Story & photos by Joshua Berida
The last time I was in Bukidnon was a couple of years ago and I just went to one of the parks and tried the famous Drop Zone. Since then I’ve been planning a return trip. Recently, I had the chance to attend the Kaamulan Festival that is often held annually in Malaybalay City.
Different groups, one Bukidnon
When we arrived at our hotel, the atmosphere was already festive. I felt the buzz of the people as they prepared for the events that will take place the day after. Booths and concessionaires were set up near the festival grounds, while some tourists were camping out to get the best possible view of the festivities. The energy of the city was on the cusp of breaking out.
Kaamulan derives its meaning from the word amul, which translates to “to gather,” and the festivities are a mix of wedding ceremonies, thanksgiving to the gods, datuship rituals and harvest or peace arrangements among indigenous groups.
This year representatives from Bukidnon’s seven indigenous groups participated in the festivities of Kaamulan; each one displaying their heritage and culture through song and dance, rhythmic drum beats, chanting and mythical stories. The groups include the Manobo, Higaonon, Umayammon, Tigwahanon, Talaandig, Matigsalug and the Bukidnon.
Kaamulan spans several days and highlights street dancing. We got up early to get a good spot of the groups performing. A crowd was already gathering way before the festivities began; all were jostling for position to cheer on their favorite indigenous group and learn about the others.
Each participating group performs to depict a distinct story connected to their tribe. For example, the Don Carlos municipality celebrates Lake Pinamaloy’s generosity. They also included the legend of a datu’s heir that angered one of the spirits living in the lake. A banog (hawk) and baylans (healers) interceded and healed the protagonist. The other groups followed a similar storyline of spirits, heroes and healers all to the rhythm of song, dance and music from their own instruments.
Other than mythical stories and beings, the festival also focused on the daily lives of different people. Planting, farming, harvesting and even wedding ceremonies were on display. It was truly an experience of what Bukidnon was, is and will be.
As the day went on, the crowd grew bigger; families with their kids in tow, friends and casual observers from different parts of the Philippines gathered in one place. The young, old and in-betweens participated in the performances, each one doing their best to represent their groups.
During the early years of the festival, only members of the tribes participated. As time went on, more and more people outside the groups joined the performances. The display of stories, culture and history managed to convert the festival as a rallying of point of the province, where participants became prouder of their heritage, and more respectful and open to the practices of the different indigenous peoples.
Before the festival’s performances, the elders of the communities have to give their blessing first as the dances are considered sacred. The choreographers have to show their routines and seek approval from the leaders of the indigenous peoples. Once they receive the community elders’ nod, they can perform. Other than this, a ritual to ask the spirits and the god’s blessing is performed before pushing through with the festivities.
The day culminated with the announcement of winners: Malaybalay City took Best Street Dance; the municipality of Lantapan won Best Float; and Pangantucan municipality won for Best Ground Presentation award.
Kaamulan showed that despite differences, people can come together to celebrate, share stories, learn more about themselves and others, and find a common ground to unite. It was an enriching experience for me, as I got to see another side of Bukidnon. I’m looking forward to my return trip and discover more of what the province has to offer.
Image credits: Joshua Berida