Iloilo is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines, and is home to the most colorful festival honoring the child Jesus, known as the Sto. Nino.
I went there last weekend to join the festivities and to capture the colors and the soul of the event wherein “tribes” from the different towns and cities in Iloilo participate. If one did not know, he will think that the warriors are real tribesmen, what with their bodies painted either black or very dark brown.
Each contingent is well funded, and donations from the different businesses in their localities fund the elaborate costumes and props. Each of the participating tribes are made up of more or less 500 participants, including the warriors and the ladies, the chieftains and the religious leaders, the musicians on their eardrums-assaulting drums, the propsmen, the barangay officials on parade, and the choreographers and costume designers.
If one has not been to Dinagyang, he will never really appreciate the spectacle, and the scale of the event. The props are huge and mechanized, much like crude versions of props in Broadway productions. And each presentation includes a lot of huge props, one setting for every phase of the 6-minute presentation.
Each of the tribes perform in front of 5 sets of judges on 5 different stages. Thus, photographers and spectators do not have to crane squeeze into one location and crane their necks. In my years of covering all festivals in the Philippines, Dinagyang stands aout as the most organized. Tribes are given an hour to set up, 6 minutes to perform, and another one minute to exit and proeed to the next stage.
For photography hobbyists, Dinagyang is a must-go-to event. The performers are in their elements, their mouths are wide open when they shout, and their faces tell the story the tribe wants to impart.
Dinagyang happens every third weekend of January. I strongly urge everyone to go. Book a seat on any one stage for a good view. More importantly, book your hotel as early as 2 months ahead, or one month ahead at the latest. And make sure you book your flight or your boat trip ahead, too.
A good way of not missing the trip is to book well ahead and visit the ancestral homes and old churches around Iloilo. The three most notable churches one should not miss are Miag-ao, the church in Molo, and the church in Jaro. Visit, too, the Balay nga Bato where your entrance fee includes a biscocho snack with hot thick chocolates.
There are many hotel in Iloilo. My top 3 choices are Amigo Terrace (refurbished) at the city center, the good old Sarabia Manor, and the very clean Grand Dame (if you don’t mind a public market right by your doorsteps).
I shall write about these churches and other destinations and show photos and contact details of these hotels on another day on this same blog page.