Iloilo City, a bustling coastal metropolis about an hour away from Manila by plane, has an amazing talent for transformation. It looks just like any city during regular days, but watch it change right before your eyes. The streets take on a festive mood. Tables and chairs are pulled out and set on the sidewalks. Music starts to blare from huge speaker systems. Well, you can pretty much feel the excitement in the air. After all, it’s not every day that people can celebrate an event as big as one that just happened this weekend. The Dinagyang festival has arrived, and everyone is happy to join in the fun.
The Dinagyang Festival is a yearly event celebrated by all Ilonggos (people who live in the Iloilo province), but especially by those who live in the city. This is held every fourth Sunday of January, but the festivities could start by Friday already. The purpose of the event is to commemorate the arrival of the religious icon of the Senior Santo Nino (Holy Child Jesus) to Iloilo City in 1967, and the befitting parade organized for its arrival. Today, this is now considered as one of the biggest tourism events of the Philippines. In fact, it’s been recognized from 2007 until present as the best tourism event of the country.
The festival is divided into three main events. The first is the Kasadyahan Street Dancing, which happens on Saturday and is participated by many organizations. Second is the Miss Dinagyang beauty pageant, where the local beauties all over the province participate. The last is perhaps what many consider as the main event – the Dinagyang Ati-Ati Street Dancing. This is a competition between different groups, or tribes, where they are judged based on their dancing, music, presentation, and over-all impact to the audience. The dancers wear costumes crafted from native materials, and their bodies are painted brown.
Of course, like any festival, there’s a lot of food that can be found there. Perhaps the most iconic culinary symbol of the festival is the inasal. This is a barbecue style where a piece of meat, usually chicken, is marinated in a special sauce, skewered in bamboo sticks, and then grilled on a very hot coals. The price of a single serving ranges from fifty cents to a little over a dollar, depending on what part of the chicken you’re buying. Three stalls are of note for their chicken inasal. Gemma and Noel Store is the first on the list. They’ve been in the inasal business for ten years, and it’s pretty profitable in terms of number of inasal skewers sold. There’s also Abraham Andoloy’s place, where seafood, pork and chicken inasal are on display. You can even order a large bowl of oysters from them, too. Benson’s is the last on the list, but that doesn’t make it the least, considering the number of customers they have.
Lechon (roasted whole pork or chicken) is also of note there. Whether it’s pork or chicken, you can find stalls that offer them. Chicken lechon sells for about 4 dollars each, while a kilo of special pork lechon goes for a little more than 10 dollars. It’s not bad, considering the quality and taste. Nick’s Special Lechon Manok (Chicken) and Inday Jo Lechon (for pork) are two stalls of note during the Dinagyang Festival. The taste of their products are simply out of this world.
Seafood also abound, what with stalls featuring grilled pantat (catfish), broiled talaba (oyster), grilled fresh or dried pusit (squid). and just about any other fish available. They all taste good, mind you, and the price isn’t that bad. It can range from 30 cents to a little over a dollar. You could also find people selling mango and other fruits (which sells for a quarter a piece), grilled corn on the cobs (for a little over 15 cents), and even fried chicken (for 35 cents) on the sidewalks. This is also the time when street vendors would peddle their wares, from native headgears to hats and towels.
Beer flows freely in the event, and as night arrives, things get even more vibrant. Rock bands play live all night long, with people dancing in the streets and having fun. Some would even go for a henna tattoo to commemorate the event. Bora Artist, owned by partners Joseph Magay and Anthony Bisanga, would be a good place to get some semi-permanent art on your skin. The two are pretty much the experts in that. A simple tribal-inspired design could go for a little over a dollar. The price would increase according to the complexity of the design.
Indeed, the Dinagyang Festival is a place to enjoy. And it’s not just the locals, even foreign tourists find the event very entertaining. The next time you’re thinking of some event to visit, why not try the Dinagyang Festival? You might just be awed by all the sights, sounds, and food that fill the Iloilo City.
Dinagyang is a week-long festival celebrated in Iloilo, Philippines every 4th weekend of January to give tribute to the Holy Child Jesus and to commemorate the Christianization of the natives.