The Dinagyang Festival is celebrated every fourth weekend of January to honor the Christianization of the natives and to respect the Holy Child Jesus. On this day, streets of Iloilo City will once again come alive as the Ilonggos celebrate the annual festivity. It is a very colorful parade coupled with a dramatization in honor of the patron Saint Sto. Niño as the object of performs offerings and prayers amidst the cracking of drums and shouts of "Viva Señor Santo Niño." The thundering of "Hala Bira" by the tribe members makes the celebration a lively one. It is also a very popular tagline used by Ilonggos to express their warm participation during the "Dinagyang" celebration. A tribute in honor of Señor Sto. Niño whom Ilonggos believe was very miraculous in times of famine and drought.

Dinagyang is an annual event, when the whole town rejoices, shouting their pride of being an Ilonggo and telling their culture. It is a wonderful looking back to the past. It is not just a celebration, it is a religious evangelization. Going back to Iloilo is more like a past fulfilled and a looking forward for future celebrations. It is our culture. The Aeta culture. That's why it is painting the town black.

The Birth and Evolution of Dinagyang

The root word is dagyang. In Ilonggo, it means to make happy. Dinagyang is the present progressive word of the Ilonggo word, meaning making merry or merry-making. A religious and cultural activity, it is a celebration of Ilonggos whose bodies are painted with black in effect to imitate the black, small and slender Negritos who are the aborigines of Panay. The warriors are dressed in fashionable and colorful Aeta costumes and dance artistically and rhythmically with complicated formations along with the loud thrashing and sound of drums.

Before, Dinagyang was called Ati-atihan like that of the Kalibo festivity. History tells that it started when a replica of the image of Señor Sto. Niño was brought to the San Jose Parish Church in Iloilo from Cebu. The people of Iloilo honored the coming of the image and then became devotees. Until they made the day of the Image's arrival as his feast day which falls on the 4th Sunday of January. Since 1968, it was already considered a yearly celebration, culminated by a nine-day Novena, an Ati-ati contest and a fluvial procession on the last day.

Recognized now to the annual, socio-cultural-religious festival of Iloilo City, the word Dinagyang was made up by an old-timer, Ilonggo writer and radio broadcaster, the late Pacifico Sumagpao Sudario, and first used to name the festival when it was launched in 1977, to make it unique from other Ati-atihan celebrations.

Iloilo City's Dinagyang has its early beginnings in 1968, when a model of the image of Sr. Santo Ni¤o was brought from Cebu City to the San Jose Parish Church by Fr. Suplicio Ebderes, OSA with a delegation of Cofradia del Sto. Niño, Cebu members. The image and party were enthusiastically welcomed at Iloilo City by then parish priest of San Jose Church, Fr. Ambrosio Galindez, OSA, then Mayor Renerio Ticao, and the devotees of the Sto. Niño in Iloilo City. The image was brought to San Jose Parish Church and preserved there up to this time, where a novena in His honor is held every Friday. The climax of the nine-day novena was the Fluvial Procession.

In the early morning light of dawn, the respected Santo Niño image is borne on a decorative banca in a fluvial procession, starting from the mouth of the Iloilo River at Fort San Pedro, winding all the way to the Iloilo Provincial Capitol which stands on the bank of the Iloilo River.

If the festival had to be developed into a major tourist attraction, it would be so big in magnitude and the Confradia thought that it could no longer cope with the demands of a tourist come-on. The year 1976 also brought another feature of the festival. Street celebrations and audience participation were introduced and encouraged.

At that point, the Santo Niño is met by the Hermano-Hermana Mayor devotees, and Ati-atihan tribes. With the Santo Niño leading, the foot procession starts, passing through the main streets of the city and ending up at San Jose Church, where a high mass is then celebrated. As years went by, the celebration continued to be highlighted by a mass at San Jose Parish at the break of the dawn; by a "Kasadyahan" which is the opening event of the celebration, also a merrymaking but is a dramatized dance presentation about the Aeta's survival, the landing of the 10 Bornean Datus in Panay and the colonization; and by dances and more merry making which have become a tourist attraction.

As more and more tribes from the barangays, schools and nearby towns and provinces participate, the contest became more competitive in terms of costumes, choreography and sounds. The tribes compete for the following Special Awards: Best in Discipline, Best in Costume, Best in Performance, Best in Music and Best in Choreography. These are aside from the major awards for the champion, first runner-up, second runner-up, third runner-up and fourth runner-up. Participating tribes learn to design artistically and with originality in making use of Ilonggo native materials like dried anahaw leaves, buri or coconut palm leaves and husks and other barks of Philippine trees. Choreography was studied and practices were kept secret. Sounds were seen as an authentic medium that keeps the tribes going in uniform.

They also include a brief dramatization of how Christianity was brought to Panay and the arrival of the 10 Bornean Datus telling about the exchange of the Aetas of their land for the Borneans' Golden Salakot (native hat) and a long pearl necklace which is also parallel with the Kasadyahan celebration. During the celebration, people participate with the Kasadyahan. Some dressed in Aeta costumes, some paint their faces with black paint, some put on colored artificial tattoos and wear other Aeta ornaments. At night, there is public dancing on selected areas.

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