The Philippines is known for its numerous festivals and apparently, some towns even ‘created’ a Festival just to somehow draw in tourists to their place. Most of these popular festivities, which are usually posh, glamorous and heavily choreographed are in honor of the Sto Nino. But up in the highlands, there is another festival that is somehow underrated, yet after seeing it I think should also be one of the top festivals along the likes of Sinulog, Dinagyang or the Maskara Festival. The Imbayah Festival in Banaue, which happens every 3 years is a grand festivity highlighting the rich and colorful culture of the Ifugao and it’s 10th year was recently held last April 26-29, 2011.
For a brief background, Imbayah came from the word “Bayah” which means Rice Wine. “Bumayah” or “Imbayah” implies abundance, the overflowing wine from their heritage jars and a feast for mortals and gods.
In the olden days, Imbayah were originally performed by the elite Ifugaos. A rite of passage for common people ascending to nobility. These days its their grandest celebration held very three years to preserve and revive the Ifugao culture. On years in between, an annual town fiesta Urpih is held.
I was headed to Banaue to arrange logistics for our upcoming Backpack Photography Photo Adventure so I thought I’ll take a chance to catch what I can of this 4 day Imbayah Festival. I missed out on the first day which was said to be the highlight. Aside from everyone in Ifugao donning their best traditional garbs, each village would bring out their treasures and antiquities to the open and parade them on the streets of Banaue.
It was day 2 when I arrived but it wasn’t short of activities. I headed to the plaza where most of the events where held and was just in time for the Street Dancing to start. Surprisingly, there were only a few photographers there taking photos of the event, probably because it was a weekday. Aside from the foreign tourist, the ABS CBN was also there to cover.
The sun was hot but good thing the breeze was cool at that time, and we were waiting patiently for the first group to arrive. Each of the 18 villages has group performers though one backed out from the competitions. The street dance competition was different than I expected. I was used to the heavily glamorous and choreographed performances I’ve seen in some Sto Nino feast but the Imbayah Street Dance was a welcome departure. While it has touches of modernity, it was simple, unpretentious, personal and kept to its Ifugao ancestral roots.
I could see that from the far off villages, their performances were a lot traditional like the group from the Senior Citizens. A more modern performance from the young adults but still kept to it’s Ifugao styling, there’s also this beautiful chanting/song from group four which I really liked and talked about the future of children. Then there was this mesmerizing synchronous performance of fans from group 6 which the crowd also enjoyed.
Their costumes were also simple, most of them have elements of rice, garlic, wine and ethnic symbols. Some even have large amusing board cutouts of vegetables from the favorite folk song “Bahay Kubo“. It was really humbling to see the subtle yet heartfelt performances from each group which stayed true to their Ifugao roots even with a touch of modernity.
Afternoon was a time for some ethnic games. Some of the names skipped me as it was just fun watching them especially their reactions when they win. There was the Guyudan (?) which is a tug rope competition where 4 groups battle it out on strength. Then there’s this ethnic game where they throw straw stalks from a plant and their objective was to hit the back of the person from a distance. Before this was used to settle arguments and strife.
Later in the afternoon the Ethnic Dances were performed. There were 5 groups each and they have really impressive native wear and elaborate headdresses. The Children’s Ethnic Dance came in first and it was amusing to watch them even an unorthodox speech after from a girl after a resounding “Woo-Heee” which was usually done by a male. I couldn’t understand what she was saying but it was funny and the crowd responded with a laugh as well.
The Adult Ethnic Dance was a lot serious and I could actually see the performers into to their shuffling trance-like movements. Then lastly there was the Salidumnay where they chant/sing songs. There were only 2 groups. The first one was simple but their hymn and chant was melodious and moving. The second one has more production in it and it seems to be a song about farming and harvest.
A Wood carving competition is simultaneously held during this presentations. About 5 sculptures were busy finishing a piece with a head of a wooden horse under a native ifugao house where pictures of the Ms Imbayah contestants were also hanged. People were encouraged to vote for their favorites for 1 peso each.
Those were the bulk of activity for the 2nd day of Imbayah Festival. I sure wish I was able to come in earlier in Banaue to catch the highlight parade. I also wasn’t able to catch the other activities on the 3rd and 4th day since I was away at Batad and Bangaan. Activities include the g-string marathon to the viewpoint and volleyball exhibition games, more ethnic games, cultural presentations, wooden scooter race and finally ending with catching a greasy pig let loose in town. Even if I have cheap tickets, I have to wait til 2014 to catch the whole of this festival again. For more Imbayah Images, check out my flickr set
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.