Nothing keeps me up at night than preparing for a road trip to an exotic festival in Mindanao, more so when it was a last minute decision to pack. Dying to cover the highly regarded Kaamulan Festival in the neighboring highlands of Bukidnon, a last minute call from a friend who asked me to join her was an answered prayer. She is working on projects for indigenous tribes which I shall soon be a part of.
The road trip took 7 hours because of path conditions (under repair and upgrade since December). Normally, it only takes 5 hours from Davao. The scenic spots along the way will make you forget the minor inconvenience.
The Province of Bukidnon is historically recognized as ancestral home to seven indigenous hill tribes, namely: Bukidnon, Higaonon, Manobo, Talaandig, Matigsalug, Tigwahanon and Umayamnon. From the dialect “amul” (to gather), comes a special gathering of ceremonies for tribal communities (wedding, harvest, thanksgiving, peace rites, etc.), and it was named Kaamulan.
Held annually as a major celebration in the region of Northern Mindanao, the Kaamulan Festival is one of the most authentic ethnic festivals I have witnessed by far. Though I have been to small scale tribal fests before, this was a most spectacular and popular one. It is held in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon from February (2nd half) to March 10, culminating in the founding anniversary of Bukidnon as a province in 1917.
With the provincial government adhering to the relevance of Bukidnon culture in observing Kaamulan, this year’s theme is “Mainstreaming of Indigenous Peoples: Custom Towards Ecological Appreciation and Sustainable Development.” Kaamulan Festival celebrates the diversity in culture and long steeped tradition of the seven tribes that settled in the province. It is a showcase of colorful artistry, talents, peaceful coexistence and exotic heritage set in a province blessed with rolling hills, cool climate, verdant forest, lakes and vast plantations.
I witnessed the Tribal Olympics, which included archery, producing fire from wood, rice grinding, wood splitting and spear throwing (they created dummies of deers for target). Scattered around the Capitol grounds, tents have teams beating gongs and drums with performers dancing in unison, chanting away in a “cheering competition”. There was no prevailing fierce spirit of competition and rivalry, but of harmonious pride, camaraderie and sportsmanship.
Temperature is cold at nights, so I was greeted with a morning chill when I woke up at 4am for the street dancing parade. After the sacred rites opening to ask for peaceful activity, fireworks signaled the start, and the crowd flocked to the streets of Malaybalay to watch dazzling displays of skills, creativity and cultural beauty. It ended in the Capitol grounds, where judges scored the ground presentation and float entries of each municipality composed of lumads and non-lumads working together to incorporate chants and rites into the choreography and drumbeating. Each traditional reenactment and tableau, set in a backdrop of mountains and greeneries, was hypnotic to watch.
It was a heartwarming scene, ethnic folks letting their hair down for this event—and I mean literally. The long-haired ones bore down on me with spears in their hands, posing a warlike stance as I capture them up close with the tip of the spear close to my lens. One charming old man with an unforgettable Gene Simmons’ hairdo and traditional garb gave me a playful wink.
Though the celebration continued for days to come, the street dancing was the most anticipated, marked with excitement in the air. While waiting for the announcement of winners (Maramag Municipality bagged top prize in street performance while Malitbog was champ in both ground presentation and float competition), the hosts invited everyone to dance. The infectious music of Pinikpikan’s Kaamulan theme echoed in the grounds. People started dancing, jumping, and shaking to the neo-ethnic pulsating rhythm of tribal beats. I stopped shooting and turned on my video while dancing with a spear-toting short man in loincloth. You have to watch it on my youtube, though. For more information on how to get there, visit www.bukidnon.gov.ph.