Colorful Shariff Kabunsuan Festival in Cotabato City

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shariff kabunsuan festival

I’ve been wanting to witness the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival in Cotabato City for its colorful guinakit boats. And thanx to an assignment, I was there for the 22nd iteration of this beautiful local Muslim festival. The colorful five-day event last 15-19 December 2019 was a celebration of Islamic heritage, local culture and products.

shariff kabunsuan festival
Guinakit, colorful boats sail the Rio Grande de MIndanao in a reenactment of the arrival of Shariff Kabunsuan who introduced Islam to this part of Mindanao

Guinakit Fluvial Parade opens the festival

Early in the morning, I headed to the city port where the Guinakit Fluvial Parade will happen. This is a reenactment of the arrival of Shariff Kabunsuan, a 13th century Islamic missionary from Johor, Malaysia. Colorful boats, called guinakit, were bedecked with red, yellow and green buntings and banners carrying musicians with traditional instruments. A costumed party met Shariff Kabunsuan, in the person of a local official. After that, he was then led to the city plaza for the official opening. A short play of his arrival and reception by the legendary brothers, Tabunaway and Mamalu unfolded and Hon. Graham Nazer Dumama, Cotabato City Vice Mayor, opened the festival.

shariff kabunsuan festival
Colorful miniature guinakits at the People’s Palace grounds

Several side events and highlights

The American era Old City Hall across the City Plaza hosted works by local artists. At the Social Hall of the People’s Palace, a Qu’ran Reading Competition was held. Scholars who have won in various national and international contests. At the same venue grounds was an exhibit of colorful model guinakits that were dazzling in their pageantry. Inspired by reality cooking shows, the Flavors of ASEAN Culinary Competition pitted various students from different schools. Teams have to come up with a delicious and tasteful dishes based on an array of ingredients brought in.

shariff kabunsuan festival
Colorful garb of Sagayan dancers at the People’s Palace grounds

Back at the City Plaza, a crab fest was held with various contests among the crab cooperatives. There was crab tying and racing as well as largest and heaviest crabs. A Halal Business Forum was also conducted, engaging local businesses and experts in the halal certification process. It should be known that Cotabato City is vying to be the country’s top halal food manufacturing hub. The City Mall showcased a trade fair. Other sidelights and events included a medical mission and musicfest at the City Plaza.

Shariff Kabunsuan Festival events
Clockwise from top right: Colorful garb of Muslim women during the festival closing event; a table full of ingredients during the culinary contest; Qu’ran Reading Competition; crab racing at the City Plaza

Colorful streetdancing

The highlight of the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival though, was the colorful Kuyog Streetdancing and Showcase Competition. Various groups from Cotabato City and surrounding Maguindanao municipalities participated. It was not only colorful but the dancers showcased local culture and stories thru well-choreographed dances. A cultural parade culminating at the City Plaza closed the festival.

Shariff Kabunsuan Festival
Dancers preparing before the streetdancing
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival
Bottles as instruments from this costumed contingent
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival
During the contingent performance at a university grounds
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival Cotabato City
An emotionally charged performance
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival Cotabato City
A well choreographed presentation
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival Cotabato City
During an interpretative dance
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival Cotabato City
Colors, costumes and props
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival Cotabato City
Historical reenactment and drama
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival Cotabato City
Dance presentation from one of the municipalities
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival Cotabato City
Sagayan dancers to the fore
Shariff Kabunsuan Festival Cotabato City
Victory and several hundred of thousands of pesos earned
Stan 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). His personal Photography work has been exhibited in Asia and Europe including Paris, Seoul and around the ASEAN regional capitals. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has been to all 81 Philippines provinces.

Open for work, collaboration and inquiry for site features. Check out his portfolio.

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