Naliyagan Festival: A Filipino fiesta with a lot of spirit!
Agusan del Sur’s Naliyagan festival celebrates the province's indigenous cultures.
...Then the "babaylan" stabs a spear into the pig's neck. It squeals, blood spewing out of its throat.... You immediately realize that you are in not in a cookie-cutter Filipino Festival when it starts with a bloody Manobo tribal ritual wherein a high priest sacrifices a pig and some chickens to summon the good spirits of the forests. This seemingly morbid ritual, called the "Panagtawag," opens Agusan del Sur‘s week-long Naliyagan Festival.
The Naliyagan Festival, unlike the usual Catholic-themed Filipino fiesta, does not celebrate a patron saint nor revolve around a parish church. It is a commemoration of the founding anniversary of Agusan del Sur, and it pays tribute to everything indigenous and local about the province and its culture. Coincidentally starting on June 12 which is the Philippine Independence Day, and culminating on the founding day, June 17, the Naliyagan Festivities converge at the Naliyagan Plaza, Patin-ay, Prosperidad in Agusan del Sur, about 1.5 hours bus ride away from Butuan City.
The Naliyagan is relatively a recent annual tradition. It started in 1993 when the incumbent governor conceptualized a festival that aimed to recognize the indigenous people and their contribution to the culture and progress of the province. To be able to come up with an appropriate name for the festival, the governor consulted the elders of the main tribe of the land, the Manobo, and they chose the name "Naliyagan" which means the "chosen one, and the most loved."
Naliyagan can be your typical town or city fiesta. During the festival, sport competitions such as airsoft tournaments, motor cross racing, and off-road driving races are organized.
Like the more famous festivals in Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, and Davao, the people of Agusan del Sur also have a crowd-drawing tribal street dancing competition, although theirs is mainly inspired by the Manobo tribe. Of course, no fiesta is complete without a big-time cock fight derby and a hyped-up beauty pageant. Agusan del Sur does not disappoint in the cock gaming department as it is a very popular sport across the entire region. The Bae Naliyagan competition is the much-awaited beauty pageant which is represented by lovely candidates from all 13 municipalities in the province.
Besides the tribal opening rites, the Naliyagan Festival is extraordinary because of numerous things. Its trade fair is not a big "tiangge" full of pirated DVDs, "perya" type booths, and "ukay-ukay." Instead, it has an Agri-Industrial Fair featuring indigenous cottages, local agricultural products and handicrafts. There are lots of kiosks displaying the work of the provincial government. Each municipality in the province has a stand showcasing their area, produce, and people.
The Agri-lympics contributes to the local vibe of the fiesta. Contests for the biggest farm produce and fastest manual rice miller take place. Silly games such as piglet catching and mudfish relays are fun to watch too. A mudfish relay is like an egg-and-spoon race but with a live mudfish on a plate. Participants need to catch the fish by hand from a large pool before they can start racing! Spear-throwing, and boat rowing are native games that are also fun to watch.
The revelry in Naliyagan is remarkable--six consecutive days of nightly reggae and rock concerts, band shows, and band contests. The Pasundayag sa Pabuto illuminates the night sky with a display of fireworks every evening while music plays on. The culminating evening is the Binaga Festival which has two concerts going on at the same time on opposite sides of Naliyagan Plaza, while the local government feeds the people with grilled mudfish, as well as a whole lot more grilled food. This is one of the fiestas in the Philippines where lechon is not the food highlight.
Naliyagan is more of a celebration for constituents, rather than a fiesta that is geared towards the tourists. This, in effect, becomes more interesting for an outsider because he gets to witness local culture at its rawest form and interact with the people more personally. This, I think, is the spirit that the "babaylan" invokes at the start of the Naliyagan--the spirit of the humble and fun-loving locals of Agusan del Sur.
Basta Pinas, Rock and Roll!
Macky Calo is a local restaurateur from Butuan City. He owns a coffee shop, a restaurant, and a beer and wine lounge bar. He travels around the CARAGA Region in search of secret surfing spots and local delicacies.