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.
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.
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.
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.
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.