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Dinagyang Festival: A vibrant celebration of Iloilo’s heritage, faith

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In the heart of Iloilo City, Philippines, a vibrant tapestry of history, faith, and pulsating rhythms unfolds every fourth Sunday of January. It is the Dinagyang Festival — a kaleidoscope of color, movement, and devotion, drawing thousands to witness its electrifying spectacle.

Dinagyang is one of the many festivals in the country that serves as a testament to Filipino culture and rich history. The festival honors Santo Niño, the Holy Child, and is one of the most significant festivals in the country. Its name comes from the Hiligaynon word “Dagyang,” which means merry-making.

Annually organized by Iloilo Festivals Foundation Inc., the celebration promises to be just as grand this 2024 as the years before, if not more, with many stakeholders and sectors joining the activities in one of the biggest festivals in the country.

How did the Dinagyang Festival start?

The Dinagyang Festival, or Dinagyang for short, began after Rev. Fr. Ambrosio Galindez, the first Filipino rector of the Augustinian Community and Parish Priest of the San Jose Parish, introduced the locals to the devotion to the Santo Niño in November, 1967 after witnessing the Ati-Atihan Festival in Aklan.

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In 1968, Fr. Sulpicio Enderez of Cebu brought a replica of the original image of the Santo Niño de Cebu to Iloilo as a gift to the San Jose Parish. Devotees, led by Confradia del Santo Niño de Cebu members, Iloilo Chapter, worked to provide the image with a fitting reception, starting from the Iloilo Airport to the city streets.

Early celebrations remained within the parish. Eventually, the Confradia patterned the festivities on Aklan’s Ati-Atihan, where natives dance in the streets to emulate the Atis dancing to celebrate the sale of Panay. These tribal groups became the prototype for the present festival.

As years passed, Iloilo City became more urbanized, making the Dinagyang Festival bigger and better. The improvement also encouraged more establishments to join the activities, such as food festivals, bands, and parties.

By 1977, the Ferdinand Marcos government ordered the Philippine regions to devise festivals or celebrations to boost local tourism and development. Iloilo readily identified its version of the Ati-Atihan as its brainchild, seeing as the local parish couldn’t handle the growing challenges of the festival.

The Association of Tourism Officers in the Philippines voted Dinagyang the best Tourism Event for 2006, 2007, and 2008. It also received support from the United Nations for promoting the Millennium Development Goals. The Asian Development Bank also cited the festival as a Best Practice for the government, private sector, and non-government organization (NGO) cooperatives.

What’s in store this 2024?

Since the Dinagyang Festival welcomes guests from all walks of life and has undergone various developments over the years, the local government of Iloilo City devised new activities to enthrall everyone.

Besides the cultural and religious elements, the Dinagyang Festival features various exhibits showcasing the best of Iloilo’s culinary and craft traditions.

One of its highlights is the Ati Tribe Competition, which features tribu or tribe performers in Ati warrior costumes as they present traditional choreographed formations, patterns, and rhythmic chanting to the beat of loud drums and improvised percussion instruments that narrate different iterations of the history of Panay.

Another highlight is the Kasadyahan Festival, where different cultural festivals from various locations in Western Visayas will compete.

The 2024 Dinagyang Festival officially opened on January 12 with the theme “Padayaw sang mga Ilonggo, Pagdayaw kay Señor Sto. Niño,” marking the start of festivities as culture, religion, and merrymaking converge into one vibrant celebration.

During the opening, spectators received a visual treat from the different groups joining the Ati Tribes competition, which will take center stage on Jan. 28. The tribes, hailing from various schools, included the Tribu Ilonganon of the Jalandoni Memorial National High School, the Tribu Mandu-riyaw of the Mandurriao National High School, the Tribu Paghidaet of the La Paz National High School, the Tribu Pan-ay of the Fort San Pedro National High School, the Tribu Salognon of the Jaro National High School, the Tribu Sigabong of the Ramon Avancena National High School, the Tribu Silak of the Iloilo City National High School, and the Tribu Taga-Baryo of the Barrio Obrero National High School.

The return of the school-based Ati Tribes competition marks the end of their hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Without a doubt, Dinagyang is the best festival in the Philippines. As a three-time Best Tourism Event in the country, it has been known nationally and globally, making Dinagyang one of the most highly anticipated events for visitors and tourists,” said Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas from the Iloilo Freedom Grandstand.

He also announced this year’s champion in the Dinagyang Tribes Competition will receive P25 million as an additional prize.

Meanwhile, the Kasadyahan sa mga Kabanwahanan will occur on Jan. 27, where nine town festivals from different Iloilo districts will be presented, namely Kaing Festival of Leon, Kasag Festival of Banate, Saad Festival of Leganes, Katagman Festival of Oton, Tultugan Festival of Maasin, Banaag Festival of Anilao, Cry of Jelicuon Festival of New Lucena, Hirinugyaw Sugidanon of Calinog, and Pantat Festival of Zarraga.

On the other hand, the Dinagyang ILOmination Streetdance Competition and Floats Parade of Lights captivated the crowd on Jan. 26. Seven tribes representing each district of the city participated, namely Tribu Arevalo (Kahirup); Tribu City Proper (Ilonggohanon); Tribu Jaro (Buntag-tala); Tribu La Paz (Sagasa); Tribu La Paz (Sidlangan); Tribu Mandurriao; and Tribu Molo (IAFA).

Throughout the festivities, the LGU ensured the safety and security of participants and spectators. The Iloilo City Police Office (ICPO) announced a city-wide gun ban, among other initiatives, to meet this goal.

Yet, to ensure the success and safety of the festival, officials are calling on the public to maintain the cleanliness of their surroundings and maintain peace throughout the celebration.

Beyond the spectacle, the Dinagyang remains a testament to the enduring spirit of Iloilo. It is a mosaic of resilience, a tribute to tradition, and a vibrant celebration of hope, making it worthy of all the hype and accolades it received through the years.

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