Text and photos by
Louine Hope U. Conserva

ILOILO CITY’s annual Dinagyang Festival, held every fourth weekend of January, is similar to Cebu’s Sinulog and Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan, two of the Philippines’ major fiestas that highlight the culture of indigenous tribes mixed in with the Catholic devotion to the image of the baby Jesus known as the Sto. Niño.

All three celebrations, held in January within the Visayas islands, are characterized by a grand party where “tribes” in colorful costumes parade and dance on the streets, accompanied by drumbeats and shouts of “Hala bira!” and “Viva Señor Sto. Niño!”.

But this year’s Dinagyang — a term in the Ilonggo language that means merrymaking — had an added international spice.

DINAGYANG Ati Tribe Competition 1st runner-up Tribu Ilonganon
DINAGYANG Ati Tribe Competition 1st runner-up Tribu Ilonganon

Joining the 10 “tribes” that participated in the street-dancing event was the Anseong Municipal Namsadang Badeogi Pungmul Troupe from Korea, which performed traditional South Korean circus-like stunts, slow and acrobatic rope dancing accompanied by gongs, and gave away stuffed toys to the delight of the young and the young at heart in the crowd.

Namsadang is a Korean itinerant troupe composed of men who master six performances that are collectively called Namsadang nori.

A Baudeogi is a woman who, after becoming kkotusoe or the chief of namsadang, leads the troupe.

Namsadang nori includes pungmul nor, beona nori (plate spinning), salpan (acrobatics), eoreum (tightrope dancing), deotboegi (mask dance) and deolmi (puppet play). It has its beginnings in the Joseon Dynasty when entertainers traveled to marketplaces and villages around the country.

The Anseong Municipal Namsadang Badeogi Pungmul Troupe was formed to keep the tradition alive in the city of Anseong, the home of Namsadang, where the annual Anseong Baudeogi Festival is also held.

Anseong Mayor Hwang Eun Seong joined the troupe during the Dinagyang celebration.

The two cities formalized their friendship when the Dinagyang Festival Tribe participated in the Anseong Baudeogi Festival last October. So the Anseong group’s participation in Dinagyang reflects the growing ties between Iloilo and South Korea.

Cebu-based Consul-General Lee Kiseog, in a courtesy call to Iloilo Provincial Governor Arthur D. Defensor, Sr. last month, raised the possibility of having direct flights between Iloilo and Incheon to attract more Koreans to visit the Western Visayas Region.

Data from the Department of Tourism show that Koreans topped the number of tourists that visited the region (which includes the popular Boracay Island and the provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, and Iloilo) in the last two years.

A cultural performance from the Anseong Namsadong, South Korea
A cultural performance from the Anseong Namsadong,
South Korea

Meanwhile, big and small businesses in Iloilo City benefitted from the celebration which an estimated one million visitors joined.

“Not only do we have visitors from the province and region but also worldwide,” said Donna Rose O. Ratilla, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc.-Iloilo.

“It was an overwhelming success. We do not have the exact statistics (yet) but every industry has benefited from the festival such as those in the restaurant business, hotels, and transport sector. It also goes along with other industries such those who are selling souvenirs,” Ms. Ratilla said as she lauded the cooperation among private groups, the business sector, and the local government unit for the success of the cultural and religious event.

The city’s entrepreneurs, she added, are optimistic that the vibrant local economy will be sustainable.

“There have been a lot of small and big investors which have taken an interest in investing at our place,” she said.

Among them are, of course, Koreans.