Dinagyang: The Phenomenon

By Paul P. Leonor, DOT VI

(Article published in Sunstar Iloilo Horizons, 1997)

A tourist going home without experiencing Dinagyang hasn't seen what Iloilo really is all about.

History has it that feasts and festivals were done to appease spirits, invoke friendly relationships among supernatural powers as to have a bountiful harvest or a successful hunt. Other rituals were held as burial rites or a celebration of a warrior's mighty conquest.

It is also a common belief that fiestas were first celebrated by Filipinos, then called indios by their Spanish colonizers, when they were once given a break by their master from him to have a quiet time on the feast day of his patron saint. Such as break is something worth the celebration. Thus, the indios went back to their homes, flooded the night with "tuba," seafoods, meat, rice and vegetables shared with everyone.

Luzons holds its festivals in the months of May and June. Ilonggos beat the cold breeze of December and January with their own celebration.

Ilonggo festivities are always influenced by its history. Dinagyang, as with the other festivals of the other provinces of Panay, roots back to the story of ten datus who dared seas and sailed from Borneo, feeling from the dictator Makatunao. They landed on Panay island and met the Aetas under King Marikudo. Then came the historic Barter of Panay for a golden salakot, brass basins, cloth and jewels. One may try to reason otherwise - that Marikudo was just having a crush with Maniwangtiwang that he agreed with the deal, but it always hard to wrestle with history.

After the pact was sealed, an unprecedented merrymaking exploded with prompted the Malays to paint their bodies with soot to prevent insecurity among the Aetas. Of course, the rolling drums pumped up the scene. And so goes the undying theme of the annual celebrations of the Binirayan, Ati-Atihan, Halaran and Dinagyang; although Dinagyang also depics the conversion of the pagan Aetas to Christianity, thus the Santo Niņo.

Dinagyang is the festival of festivals of Iloilo where at least a day in a month is painted red for festivity. The city is littered with people, both young ones and the young once, celebrate. They celebrate amidst the deafening sounds of gigantic speakers put up by radio stations. Some even forget what they're celebrating for, but who cares? It's Dinagyang! And no one will mind if you get down on all fours just to have fun. It is the time for those who do not know how to sing good to sing loud.

Dinagyang would be less colorful without the paraphernalias courtesy of the sidewalk vendors: T-shirts, masks, headbands, native bracelets, necklaces, earrings, noserings, strawhats, whistles - everything. The Ilonggo always finds a way to make cash.

Then there's the warrior aetas clad in their colorful costumes made of native materials performing their dances and going into whatever geometric formations their choreographer might conceive. This displays the Ilonggo creativity and craftsmanship.

Each year, Dinagyang movements and dances include modern innovations suting the taste of both foreign and local tourists. In the previous year, they even danced the "macarena" while brandishing their spears and shields.

As the drums roll to a climax, the dance getting frenzier and everyone's adrenaline raises to nose level, everything comes to a sudden stop to give way to the ever famous Seņor Santo Niņo. The icon is then raised and carried over the bowing warriors. Then the drums resume their rumble.