most bizarre costumes I’ve seen during a fiesta.
Where: Pontevedra, Capiz
Dancing ants are the stars of the show in one town’s festival in Capiz. I was amused to see little kids clad in red and orange suits, with little ant feelers during their contingent’s performance in the provincial festival of Capiz. These dancing ants swarmed around a more elaborately dressed Queen Ant and a makeshift anthill on wheels.
The Guyum-Guyuman Festival of Pontevedra is taken from the town’s old name: “Caguyuman,” meaning anthill. Because of its location near the river, the town is a popular trading post especially during market day. Just like ants crawling all around an anthill, people from nearby towns converge here to deliver and buy goods. The rich tradition is now a celebration of life and thanksgiving for all “Caguyumanons.” The “ant-ics” during the festival every May 9-15 reflects the hard work and industry of the people.
Where: Sta. Margarita, Samar
I love seafood, especially crabs, but I couldn’t help but smile when I saw life-sized ones dancing during the Alimango Festival in Sta. Margarita, Samar. The Festival is held to celebrate the abundance of mud crabs raised in fishponds in their town and to promote the crab industry, which is the town’s main source of livelihood.
While attending this festival, I learned that crab can be cooked any way fish is prepared, including steamed, in gata, sweet and sour, fuyong, in crab cakes, and many others. I also got to witness some interesting activities including crab tying competitions and crab racing. Similar crab festivals are also held in Calauag, Quezon, Lanao del Norte and Iligan.
Where: Mercedes, Camarines Norte
Denizens of the sea, including different species of walking fish, clams with fully-grown men blowing bubbles inside, and pretty syokoys (mermen of Pinoy folklore) take center stage during this coastal town’s festival.
The Kadagatan Festival in Mercedes, Camarines Norte is a fishermen’s celebration of thanksgiving for the blessings and bounty during the seafaring, fishing expedition and fish farming endeavors. The “fishtival” held every August 1-8 is also a way to “give thanks to Mother Nature for having endowed the town with vast fishery resources, magnificent shorelines and other aquatic potentials.” Programs on environmental awareness are held alongside with the main festivities.
Where: Castilla, Sorsogon
One of the most unique street-dancing costumes I’ve seen has to be dancing root crops from Castilla, Sorsogon. The Unod Festival is a week-long celebration held every October 1-7 in conjunction with the Feast of Castilla’s, Patron Saint, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. The highlight is the Grand Street Presentation showcasing the different products and root crops found abundant in the area, as well as an agri-trade fair.
Based on the colors of the costumes, I believe the dancers are supposed to be gabi or taro, a type of tuber, whose leaves are used in laing, a dish that originated in the Bicol region. Gabi is also used a lot in the soup dish sinigang and ginataan, a coconut milk and taro desert.
I’m always amazed at the creativity of Pinoys and wonder how challenging it is to come up with new costumes year after year to fit a festival’s theme. While at first glance the costumes may seem a bit funny or silly, if you think about it, the townsfolk are able to transform these everyday products and creatures that we sometimes take for granted into something colorful and unique. It somehow makes you appreciate the town spirit more. I guess this proves that festivals are just really more fun in the Philippines!