LAST WEEK, my toddler saw an ad on the Disney Channel for Disneyland, Hong Kong. One 30-second advertisement was all it took for her to spend the next three days asking me to take her to Disneyland.
I wracked my brains trying to think of an alternative for her, when suddenly it hit me. Why travel so far away when the first quarter of the year is always full of Philippine fiestas? It was about time for the Kaamulan Festival in Bukidnon!
We quickly made plans, and what ensued was a most marvelous weekend. Adriana and I flew from Manila to Cagayan de Oro, and soon we were driving into the land of the cowboys.
The Kaamulan Festival celebrates the heritage and culture of the seven indigenous tribes of Bukidnon. Since it is the home of our country’s finest cowboys (yes, I’m biased!), one of my favorite parts of the festival is the Rodeo.
Just like in the movies, we saw cowboys from different ranches running after the bulls with their lassos and trying to take them down. Once or twice, the bulls made their own quick escape by jumping over the fence and back into the corral, much to the amusement of the crowd.
Cowboys with style
Of course, what rodeo is complete without the bull-riding contests? We watched cowboy after cowboy attempt to ride a wild bull from one end of the field to the other, without getting thrown off. It’s not just about holding on for dear life, though; the cowboys have to do it with style—that is, with one hand on to the rope while the other hand waved to the crowd, which had my daughter happily waving back!
Since it was a fiesta, the day quickly turned into night, and the cowboys and spectators gathered to unwind over drinks and music.
In another part of the Capitol grounds, the Kaamulan kicked off that night with a preview of next day’s festivities. Some of the dancers were there, dressed in colorful dresses and beads. My favorite part was the choir singing tribal songs with beautiful interpretative dancing. Even my normally restless toddler kept still in my lap, as she watched the dancers and listened to the talented choir.
I couldn’t help but think that if monks have their own best-selling CDs of Gregorian chants, so should our local indigenous people. It would be a shame not to record their moving hymns and chants now, before they disappear forever.
We headed back as soon as the festivities were over. We needed sleep, as we had an early day ahead of us. Sure enough, by 6:30 a.m., the drums were sounding through the streets and the music booming into our rooms. We quickly got dressed and ran down to catch the street-dancing/theater parade.
The streets were packed with spectators taking pictures of bright costumes and graceful dancing, as well as the huge impressive floats painstakingly built just for the fiesta. The parade made its way to the Kaamulan grounds, where the dancing continued.
Each dance tells an epic story from a particular tribe, which is a fantastic way of sharing beautiful legends and stories that make up their oral history. From street-dancing, it becomes a form of street theater. I explained the stories behind the dance to my daughter so she could understand better.
The afternoon was spent milling around the grounds filled with booths of local products. There were also chefs and caterers serving delicious native fare, while kids ran around the field and parents spread picnic cloths on the ground. It drizzled, but it was perfect for cooling everyone after the warm morning.
Hundreds of lanterns
Saturday night was when the city showed that it knew how to party. And how! It was magical to watch hundreds of lanterns lit and released into the dark night sky to celebrate the anniversary of the province.
My daughter thought we had entered the kingdom of Rapunzel from “Tangled,” and watched until the last lantern disappeared from sight.
Shortly after, a countdown began, and the skies was ablaze with fireworks. My daughter, with other children old enough to appreciate them, squealed with delight as every explosion of color made the night sky come alive.
The fireworks signaled the start of the much awaited concert, which this year brought Yeng Constantino and Parokya ni Edgar to the people of Bukidnon. Soon, everyone was rocking to the music. Well, except me and my little boss, who promptly told me it was time to go home. And so off we went, exhausted but thrilled with everything we have seen.
As a parent, I know how much effort we put into entertaining our kids and showing them all the wonderful things in life. With the advent of budget trips to countries that advertise their child-friendly attractions, it has become so much easier to take children abroad.
But we overlook our fantastic local attractions and fiestas. We also lose out on the chance to help our kids learn more about the different cultures we have in our own country.
If we look around us, there is so much to offer our kids. From the whale sharks of Donsol to the exuberant dancing in parades nationwide, there’s more than enough here to match Disneyland!
The Department of Tourism has a schedule of fiestas/ festivals all year round.