Hail to the Queen of Philippine Festivals: Iloilo Dinagyang!


As an Ilonggo, nothing could be more exciting than to be roaming the city streets during the Dinagyang Festival. Even though I’m not a Roman Catholic and this festival is very religious in terms of its sources and causes, I love this festival as a cultural and traditional event. Nobody’s asking anybody to be a Roman Catholic during Dinagyang! Ilonggos just want to honor the Aeta race and the loud drums and percussion instruments followed by the “dinagyang” or merry-making. Here’s the Wikipedia article on Dinagyang:

The Dinagyang is a religious and cultural festival in Iloilo CityPhilippines held on the fourth Sunday of January, or right after the Sinulog In Cebu and the Ati-Atihan in Aklan. It is held both to honor the Santo Niño and to celebrate the arrival on Panay of Malay settlers and the subsequent selling of the island to them by the Atis.

Dinagyang began after Rev. Fr. Ambrosio Galindez of a local Roman Catholic parish introduced the devotion to Santo Niño in November 1967. In 1968, a replica of the original image of the Santo Niño de Cebu was brought to Iloilo by Fr. Sulpicio Enderez as a gift to the Parish of San Jose. The faithful, led by members of Confradia del Santo Niño de Cebu, Iloilo Chapter, worked to give the image a fitting reception starting at the Iloilo Airport and parading down the streets of Iloilo.

In the beginning, the observance of the feast was confined to the parish. The Confradia patterned the celebration on the Ati-atihan of Ibajay, Aklan, where natives dance in the streets, their bodies covered with soot and ashes, to simulate the Atis dancing to celebrate the sale of Panay. It was these tribal groups who were the prototype of the present festival.

In 1977, the Marcos government ordered the various regions of the Philippines to come up with festivals or celebrations that could boost tourism and development. The City of Iloilo readily identified the Iloilo Ati-atihan as its project. At the same time the local parish could no longer handle the growing challenges of the festival.

The Dinagyang is divided into three Major events: Ati-Ati Street Dancing, Kasadyahan Street Dancing and Miss Dinagyang.

Today, the main part of the festival consists of a number of “tribes”, called “tribus”, who are supposed to be Ati tribe members dancing in celebration. There are a number of requirements, including that the performers must paint their skin brown and that only indigenous materials can be used for the costumes. All dances are performed to drum music. Many tribes are organized by the local high schools. Some tribes receive a subsidiary from the organizers and recruit private sponsors, with the best tribes receiving the most. The current Ati population of Iloilo is not involved with any of the tribes nor are they involved in the festival in any other way.

Dinagyang was voted as the best Tourism Event for 2006, 2007 and 2008 by the Association of Tourism Officers in the Philippines. It is the first festival in the world to get the support of the United Nations for the promotion of the Millennium Development Goals, and cited by the Asian Development Bank as Best Practice on government, private sector & NGO cooperations.

After 41 years, the ATOP formally declared Iloilo Dinagyang as the “Queen of Philippine Festivals”! Hurray to Iloilo!

But after many years, the simple celebration of the Dinagyang evolved rapidly. From its humble beginnings as a simple Ati-ati dance for the Child Jesus, it then became a cultural contest that eventually led it to become the grandest festival bonanza you surely would not want to miss!


This firework display is just one of the many events during Dinagyang.

I’m a die-hard traveler but did not roam the city as wildly as possible. I got an asthma attack two days before the festival proper. But I still had to see the beauty of the “queen.”

The Saturday of the festival brings us Kasadyahan Festival. This is a major image of what Dinagyang truly is: a festival of festivals!

The afternoon of this festival is a unique presentation of sponsors and donors of the Dinagyang Foundation. A Sponsor’s Mardi Gras is held, allowing companies and people to advertise, have fun, and entertain people.

This Chinese school even gave us a glance at the next festival in the city immediately after Dinagyang, the “Chinese New Year Festival.”

The next day of festivities is the highlight of the Festival. The Ati-ati Tribe competition is the superb thing that makes Dinagyang the best! Here is a youtube clip of this year’s champion, Tribu Pan-ay:

This year is the largest crowd in Iloilo that I have ever seen!

Overall, this year’s Dinagyang Festival was truly great.

Despite my argument against this motto, I am convinced Iloilo Dinagyang truly is “Iloilo’s finest, nation’s best!”



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