Dinagyang Goes Digital

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Travel  |  House: Booksie Classic

You are cordially invited! |

Welcome to the most colorful, one of a kind, widely anticipated festival of the Philippines: Dinagyang Festival 2021. As per tradition, I write an essay about my home town's annual festival whenever it comes around. It's my way of celebrating and giving back, as well as helping promote the event to my full capacity.

Sit back, relax and watch the magic unfold!

Dinagyang Goes Digital


The 2020 Covid pandemic has mostly prevented many gatherings all over the world. Important festivals and celebrations were either canceled or postponed for everyone’s safety. However, this doesn’t mean that the purpose behind these events can’t be recognized at all.

Iloilo City, with the province of Iloilo, is a living testament to this phenomenal feat. The Philippines’ City of Love did not let the pandemic hamper the pride of its Ilonggo citizens: the Dinagyang Festival. It is a one of a kind, colorful, musical occasion that pays tribute to the cultural, historical and (most importantly) spiritual wealth of the Ilonggos.

The Dinagyang Festival is celebrated in honor of Señor Santo Niño (The Child Jesus), to whom Iloilo’s citizens have attributed their home’s strength, resilience and abundance. It is one of the many festivals held in one of the only two predominantly Catholic countries of Asia. And this year, through the city’s initiative to host it through the internet, you can be part of it too.

The festival’s highlights are showcased in a digital production uploaded to YouTube, through Mayor Jerry Treñas’ public channel or the iloilofestivals channel. It was also broadcast among various social/mass media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TV and radio. The production is hosted by GMA renowned artist Rocco Nacino and Miss Universe Philippines 2020, Rabiya Mateo, herself an Ilongga.

The video includes a full recording of the Catholic Mass. This not only provides Catholics a chance to attend from the comfort of their home, but also gives non-Catholics a first-hand look of how we practice our religion safely and efficiently. It brings into focus not only the sacred ambience of the ceremony, but also its musical nature.

The mass is followed shortly by welcoming speeches from the city government, provincial government and events organization representatives. It was through their selfless effort that Iloilo pulled through during the country’s lockdown periods. Through their unwavering leadership and their citizens’ fighting spirit, Iloilo was graciously dubbed the Wakanda of the Philippines.

A remix of the festival’s catchy anthems is performed by the city’s front-line artists a third of the way through the video. Their segment proves that Filipinos are indeed born singing. Its catchy beat and rhythm contrasts the succeeding segment, which is a cultural showcase of the province’s Aeta and Panay Bukidnon Tribes.

These tribes’ members are blood descendants of Iloilo’s first settlers, making their culture one of the most precious treasures of the region. It is through their talents that the songs, dances, crafts and mythologies of the Ilonggos are preserved for future generations to enjoy. They are the original authors of the Hinilawod, an ancient epic longer than the Bible, recited by mouth through memory alone.

Following this beautiful presentation are the individual tribe dances. For the sake of the festival’s digital nature, the tribe’s traditional names (Tribu Panayanon, Baybayanon, Ilonganon, Salognon, Hugponganon, Barriohanon, Paghidaet and Dagatnon) were revised to represent the city’s seven districts. These are Molo, Arevalo, La Paz, Lapuz, Jaro, Mandurriao and City Proper.

Tribe dances are traditionally performed by ~60 to 100 students from the district’s representative high schools. Each dance takes nearly six months to conceptualize, practice and perfect. And on the competition day itself, the student dancers and musicians will get up as early as 4:30 AM to prepare for the competition, which does not end until 2:00 PM.

Under the blazing rays of the sun, the history of Iloilo will unfold before the eyes of excited spectators. Through these dances, the Ilonggos commemorate their roots. They acknowledge the unity that can be achieved between tradition and religion.

In Iloilo, culture is not abolished by the changing times. Rather, it is woven into a spectacle that is timeless and enduring. It is as indomitable as the young, talented tribal dancers and performers forever united under the Dinagyang Festival.


Frequently Asked Questions

What language are they talking in? The language of Ilonggos is traditionally called ‘Hiligaynon,’ and is distinctive for its lilting, melodic intonation. In modern times, Hiligaynon is often interchanged with Ilonggo, especially in the more urban areas of Iloilo.

Are all Ilonggos Catholic? Iloilo is predominantly Catholic, but other Christian and non-Christian religions are also present. It is considered highly disrespectful and offensive to shame anyone for their religious or spiritual beliefs.

What’s with the wall art and buildings? Iloilo, along with most of the Philippines, was colonized by Spain for 333 years, hence the Spanish Colonial architecture. The murals and monuments are part of the local government’s initiative to develop the city’s art and historical sector.

What story was the grandfather telling? It is an excerpt from the Hinilawod. Specifically the part where one of the story’s heroes, Humadapnon, is brought back to life through a spirit guide/god, and a maiden/princess who had disguised herself as a male warrior.

What’s with the body paint? Tribe dancers wear either brown body paint or brown leotards that reflect the skin tone of the island’s original settlers. In contrast to East Asian populations (Japan, Korea, China, etc.), most Southeast and Pacific Island people have warm, brown skin tones.

Do you really dance with religious relics? Yes, we do. There is even a tradition called the Sadsad, which happens earlier in the festival week. We bring our Santo Niño images to church so that they can be blessed and can be part of the foot parade that happens after.

What do the dancers’ props represent? The (fake) animals are species native to the island, and were traditionally hunted or worshiped by the ancient tribes. Most of the objects are handicrafts that were made to be used at home or bartered with seafaring merchants.

When is Dinagyang celebrated? Dinagyang is usually celebrated on the third Sunday of January. It is usually preceeded by Aklan’s Ati-Atihan Festival, and succeeded by Arevalo’s Paraw Regatta and Cebu’s Sinulog Festival.



Author's Note

Here are the available links for the video. For a more immersive experience, plug your internet to your TV and watch it through a wide screen. Enjoy!



Submitted: January 25, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Ann Sepino. All rights reserved.

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