Kadayawan sa Dabaw: The King of all Festivals – Davao, Philippines

May 9, 2012

in Philippines Holidays

Flower and fruit filled floats parade up and down the streets. Dancers perform tirelessly in the bright and colorful costumes of their tribe’s traditional garb. Curious audiences flock to watch horse fights reminiscent of Spanish bull fighting. A young beauty from an indigenous tribe receives the crown of the Bya’Neng of Kadayawan, or Miss Kadayawan. The third week of August gets jam-packed with activities and sights to suit nearly every taste and fancy, when the Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival unfolds in its colorful glory.

Known throughout the Philippines as the “King of Festivals,” the Kadayawan Festival is a celebration of all things beautiful, bountiful, and valuable to the various tribes of Mindanao. The word “Kadayawan” stems from the word “madayaw,” a welcoming greeting that defines something as deserving of deep appreciation because it is good, important, or beautiful. “Kadayawan” then means that something brings fortune or value to the lives of people. The Dabawenyos, the name the locals of Davao call themselves, use this greeting to welcome anyone to their city, and it is used even more when the celebration of the Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival starts. Once the August rolls around, signs of preparation start to appear around the city of Davao. Colorful flags hang around the city signifying the upcoming festival. Signs welcoming all tourists, foreign or not, go up over roads and in metro stations. Business establishments, from gasoline stations and malls to banks and schools, hang decorations in and around their spaces representing the best of Davao. When the third week finally comes and the Kadayawan Festival officially begins, the indigenous tribes of Mindanao pay tribute to the Manama, or “Supreme Being,” for all the blessings it has rained on the city of Davao.

Kadayawan sa Dabaw Street Dancing

Street dancing moves, moments from the Kadayawan sa Dabaw festival. Photo by Joanna Christina Lizares Co

The Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival has long been celebrated by the indigenous people of Mindanao. Ancient accounts, passed from generation to generation, tell of the times after a successful harvest when the tribes populating the area around Mount Apo would gather together and give thanks to their gods, most especially Manama. Singing, dancing, and offerings marked the happiness of the occasion. Farmers displayed their harvest of fruits, flowers, vegetables, and rice on mats as a gesture of thanksgiving and respect for the gods.

Though the Kadayawan Festival is one of the oldest festivals celebrated in the Philippines, it was not always known by that name. Its institutional origins can be traced back to the 1970’s, when the mayor of Davao, Elias B. Lopez, who was also a member of the Bagobo tribe of Mindanao, founded a few tribal festivals that demonstrated the thanksgiving dances and rituals of the indigenous and Muslim people of Mindanao. In 1986, this group of festivals was united into one under the program Unlad Proyecto Davao. The newly democratic local government promoted the thanksgiving festival of the ancient tribes and called it Apo Duwaling. It was a conscious effort by the local government officials to reunite the people of Davao after the Martial Law Era of Ferdinand Marcos had upheaved its community. The project also functioned as homage to the renowned symbols of Davao: Mount Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines, Durian, the strong odored king of all fruits, and Waling-waling, the so-called queen of all Philippine flowers. With the existence of the Apo Duwaling, there was hope that the Dabawenyos would form once more as a unified community and that Davao would be known as a peaceful and safe business and tourist destination soon after the EDSA Revolution. 1988 marked the year that the festival received the name it has today. Davao former Mayor Rodrigo Duterte changed the title “Apo Duwaling” to “Kadayawan sa Dabaw” in order to refocus the festival’s celebrations on the rich harvests of Davao and the native rituals associated to their special thanksgiving. Today, the Kadayawan Festival is still rejoiced the way former Mayor Duterte intended it and has evolved even more. Today, the festival encompasses many other events that honor Davao’s artistic, cultural, and historical prestige more than ever.


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The street dance competitions, the fruit and floral floats that parade through the city, the Miss Kadayawan beauty contest, and the various exhibits and markets that offer the best of Davao’s products and services highlight the Kadayawan sa Dabaw week of festivities. The festival emphasizes the most important aspects of the Kadayawan: the people, culture, industry, and arts of Davao. The celebration week starts with the extremely popular Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan, the street dance and music performances of the tribes. Clothed in the colorful, distinctive garments of tradition and armed with elaborate props that rival those of Hollywood, the indigenous tribes perform dances to music as they parade through specified points spread around the city of Davao. The energy is high, the atmosphere is festive. Spectators from the crowd can even venture into the middle for a photo opportunity with some of the performers. The native beat of the agong and ornate costumes of the performers drive the Mindanaoan spirit to the forefront, portraying it in all its vibrancy and vigor.

Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan

Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan. Photo by Cho

Typically held on Saturday, the Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan has two parts that any visitor to Davao would surely enjoy. The street parade of tribal performers comprises the first part of the Indak-Indak. On Saturday morning, spectators can trace the performers parading through the streets and stopping occasionally to dance before them. The showdown, which traditionally takes place on San Pedro Street, is the second part of the street dance performance. In an afternoon performance that lasts until the evening, the street dancers stage their routines before the crowd facing off against each other to win the most audience enthusiasm and bragging rights as the best Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan performers.

Another joyful festivity is a parade of the flowers, fruits, and Davao harvest produce: the Floral Float Parade, or Pamulak Kadayawan. The Pamulak Kadayawan existed even before the Penagbenga, or Flower Festival of Baguio. It is known as the first floral parade to be organized in the Philippines. Conducted similarly to the Pasadena Parade of Roses in the United States, the Pamulak Kadayawan defines itself through the floats abounding with cut flowers, and at times even fruits and vegetables that are fashioned into extravagant and ambitious designs. These floats parade through Davao streets on the Sunday of the festival’s week, a visually stimulating array of themes ranging from fruits, such as the durian, to national symbols, such as the Philippine Eagle. Various businesses, community assemblies, and organizations take pride in making these floats a success. Hours upon hours are poured into crafting the floats and getting them ready for the float parade. At the root of it all is the sincere desire to display the great bounty Davao is blessed with year after year.

Pamulak Kadayawan

Pamulak Kadayawan. Photo by eazy traveler

The Bya’Neng ng Kadayawan, or the Miss Kadayawan, beauty contest is another highlight of the Kadayawan Festival, one not to be missed. Sometimes referred to as Hiyas ng Kadayawan, the beauty contest serves as a platform for young women from the tribes to represent their people and win the recognition for them by being crowned the Bya’Neng ng Kadayawan. Beauty, however, is not the only characteristic that the competing ladies have. In order to be crowned Bya’Neng ng Kadayawan, the indigenous young woman must be knowledgeable about the culture of her tribe and the Mindanaoan myths and legends. These young women compete by performing songs and dances from their respective tribes, modeling their tribes’ traditional attire, and answering questions of the program. The best in all the categories accepts the crown and assumes the title of Miss Kadayawan.

A Brief History of Kadayawan Festival

Travelers do not need to limit themselves to just the three main events to be fully immersed in the Kadayawan sa Dabaw experience. As the years have passed, more and more events have been added to celebrate a new aspect of the festival. A brief recount of the festival’s history shows that the 1970s saw the addition of tribal feasts that included basic rituals and dances, a step that added a new dimension to the celebration of the festival. That particular development was a catalyst for what the Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival has become today.

During the late 1990s, the Kadayawan was dubbed as the “Festival of Festivals,” its previous moniker before the famed “King of Festivals” label of today. It was then and now the largest and most grandiose celebration in Davao and included smaller festivals within the overall scope of the Kadayawan sa Dabaw. With such an encouraging outlook on change, it seems contradictory that the festival would indirectly mandate the tourist to follow a set list of must-see and must-do’s to fully enjoy the Kadayawan experience. And it does not. Davao’s harbor, for instance, offers a respite from the usual Kadayawan sightseeing of dances and parades. Native boat races, along with the usual power boat ones, are held in the waters bordering the city and serve as an alternative destination or a momentary break from the festivities of the Davao streets. Horse fights, or “paaway kuda,” provide another spectacle for those who are daring, have a strong stomach, and are looking for something out of the ordinary. A long standing practice of the indigenous tribes of Mindanao, the horse fights of Kadayawan sa Dabaw pit stallions against each other. As a reward for all its efforts, the winning stallion gets the chance to be with the prize mare picked out by the organizers.

Float Parade

Amazing float parade, Davao City, Philippines. Photo by eazy traveler

Other activities of a more modern, metropolitan persuasion can also be found in Davao during the festival in the form of art exhibits, food fiestas, trade fairs and fashion design contests. The Apo View Hotel offers its guests a chance to peruse a two-week art exhibition in honor of the Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival. Guests looking for more entertainment do not have to look any further either, since the hotel also has performances by fire breathers and dancers available for those looking for a fun dinner out.


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For another distinct experience, visitors may also drop by the annual exhibit of the Ikebana International Davao Chapter 133 at SM City Davao. The exhibit showcases various Philippine flowers cut and arranged in the famous Japanese art of flower arrangement known as Ikebana. For those exhausted and famished from a morning or afternoon spent watching the festivities of the Kadayawan, a leisurely stop at any of the street markets throughout the city can be a welcome break in order to replenish energy and satisfy food cravings. There seems to be something special happening in every nook and corner during the Kadayawan Festival. In an effort to continue developing the festival’s popularity, the city also holds mass weddings and music concerts and festivals, so both newlyweds and music enthusiasts are welcome, sure to find something to enjoy themselves with, and have one more reason to visit Davao.

Kadayawan

Moments from the Kadayawan sa Dabaw. Photo by eazy traveler

Kadayawan sa Dabaw’s last day of celebration is marked by a promenade of all the beauties of Mindanao dressed in colorful clothes. They dance through the streets to traditional music or wave at the crowds from the ornamental floats. The festival closes as colorfully as it started, never losing its energetic happiness. As a time of celebration and abandon, the Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival delivers and fulfills its status as the king of festivals. Because of the festival’s increasing popularity, Philippine media has begun to cover it in the form of stories and reports. More and more people wait for viewing it live from their televisions; some even wake earlier than usual just to catch a glimpse of the festivities.
In 2004, the Kadayawan Festival became the first regional festival to be broadcast live to viewers of ABS-CBN’s Studio 23, International, and Regional Network Group channels. The station, not only broadcast in the Philippines, but all around the world as well. Filipinos watched eagerly, ratings of the Kadayawan’s coverage went up, and soon after, other festivals were being filmed for television.

Today, local stations in the Philippines regularly cover festivals throughout the nation, and it is useful to keep in mind the hand that the Kadayawan Festival has had in the development of commonplace practice in television. In the Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival of 2011, ten tribes joined the festival under the theme “Ten Tribes, One Vibe”. These tribes were the Ata-Manobo, Matigsalug, Ovu-Manobo, Klata-Dyagan, Tagabawa, Tauso, Maguindanaon, Maranao, Kagan, and Sama. For these tribes, participating in the Kadayawan Festival has been helpful in making their culture and people visible in the Philippines once more. The festival serves as a medium for them to express their concerns as well as to preserve their culture. It is encouraging for the native tribes of Mindanao to know that the Kadayawan Festival was featured as the main subject of a travel exhibit about the Philippines that took place in Korea. All these recognitions help to prevent the indigenous tribes from being forgotten and cast aside by any dominant culture.

Kadayawan, Preserving the Culture of Davao City

Serving as a link between the past, present, and future, the week-long Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival is an exploration of Davao as an innovative city and Mindanao as a region rich in cultural and historical prestige. Most of all it is a display of just how much the Dabawenyos care for their community. Security measures are taken every year in the weeks leading up to the Kadayawan to ensure that the festival goes smoothly, with as few problems as possible. Bomb drills become commonplace procedures to ready the security and police forces should anything happen and take a turn for the worse. Security is hired to manage the crowds and watch for any rowdy behavior that could escalate into violence.

The most important idea behind these is to keep the Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival a safe and peaceful place for visitors to enjoy the bounty of Davao along with the locals and the tribes. Concerning revenue, just last year, the city government of Davao allotted three million pesos for the festival’s budget. Private businesses and sponsors rose even more than that, quoting a figure of nearly ten million pesos. Efforts continue to make the festival even more visitor friendly, evidenced by the existence of an official website dedicated especially for the Kadayawan.

As of last year, about six thousand people from different villages and cities throughout Mindanao attended just the Indak-indak sa Kadalanan alone. A figure of two hundred thousand was quoted for the total of visitors coming into Davao during the whole period of the festival. Manama and the other Mindanaon tribal gods, no doubt, hear the thanksgiving loud and clear. May they continue to bless Davao with a bountiful harvest, and may everyone have a reason to celebrate Kadayawan sa Dabaw again and again.


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