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Why you should witness the Kaamulan Festival

A dancer during the Kaamulan Festival street dancing

Mindanao, the Philippines’s second largest island has a veil of mystery draped around her. Feared by the uninformed but loved by those who know her true worth and beauty. This series is my tribute for Mindanao, where I’ve been crisscrossing over the years and where a part of me also comes from. I got goosebumps when I saw the tribal sages offering prayers to the gods and spirits early in the morning before the start of the street dancing during the Kaamulan Festival in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, a province that I’m familiar with but visited its beautiful Kaamulan Festival for the first time only.

Different tribe sages performing a ritual before the start of the event

Manobo man in full regalia

Goosebumps, not because of the ritual killing of a chicken, with its throat slit and blood spilling on the paved road with offerings of coins and cigarettes, but I was witnessing an authentic ritual in native tongues that I don’t understand but which has always been practiced for ages by the many tribes that call Bukidnon home.

I can well remember the same feeling when I watched a Samal Island tribe performed their dance in Davao years ago. Unsychronized and unchoreographed but people were hushed to silence and mesmerized at the authenticity of it all. And there I was in the main street of Malaybalay, in awe.

Dancers from Malitbog in Higaonon finery

Bamboo stilts. CLICK TO ENLARGE

The Kaamulan Festival, derived from the Bukidnon word amul, meaning to gather, is a festival unlike any other in the Philippines.

It is a homage to the seven tribes of Bukidnon: Matigsalog, Tigwahanon, Higaonon, Talaandig, Manobo, Umayamnon and Bukidnon.

It’s a festival to showcase their rich culture and traditions and was first conceptualized in 1974 and institutionalized in 1977. And this is the main reason why you should witness the Kaamulan Festival. Its way beyond colors, steps and costumes. Its all about encountering and learning about these indigenous people that have contributed to what Bukidnon is today.

Spears, shields and, step 1, 2, 3...

Manobo/Muslim contingent

Although its almost a month long celebration that culminates in the Foundation Day of Bukidnon, its the street dancing done on the main highway and culminates at the open field infront of the capitol. This falls on a Saturday and is the most awaited. Other activities like the rodeo, tribal Olympics, and more, enliven the festivities.

The street dancing is really colorful as the members of the tribes are dressed in their native costumes. What usually happens is that in every contingent, tribe members are at the forefront, leading their group followed by mostly university or municipality participants who do a more choreographed dancing intended for the judged presentation but still based on the represented tribes’s culture and traditions.

This was the first group to perform representing the municipality of Quezon

Very colorful and well made up

Its really a stunning assemblage of people in authentic finery with woven traditional handbags, interesting beadwork and brass bells.

More are walking barefoot but when the drums and accompanying music, usually, from a float showcasing their products starts and these tribal men, women and children break out into their traditional dances.

Another thing that I liked about the Kaamulan Festival street dancing is that, when compared to the Sinulog, its way better! Although there are less contingent participants, its not blatantly commercialized, less photographers and more disciplined audience.

I’m very much grateful to Bonzenti and Earl for accommodating me in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.

Ang Langyaw’s trip made possible by Airphilexpress, the fastest growing budget airline in the Philippines!

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

6 Comments

  1. Earl
    March 19, 2012 @ 8:57

    Nindota oi! Salamat bai sa pag-bisita sa Kaamulan Festival. Balik-balik!

  2. Edmaration
    March 20, 2012 @ 6:47

    Exciting! 7 tribes in one. galing!

  3. Bonzenti | Con Tour Blog
    March 22, 2012 @ 13:34

    symbolic ang sa Quezon nga shot bai. Holding and stretching a white piece of cloth with face partly hidden, slowly exposing to the spectators. Seem like asking for a lasting peace in Mindanao and slowly exposing its beauty to the world on what Mindanao has to offer.

  4. nagbabasang pinoy
    March 26, 2012 @ 16:45

    Must’ve been a really awesome experience to watch this. Sayanga oy, wala na ni nako naabtan. Patapos na ang Kaamulan by the time I got to Bukidnon.

  5. » Beautiful native bead work in Kaamulan Festival | Langyaw: Sojourns and Off-the-Beaten Path Travels
    March 30, 2012 @ 11:10

    […] thing that really captured my attention during Bukidnon’s Kaamulan Festival were the native handicrafts that the tribespeople were wearing: Beads, bags and even brass belts […]

  6. » We’ve met again, Malaybalay | Langyaw: Sojourns and Off-the-Beaten Path Travels
    March 7, 2013 @ 13:11

    […] this sleepy city up in the Bukidnon highlands. It was only last year, when I first witnessed the Kaamulan Festival, that I had more time to spend […]

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