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TRIBAL PURSUITS

Here are seven ways to enjoy Bukidnon’s Kaamulan Festival

BUKIDNON’S KAAMULAN FESTIVAL IS A RITE OF PASSAGE THAT CELEBRATES PEACE, SAYS DANIEL BETANCOURT

There are seven different indigenous communities in Bukidnon, also known as the hill tribes of Bukidnon in Mindanao.

They are Matigsalug, Tigwahanon, Umayamnon, Tala-andig, Higaonon and Manobo. Some live off the fruits of small-scale farming, while others depend on the bounties of the forests. All are very proud of their respective cultures, which they manifest in the distinct languages they continue to speak and the colorful crafts and clothes they produce and wear to this day.

Every year, in February, the leaders of the seven hill tribes meet in Bukidnon’s capital of Malaybalay for a pamuhat or gathering. They convene at daybreak and conduct rites like the sacrifice of a chicken to the spirits — an act that renews their pact of peace. This special rite and the foundation day of Bukidnon sparked the Kaamulan festival, organized by the provincial government and celebrated annually for more than 30 years. Despite very little media exposure when compared to Aklan’s Ati-Atihan, Cebu’s Sinulog and Bacolod’s Masskara, the Kaamulan has evolved into a multi-faceted highlight that showcases the province’s cultural and pastoral heritage. To learn all about Bukidnon’s biggest festival of the year, just turn the page...

1 BE A COWBOY OR COWGIRL FOR A DAY

At the Kaamulan festival, visitors should not miss the livestock fair, an attraction that might have easily been held in Oklahoma or Wyoming. Marvel at prize-winning livestock including Heifer and Brahman cattle as well as carabaos and horses from the Malaybalay stock farm. Those looking to switch careers and leave the city for the charms of the slower-paced rural life may even sign up for vocational training seminars on farming and livestock management. However, if farming is not your cup of tea, you can be a cowboy or cowgirl, even for just a day. On the Pines View grounds, adults and children alike can enjoy horseback riding. Serious riders can take to the trails at Quadra Eco Resort, one of a dozen ranches located within the city. Aside from short rides inside their ranch, the resort also offers day-long and overnight rides on trails along the Kitanglad mountain range with experienced local wranglers as guides. After all, Bukidnon is said to be the home of the country’s finest cowboys. Visit the Quadra Eco-Resort, Sta Cruz St, Malaybalay, tel: +63 (88) 221 3338.

2 WITNESS THE HILL TRIBE OLYMPICS

Another highlight of the Kaamulan festival is the awe-inspiring, day-long hill tribe Olympics. Members from the seven hill tribes assemble in the stadium grounds to compete in various sporting events. These include archery, javelin throwing, a tug of war, rice grinding and timber splitting. Datu Magyas, 75, a Higaonon chieftain, says the Olympics are not just a means to gauge their traditional survival skills and athletic abilities or to foster friendly competition among different communities. The event is also a way for lowlanders to experience their rich, ethnic heritage firsthand.

3 FEAST AND BE MERRY

Also known as Mindanao’s food basket, Bukidnon is one of the main producers of food products in the country, generating 200,000 metric tons of rice and half a million metric tons of corn a year according to the Department of Agriculture. It is also the home of the vast Dole pineapple farms. This is why the Kaamulan festival is a great opportunity for residents and visitors to partake of the province’s agricultural bounty. Right along the Capitol grounds are scores of bamboo huts-cum-restaurants that stay open till late in the evening. Mainly, they serve hearty portions of grilled beef, chicken and pork as well as delicious, fresh salads. Make sure you visit Rey’s Grill, Don Carlos cor Tabios Sts, tel: +63 (918) 220 8982.

4 ENJOY THE STREET DANCING COMPETITION

But what’s a big party without dancing? The day of the pamuhat opens with the much-anticipated Kaamulan ethnic street dance competition. Participants from a score of municipalities usually prepare months ahead to refine their routines as they compete for a grand prize. In the tradition of world festivals, participants do painstaking beading to create elaborate appliquéd costumes and construct props as well as massive colorful floats. When the groups finally arrive in the town of Malaybalay on floats, the atmosphere is joyous and bursting with color — very similar to Mardi Gras or Brazil’s carnival. The city literally comes to a halt as platoons of brightly dressed children and teenagers dance their way up and down the streets. They then make their way to the grounds of the Capitol stadium where they perform their final choreographed number before a panel of judges and a crowd of thousands of cheering onlookers. The street dancing competition also heralds the final days of merrymaking that include concerts by visiting rock bands and Philippine movie stars as well as dusk-till-dawn celebrations at the fair grounds’ restaurants and bars.

5 REVEL IN THE COOL WEATHER

If cuisine, culture and cowboys are not enough reasons for a visit, perhaps Malaybalay’s Baguio-like climate will entice you. Located almost 700m above sea level and far from the track of typhoons, the city enjoys pleasantly cool weather all year round, with mean temperatures averaging at 24°C. Its similarity with Baguio extends to the conifer-filled Pines View Park, a favorite picnic and camping ground for locals. At dawn, there is frequently a pre-daybreak fog and occasional light morning shower. Both are responsible for the lush, verdant hillsides and the spray of flowers lining the city’s small streets.

6 STAND IN AWE OF MT KITANGLAD

Malaybalay is also under the shadow of the majestic Mt Kitanglad mountain range, an imposing saw-toothed sierra that is blessed with many towering peaks, including the country’s second highest mountain, Mt Dulang-Dulang. It is also part of the eponymous national park that boasts virgin forests and is home to rare, endemic birds of prey like the serpent eagle, the sparrow hawk and the Brahmin kite. The park is also part of the UN list of protected areas. Mountaineering experts warn those contemplating the feat that the climb up the Kitanglad mountain range can be strenuous. In fact, parts of the trail will have you standing almost at a 90° angle and needing the use of steel ladders. Entry requires permits while the jump-off points begin in the municipalities of Impasug-ong, Sumilao and Lantapan, all of which surround Malaybalay. For more information on the Kitanglad mountain range, contact the Bukidnon Provincial Tourism Office Malaybalay, Bukidnon, tel: +63 (88) 841 5533 and +63 (88) 841 5551, www.r10.denr.gov.ph

7 FIND A PLACE TO SOOTHE YOUR SOUL

After days of reveling at the festival, you may just be in the mood for some spiritual cleansing. Forty minutes south of Malaybalay is the Monastery of the Transfiguration, a small complex set in the woodlands and rice paddies, dominated by a pyramidal church designed by Leandro Locsin, national artist for architecture. Run by Benedictine monks, the monastery offers one-week to two-week silent retreats for those who want to escape for some quiet introspection. The monks break their silence during the monthly Sunday brunch, which features harvests from the soil they till as well as their famous coffee. San Jose, Malaybalay, tel: +63 (88) 221 2373

USEFUL INFORMATION

What to wear Pack a jacket and boots. The weather can get quite chilly, especially at night

What to do For a full calendar of the Kaamulan festival’s activities, log on to www.bukidnononline.com

Land arrangements Buses from Agora terminal to Malaybalay leave every hour and the ride takes about two and a half hours. A bus ticket costs PHP140

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