Bambanti Festival, Ilagan’s biggest celebration

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Bambanti Festival

It was nice to be back in Ilagan City, Isabela’s capital, up in North Luzon as we visited to witness one of the grandest celebrations in this part of the Philippines: the Bambanti Festival. I first witnessed this unique festival back in 2017, paying homage to the bambanti, or scarecrow. I was amazed at the pomp and pageantry, including the big budget productions being mounted. Being an agricultural province, the scarecrow has been an important part of the vast lands devoted to corn, tobacco and other products.

Still there is the Bambanti Village. Built within the grounds of the provincial capitol are several booths representing the many municipalities and cities of Isabela. What makes these booths interesting are the craft and creativity that goes into building each one. There’s a giant scarecrow in the form of effigies that can be feminine or representing a product or people. And these usually made of the place’s indigenous materials. There were booths made from bamboo or decorated with corn, shells, even mung beans. These showcases local products and delicacies. Perhaps this is also the best place to experience or get to know a particular municipality as these usually include tourist spots.

Longanisa, the special ingredient

The culinary competition is also one of the highlights. While the 2017 Bambanti Festival focused on the dinakdakan, this year’s highlighted ingredient was the Isabela longganisa and a drink concoction. And oh boy, it was interesting to see the different contingents representing the different municipalities and cities come up with unique recipies judged by well known chefs. Being a longanisa lover myself, I got intrigued with the many varieties, including Tumauini’s blood sausage which won first place.

A Guiness Book World Record

Still, the expected highlights are the colorful street dancing. But what made this year’s Bambanti Festival special was that the province was able to achieve a world record! With 2,495 dancers in scarecrow costume, the Guinnes Book of World Records recognized this feat! That’s one for the books!

I did miss the Hiphop competition of 2017. But there was still the colorful pageantry of the Festival King and Queen and concert by the popular Ang Probinsiyano TV series. Although much anticipated by the audience, I think the 2017 concert was just better in terms of quality and lineup.

Should you visit Isabela for the Bambanti Festival? Of course! You should! Being 2018 Aliw Award’s Hall of Famer for Best Festival Practices and Performance for the years 2015-2017 is something, but being there yourself, experiencing the sights, the sounds, the creativity and fun, priceless!

Bambanti Festival
Some of the giant Bambanti effigies of the booths
Bambanti Festival
The many booths is an opportunity for the locals and guests alike to witness the creativity as well as products offered by the participating municipalities and cities of Isabela
Bambanti Festival
Participants during the street dancing segment
Bambanti Festival
Colorful costumes and synchronized dancing
Bambanti Festival
Festival Kings and Queens in competition
Bambanti Festival
Under the huge tent where culinary groups of different municipalities and cities of Isabela compete for the best food highlighting the Isabela longganisa as well as a drink concoction.
Bambanti Festival
An Isabela longanisa version by one of the culinary groups in competition
Bambanti Festival
Beautiful and colorful branches being sold at the Provincial Capitol grounds
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).

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. Open for work, collaborations and inquiries for site features.

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