Agal-Agal Festival 2017 | Kamahardikaan sin Tawi-Tawi
To say that fiestas happen in the Philippines everyday & everywhere is not a hyperbolic claim. In fact, even in the southernmost reaches of the country in Tawi-Tawi, there is a celebration called Agal-Agal Festival. And truly, it is some fete you must witness at least once in your life.
A town of ore & minerals, Languyan is this year’s festivity host. For a week, the sound of clanking metals rummaging against the earth was dominated by the symphonies of gongs & drums. Sama kaleidoscopes momentarily punctuated its droning panorama & turned the island into a carnival of sorts.
Agal-Agal Festival brings out the colors of Tawi-Tawi
Tawi-Tawi is one of the biggest producers of seaweed in the Philippines. And nowhere is this green bounty given much revelry than in Agal-Agal Festival.
It coincides every year with the province’s founding anniversary dubbed as Kamahardikaan sin Tawi-Tawi. With this, it becomes a double celebration of its rich harvest & the myriad of cultures that weaves the fabric of Tawi-Tawi’s unique identity.
I had a glimpse of it back in 2010. Sadly, the day of the parade was also my return flight to Zamboanga City. I could still remember how my heart stopped looking down on the beautiful madness below as the plane glided in the sky. Thanks to the Department of Tourism-ARMM because I have finally witnessed its full spectacle after 7 years of taking chances.
Almost three decades ago since its first run, the celebration never forgets to highlight the cultures of the Sama, Sama Dilaut, Jama Mapun & Tausug. They are the seafaring people who inhabit these geographically fragmented islands in southern Philippines.
Like all fiestas in the country, the main feature of Agal-Agal Festival was the grand parade. Gongs, flags, tapestries, jewelry & sparkling accessories flooded the streets of Languyan. Everyone came all dolled up in their best traditional attires like the finest handwoven “pis syabit” & “sablay”, ornamented “biyatawi” & “sawwal kuput”.
And much the same as other festival templates, street dancing was followed by a performance showdown. All 9 contingents battled for the championship crown using traditional “pangalay” dance movements as creative expression. Bagging P1 Million each were the municipalities of Sapa-Sapa, Simunol & Bongao.
Being someone who has studied pangalay from Ligaya Amilbangsa & the Integrated Performing Arts Guild, I felt the struggles of the choreographers in bringing showmanship without losing the integrity of pangalay.
Street dancing in the first place is not a cultural character in this side of the country. Pangalay is also traditionally danced on mats or on houseboats called “lepa”.
But keeping everything in its purest form is impossible. In fact, anything that is brought out from its natural setting, let alone staged with stunning dramatics, its authenticity weakens.
In its desire to pull off a show, Agal-Agal Festival’s stylized interpretations is still better off than the invented movements & music of other festivals. Whether for reasons of tourism value or cultural showcase, it was a spectacle worthy of the long travel.
Agal-Agal Festival & Kamahardikaan sin Tawi-Tawi also exhibited all its agriculture & aquaculture products through a trade fair. A cultural night was also held where town presentations wowed the audience with traditional music & dances. Customary houseboats or lepa were also honored in a fluvial parade as each town delegation arrived from far away islands in the Sulu Sea.
And what’s a fiesta without a festival queen? Miss Simunol was crowned Budjang Tawi-Tawi 2017. Simunol is the birthplace of Islam in the Philippines where the 637-year old relics of the first mosque built by Sheik Makhdum still stand to this day.
Agal-Agal Festival is still far from the touristic level of executions of other festivals in the country, if at all that is the province’s aspiration. But it is its rawness that creates its beautiful character. It is a festival that I adore—still devoid of ballyhooed commercialism & brimming with potential to become great someday.
I can’t wait to be in the southernmost island of Sitangkai, the Venice of the East, in the next year’s run of Agal-Agal Festival. Surely, the rarity of finds & pageantry will be more amazing.