Filipino culture is by nature, colorful. From small gatherings and occasions like local barangay fiestas to the full-on, humongous, and production-value festivals the many of our provinces hold, there is the undeniable and irrefutable stamp of Filipino creativity and ingenuity.
But when you think about it, many of our local festivals that have been part of our culture for decades stem from our Catholic heritage and our Spanish colonization that lasted for more than 300 years.
This is where the Imbayah Festival in Banaue, Ifugao sets itself apart.
Imbayah is a festival that celebrates local Ifugao cultural traditions, such as the thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. It’s also interesting to note that the name of the festival itself is derived from the Ifugao word for rice wine, bayah. Perhaps our penchant for calling out “Inuman na!” during special occasions has far deeper cultural roots than we realize.
Traditionally though, Imbayah was about the rising of status in the community and the more affluent members of society hosted the celebrations in their respective homes. In recent years though, it has been more of a celebration and means to remember Ifugao culture in general — while it has still a lot of ways to go in terms of tourist spectators, especially compared to the larger celebrations in other provinces, more and more people have braved the twisting mountain roads to catch a glimpse of this truly unique festival. In fact, Imbayah used to be held only once every three years, but has become very successful that it is now a yearly occurrence.
Contingents from Banaue’s 18 different villages converge in the town proper, terraces, bringing with them their own tribal symbols. They dance, they compete in ethnic games, not so much as performances or shows for visitors — although visitors are most welcome — but as more of a remembrance of where they came from and what makes them unique as a people. In fact, a number of the competitive sports played in the ethnic games were used to settle disputes between tribes.
Another popular event of the festival is the wooden scooter race, where participants zip down the mountain roads from of one of the highest viewpoints of the rice terraces down to the Banaue town proper. These scooters have no motors whatsoever, with the racers relying on their deft maneuvering and the craftsmanship of their bikes to get ahead.
There are also several opportunities to further appreciate mountain culture — there are organized treks through the famed rice terraces themselves that visitors can take, or for the more adventurous, a trek to the village of Batad where even more majestic rice terraces await, and below them, the raging but beautiful Tappiya waterfalls.
It may lack the pomp and splendor of other festivals, but there is something profound about the Imbayah; it’s more than the top-load traveling, or the unique food (ants and kamote, anyone?), the strapping fellows in tribal g-strings, or even the ingenuity and persistence behind the beautiful rice terraces. It’s something pure, something largely untouched by our colonial history, something inherently and uniquely Filipino.
Getting there: You may opt for a side trip to Baguio City first and then catch a bus to Banaue, or take a bus straight from Manila to Banaue. This year’s festival is on April 18-22.
*This post was originally published in the April 2016 issue of the Filipino-Japanese Journal.
I can only wish that the transport system here in the Philippines was as efficient as that of Singapore’s. The trains are on time, spacious, clean, alighting and getting off the trains are much more orderly (despite the massive crowds during rush hour), and all the stations go all around Singapore using interconnected terminals and interchanges. And for areas further out, there are buses (with designated bus stops) and those cool unmanned light rail transit systems.
We were able to borrow two EZ passes (good for most, if not all transportation in Singapore – not sure with taxis though, since we never rode one) so we were able to save the initial purchase price for the reloadable cards. And while there’s also a special EZ card for tourists, our calculations showed that buying the regular kind would be a slightly cheaper option, plus you get to have a souvenir of sorts.
You pretty much take the train to go anywhere, so don’t be stingy when you reload – SGD10 is the minimum, and a train ride will set you more or less somewhere between SGD1.50 to SGD2.00.
It seems to be fairly common for tourists to get somewhat overwhelmed by the train system, which seems complicated at first – I know we were intimidated – but it’s actually pretty easy to figure out, and you’ll soon find yourself plotting the best train route to wherever you want to go. Most of the signs are also in English, so you won’t have too hard of a time.
While the system isn’t entirely perfect, in the way that nothing in the world can ever be perfect, it’s a pretty darned good system. I never felt the need to ride a cab (as opposed to here in the Philippines) and everything was efficient and safe. I really wish that someday, Filipinos can experience something similar.
Back from the dead.
It’s been awhile. What can I say — life got in the way.
And while I do have a couple of stuff on the backburner that I can put up, I can’t think of a more appropriate post to revive this space with.
So without further ado.
February 19, 2015 saw me take a half-day leave from my night shift work, trudging half-awake to Shell Tiendesitas to hitch a ride with some friends to catch some of the Chinese New Year festivities in Manila Chinatown — and maybe sample some authentic Chinese food as well.
We arrived in what is the oldest Chinatown in the world — yes, you read that right, OLDEST IN THE WORLD — at the crack of down. The district was largely quiet, with most of the shops still closed for business. So we did what we always did what we always did — wait.
Before we knew it, the place was awash with people milling about. Vendors, most of whom were selling good luck charms, popped up along the sides of the road, and customers were lined up outside popular (mostly food) stores like Eng Bee Tin and Wai Ying. TV crews took up places all around Binondo church and all sorts of entertainers were going around, performing for anybody who could be bothered to throw in a few pesos in their direction.
Despite being half-Chinese, I’ve never celebrated Chinese New Year in any shape or form, nor have I been to Chinatown to watch the festivities. I was surprised at how many non-Chinese folks turned up to spectate and participate — I noticed that even in an incense altar (albeit with a sort of crucifix, a testament to how Filipinos are wont to mix stuff in with Catholic traditions, dogma be damned), more Pinoys were waving incense sticks about and mumbling prayers compared to their Chinoy fellows.
It was an interesting experience to say the least, one I’d like repeat should I get the chance. Many thanks to friends and folks — most of them members of the Framed Shots Camera Club — who let me tag along.