Vakul-Kanayi Festival | Sabtang Island, Batanes
The festival phenomenon is surely sweeping the Philippines by storm. And yes, it happens even in the northernmost islands of the archipelago. The Ivatans of Sabtang in Batanes call it Vakul-Kanayi Festival.
Vakul & kanayi are traditional all-weather farm wears made of shredded voyavoy leaves or Philippine date palm. Vakul is the popular headpiece worn by women while the men use kanayi or vest when they go out in the field to work.
Vakul-Kanayi Festival: Celebrating Ivatan Traditions
Sabtang Island is one of the 10 isles in Batanes. It is the heartland of architectural heritage of the province where villages of stone houses like Chavayan & Savidug still stand to this day. This island town is so cinematic that being here is like stepping into a period film set.
Moreover, Sabtang is also popular for time-honored crafts like voyavoy weaving. Here, they they turn these lowly palm leaves into various wearables & home decor. Also, they make OOTD-perfect abaca bags, purses & Chavayan-made sandals fondly called “chavayanas”.
Taking pride of this quintessential Ivatan handicraft is mainly the reason for the celebration. However, it also rejoices its many other cultural values unique to their northern islander identity.
Enjoying Rawness & Rarity of Finds
Vakul-Kanayi Festival is barely new in the festival scene. I’ve seen it grow from the time it was launched back in 2016. I clearly remember how raw but sincerely beautiful it was when they started.
Back then, everyone poured in their support by way of donations just to stage the festival. Locals chipped in for food, costumes & props. Companies gave away sponsorships without ex-deals. Even tour companies brought their guests to the island to pool an audience.
Just like anywhere else, Vakul-Kanayi Festival had street dancing, beauty contest as well as variety shows. Then there’s procession & fluvial parade too in honor of the island’s patron, St. Vincent Ferrer. Albeit everything unpolished, it was nothing short of fun.
What I like most in Vakul-Kanayi Festival are their indigenous games that you hardly see anymore in other towns.
Tataya racing draws the biggest crowd. In this event, fisherfolks compete in the fastest tataya or traditional boat rowing in the wild waves of Sabtang.
In front of the church, locals & tourists alike gather for pig, chicken & goat chasing contests. And whoever catches it, gets to bring it home as bounty! To add, there’s also sheep rodeo for kids that is surely a fun activity to watch.
Traditions as Old as Time
Vakul-Kanayi Festival is also a good chance to catch some unique Ivatan traditions such as the singing of the “laji”. Notably, this oral poetry tradition is fading as there are only a few old folks left. Bringing this out hopefully pokes the interest of the young ones to continue the tradition.
On the other hand, Sagala is another folk presentation that narrates the life of St. Vincent Ferrer. Locals perform it in songs sung in Spanish & Ivatan with simple sway balance steps.
Weavers on Spotlight
The weavers of Sabtang take this chance to be the center of attraction. On this occasion, the town presents them with pride through expositions, weaving demonstrations & competitions. Interestingly, it’s a perfect moment to meet very old weavers & other keepers of Ivatan customs.
Vakul-Kanayi Festival is truly one of the cultural prides of Batanes. It does not only foster preservation & promotion of traditions, but also it creates grand entertainments that hardly come by in the island.
Witnessing this festival is also a good opportunity to experience the culture of the Ivatans as we explore the exotic attractions of Batanes.