Photos by Dhon Chister Samusa
Spectators were captivated by the colorful celebration of the Agal-Agal Festival in the island province of Tawi-Tawi, with dancers parading in neon colors of fuchsia, orange, yellow, green and purple, with headdresses, leis and bracelets made of agal-agal or seaweed, the main industry in the province.
Celebrated with pomp, the Agal-Agal Festival was the highlight of the 42nd Kamahardikaan Festival in the capital city of Bongao. “Kamahardikaan” is the Sinama word for “the highest honor”, and the event, which commemorates the founding anniversary of Tawi-Tawi as a province, brought to the fore the cultures of Sama, Badjao, Jama Mapun and Tausug of Southern Philippines.
Dance groups from 11 municipalities performed the pangalay, the indigenous dance from the South characterized by sinewy arm movements and expressive fingers, and traditional martial arts. The dancers flashed their janggay, the elongated metal nails that emphasize every hand gesture, with the colorful banig (woven mat) as props. Some dancers were perched on bamboo poles, floats and ethnic houseboats to portray the marine life and the stages of seaweed farming. Traditional music wafted in the air with the kulintangan, agung, gandang, biula (native violin) and the native drum.
The festival also featured a fluvial parade and beauty contest called Budjang Tawi-Tawi. Budjang is a Sinama term for a single lady.
Governor Nurbert Sahali underscored that Tawi-Tawi’s seaweed industry is unmatched in the Philippines, and it has generated tourism revenues for the province since 1988. “Every year, we showcase to the world the uniqueness of the Agal-Agal Festival. We are proud that Tawi-Tawi has gained a reputation as the Seaweed Capital of the Philippines because we supply 40 percent of our seaweeds to the world market,” the governor said.
Under Sahali’s leadership, Tawi-Tawi’s economic activity has flourished, with government and private initiatives helping coastal farmers and seaweed fishermen produce high-quality seaweeds and its byproduct, carrageenan, an additive used mostly in dairy and vege-meat.
Tawi-Tawi Representative Ruby Sahali stressed that cultural festivals help change the negative image of Mindanao, while Tourism Council head Dona Juana Sahali also vowed to preserve the rich heritage of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, especially dance and music, through the Agal-Agal Festival.