The return of Aliwan as the Mother of all Fiestas

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | July 18,2023 - 08:30 AM

Filipinos are “visual” people when it comes to faith and history who like to tell stories by acting them out  during festivals.

After three years of being in hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Aliwan Fiesta returned this year as streets along CCP Complex last July 13-15, 2023 were filled with loud music and performances that showcased richness and diversity of Philippine festivals.

Since 2003, Aliwan  is a three-day grand fiesta that brings together in Metro Manila  contingents from different regions, provinces, cities, and towns with the best cultural street dances, floats, and Reynas search.

Dubbed as the ‘Mother of All Fiestas,’ Aliwan comes from the word “aliw”, which means entertainment. It is usually held during summer time April or May but this year it was held in July.

Festivals are prime manifestations of the Filipino’s fervent devotion and faith characterized by history, artistry, creativity, and passion.

As locals then worshipped many gods and had their own set of cultures and traditions, the Spaniards introduced Fiestas to the Filipinos as part of their strategy to colonize the Philippines through Christianity.

Patron saints were assigned each town where locals were encouraged to convert and to attend the fiestas in order to be saved from evil.

Processions and street-parades are organized, showcasing themed floats, dancing groups wearing colorful costumes, marching bands, and people sporting face and body paints which attract millions of devotees and tourists.

Filipino Catholics are known for having sincere, enormous, and extreme expressions of piety considering that the country is the third-largest Catholic population in the world.

Fiestas serve as the Filipino’s profound way of remembering the blessings of the past years, commemorating historical milestones, and expressing pious devotion to religious images.

This year’s Aliwan featured 11 street dance groups, 10 floats, 18 candidates for  “Reyna ng Aliwan” from festivals of various regions.

Three Visayan festivals dominated the street dance competition led by Dinagyang of Iloilo (champion), Sinulog of Cebu City (2nd), and Manggahan of Guimaras (3rd).

Other participants included Halamanan of Guiginto Bulacan (4th) , Kadalag-an of Negros Occidental (5th), Antipolo Maytime of Antipolo City, Binabayani of Masinloc, Zambales, Ayat of La Union, Panagbenga of Baguio City and Kangga of Mogpog, Marinduque.

In Iloilo, the word Dinagyang came from a Hiligaynon word “dágyang” meaning “merrymaking.” It was traced to the pact between the Datus and the locals after the arrival of Malay settlers and the legendary barter of Panay Island from the natives called Ati.

The main part of the festival is the Ati tribe competition which consists of a number of “warrior” dancers (who hold a shield in one hand and a spear in another) in a tribe (locally called “tribu”) dancing in a choreographed formation and patterns as well as chanting to the sound of loud drum beats and improvised percussion instruments innovated by the respective tribes.

In Cebu, Sinulog plainly meansm”graceful dance” accompanied by drumbeats, a dance ritual which remembers the Filipino people’s pagan past and their acceptance of Christianity.

It is the ritual prayer-dance honoring the Santo Niño, which was the baptismal gift the Portuguese conquistador Ferdinand Magellan gave to Raha Humabon in April 1521.

The word Sinulog came from the Cebuano adverb “sulog” roughly meaning “like water current movement” describing the forward-backward dance movements by devotees garbed in bright-colored costumes. The dance consists of two steps forward and one step backward, done to the sound of drums.

On Guimaras, the Manggahan showcased a celebration of communal discernment and the prolific harvest of resources from milkfish, dragon fruits, cashew nuts, and more brought by the sweetest mangoes of Guimaras.

I was in Guimaras this year during the Manggahan last May while I was in Dinagyang in 2010 and Sinulog in 2011. 

This year’s grand winner of Reyna ng Aliwan is Kiara Liane Wellington of Sinulog Festival!. The Reyna search has been a launching pad for many Filipinas who have achieved prestigious national and international titles.

Best in Float is Halamanan of Guiginto, Bulacan.

Sinulog and Dinagyang have been pitted against each other as to which is better and the best festival in the Philippines.

Dinagyang has had the most number of victories in the cultural dance category with seven wins (2004 ,2010,2011, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2023) while Sinulog has four wins (2006, 2007, 2008, 2014). Manaragat of Catbalogan, Samar (2015, 2016) and Halad of Midsayap, Cotabato (2003) had two wins each. Buyugan of Abuyog, Leyte (2009)  and Pintados de Pasi of Iloilo (2005) has one win each.

(Peyups is the moniker of University of the Philippines. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)

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