Sunday 18 August 2013

Aliwan Fiesta: the Mother of all Fiestas

Philippine culture is rich in rituals and celebrations of all kinds. And with the varied cultural influences, we are rife with fiestas that are both of pagan and Christian origins, observed all throughout the year. Each fiesta distinct from others, i.e. the rhythm of the Ati-Atihan, the colours of the Panagbenga, the masks of the Moriones, the creativity of the Pahiyas, among others. They are diverse and so spread out in time and geography that it will take years to be able to witness a majority of them.

The Manila Broadcasting Company conceived of a brilliant idea of an annual event gathering the different cultural festivals in the Philippines at the Star Complex in Pasay City. This event is the Aliwan Fiesta, dubbed as the Mother of all Fiestas. Started in 2003, its objectives are two-pronged: to showcase the country’s cultural richness and diversity, and promoting economy and tourism for the respective regions. Initially held as a Christmas extravaganza, it has then evolved as a summer celebration, in the months of April or May.

The Aliwan Fiesta brings together about 5,000 dancers, musicians and artisans who compete for prizes totaling to 3 million pesos. The regional contingents perform in a 4 kilometer stretch along Roxas Boulevard, marked by street dancing and gigantic floats. The participating floats are required to utilize only local textiles, produce, and other products representative of their region. Thousands of people brave the heat and line up the streets to witness this 7 hour spectacle. Major categories for the event are: PasaKalye, the Inter School Dance Competition; Reyna ng Aliwan, the Beauty Pageant for Festival Queens; the Float competition and the Street dancing competition.

Scheduled in 2013 for April 11-13, the 19 featured contingents are: Ang Tipulo festival of
Antipolo; Pamulinawen festival of Laoag, Ilocos Norte; Panagbenga festival of Baguio; Bangus festival of Dagupan, Pangasinan; Mango festival of Zambales; Pandang Gitab festival of Oriental Mindoro; Mahaguyog festival for Batangas’ Ala-eh; Fiesta de Toros of Nasugbu; Unod festival of Castilla, Sorsogon; Lumad Basakanon for the Sinulog of Cebu; Tribu Panayanon for Iloilo Dinagyang; Salakayan of Miag-ao for Iloilo’s Kasadyaan; Kabankalan’s Sinulog for Negros Occidental; Pasaka festival of Tanauan, Leyte; Tuna festival of General Santos; Padang-Padang festival of Parang, Maguindanao; Sagayan festival of Buluan, Maguindanao; Zamboanga Hermosa festival; and Kalivungan festival of Midsayap, North Cotabato.

Previous years’ winners have been: the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City (also the first to be inducted into the Aliwan Hall of Fame); the Sinulog Festival of Cebu; the Sinulog sa Carmen, and Lumad Basakanon, also from Cebu; and Halad Festival of Midsayap, Cotabato.

Other activities, aside from the major categories for the competition, include design and photo exhibits, and a shopping bazaar. These are booths showcasing indigenous handicrafts, garments, jewelries, accessories, delicacies and agricultural products - giving the public a flavor of each participating region. In a single location, one can find: the dreamweavers’ creations from the T’nalak festival in Koronadal, South Cotabato; the Ilokano damili pottery; the Pampanga lanterns; and Marikina footwear, among others.

Few countries can boast of a culture as diverse and as numerous as the Philippines, reflected in the music, the movements, the rituals, the beliefs, and the industry. And the fiestas provide a creative and economic outlet for its peoples.

So if visiting or going back to the Philippines is in your near future bucket list, consider timing your visit around the dates of the Aliwan Fiesta. You not only are treated to a visual cultural spectacle, but you get to witness a gathering and celebration of what the 7,107 islands of the Philippines can offer.

* This article was written for and published in the April 2013 issue of the Pinoy Times.

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