It was a feast to the senses. The vibrant colors move in a captivating array of patterns in purple, gold and rich green. The choreography was so just entertaining and their Pangalay (a type of Muslim dance) was just hypnotic in its graceful body movement paired with the elegant gestures of their fingers. I just came back in Tawi-tawi after more than five years since my last visit and already, I’m bombarded by this showcase of Sama culture in this Agal-agal Festival. Agal-agal is the local Sinama term for seaweed, an abundant commodity of Tawi-tawi. I can say what a festive way to welcome my return to the southernmost province of the country.
Kamahardikaan Sin Tawi-tawi
Already on it’s 41st year, the Kamahardikaan Sin Tawi-tawi is a 5-day celebration held every September. Kamahardikaan in their local Sinama language means “to honor” or “to give high respect”. The festival gives honor to the people of Tawi-tawi which are originally the Sama people. There’s a whole line of activities everyday and for the locals of Tawi-tawi, many of them eagerly await and patronize this event as it’s one of the rare times in the year when the atmosphere is really feastive. Concerts, parades, exhibition sports, motorcross and pageants are held. The Budjang Tawi-tawi search is one of the main highlights of the event. Budjang is also a Sinama term for a single girl eligible already to be married.
Probably the much anticipated as well is the Agal-agal Festival where groups representing the 11 municipalities battle it out in a grand performance with common themes of Agal-agal harvest, Pangalay dance and the Sama way of life which majority revolves in life by the water. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of performances. I know it wouldn’t be big like the major festivals like Sinulog or Dinagyang but I was surprised. There were a lot of very good performances here that can compete with the famous festivals nationwide.
The municipality of Bongao opened strongly with a very good routine that introduced me to the culture of Sama – the pointed metal fingers, colors, banig patterns, lots of seaweeds and Pangalay. I thought it was the best already after the mediocre performance by Simunul but Sitangkai proved that things can still get better. I love the natural beauty the people Tawi-tawi has even with borak (a natural skin mask and sunblock with pounded rice and bayabas or local guava) on their faces.
Sibutu had good entry but their movements were repititive, the saving grace that stole the show was their violin player. He was amazing. The consistent champion and favorite, Panglima Sugala was still competitive, they have an interesting out-of-this-world headdress. Mapun was too gayish and soft, also unprepared. South Ubian was interesting, while not grand and routine have that certain control I commend their main Pangalay dancers which I thought were the best of the lot.
Last but not the least was Sapa-sapa municipality. From their opening till the end, it was very entertaining. They were well-rehearsed, the story flowed seamlessly and the performers were top notch. The way they executed the theme of Agal-agal farming, fishing, quarrels and even the Jin possession just captivating. It wasn’t a surprise they got the top prize this year. Congratulations Sapa-sapa for being the Agal-agal Festival 2014 grand champion.
Honestly, it was a really entertaining festival to watch. Scheduling it in the morning was ideal as the whole performances finished before lunch. The theme was new and it was refreshing to see the Sama culture this time. And best of all, it’s not too commercialised yet that it’s easy to move around. If there’s one good time to visit Tawi-tawi, it’s during the Kamahardikaan Sin Festival to witness this wonderful Agal-agal Festival.
For more photos of the Agal-agal Festival 2014, do visit the Agal-agal Festival gallery. All photos taken by the Nikon D7100
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.