Witnessing the Ethnic Kaamulan Festival in Malaybalay, Bukidnon

The Araguaney tree blooming with yellow leaves behind me provided a vibrant prelude to what I was about to witness. As the marching drums of the twelve participating contingents in the street dance competitions, starts to pound foot stomping beats, I can feel the vibe of Kaamulan Festival becoming more electrifying.

Celebrating the indigenous culture of Bukidnon, the festival highlights the dynamic enactments from the province’s seven ethnic groups; Manobo, Higaonon, Bukidnon, Talaandig, Umayamnon, Matigsalug and the Tigwahanon – into a yearly occurrence showcasing their traditions, rituals and way of life.

Participants at the Kaamulan Festival

The Only Ethnic Festival in the Philippines

First celebrated in 1974, the Kaamulan Festival has now become one of Mindanao’s biggest cultural revelry. Kaamulan comes from the Binukid word “amul”, which is translated into “to gather”, therefore ringing true to Kaamulan Festival’s constant gathering of the seven ethnic groups of Bukidnon.

This unique set-up makes it as the only ethnic festival in the Philippines, according to organizers and heritage advocates.

Kaamulan Festival

Romping Stomping Street Dance Parade

As the morning sun sheens the stretch of Sayre Highway, where I joined a multitude of people eagerly waiting for the parade to start, I caught a glimpse of the colorful contingents from a distance away. Wanting to probe closely, I walked towards them and came face to face with a sundry and vibrant sets of performing delegations – all ready to rock the place while adorned in their colorful traditional costumes.

It dawned on me that there is more to the romping stomping drum beats and captivating street dances, as the participants are also exhibiting their fine artistry perfected from past generations, through the intricate creations of their clothes.

Kaamulan Festival

Each aesthetic seen covering their bodies, from headwear to handcrafted clothing designed with flamboyant cross-stitching patterns to the distinctive accessories, you could see the amount of artisanship they applied to showcase their tribal culture – through a pomp presentation and visual feast.

Kaamulan Festival performers

With permission from the indigenous elders of the seven ethnic groups of Bukidnon, sacred dances depicting the various way of life, rituals and cultural practices, were performed accompanied by traditional music. The performers soon filled much of Sayre highway with a sparkling wave of spectacle.

The street parade lasted from sunrise to mid-morning until the twelve contingents reached the stadium grounds of Malaybalay, where they competed for the other category; the best in ground presentation.

The performers from Malaybalay were adjudged as the champion for the Street Dancing category while the contingent from the municipality of Pangantucan bagged the Ground Presentation trophy.

The Marriage of Agyu and Tagyakuwa

The Kaamulan Festival is more than just the street dance parade, it is a multi-day folk celebration aiming to promote the understanding of diverse cultures. The night before the grand street parade, we watched a cultural presentation depicting an epic folk tale of the Talaandig and Manobo people. The Ulaging: The Marriage of Agyu and Tagyakuwa recounts the journey to immortality of Bukidnon's cultural hero Agyu, and his marriage to Tagyakuwa.  This fascinating Mindanaoan legend was narrated through the graceful dance choreography of the Bukidnon State University Dance Troupe and a poignant musical performance by the members of the Bukidnon State University Chorale.

Kaamulan Festival: More than Just a Merriment

After witnessing how some of the festivals all over the Philippines have surrendered to the euphoric pull of mass revelry, I find the Kaamulan Festival as remaining true to its roots; of showcasing the rich culture of its original indigenous people. Feeling fortunate to witness the Kaamulan Festival I not only returned home with poignant memories of enchanting dance performances, because I also amassed a wealth of knowledge about the rich culture, storied history and the way of life of the magnificent seven ethnic groups of Bukidnon.

This article first appeared on the pages of the Daily Tribune on June 29, 2018