Colors, stories, and dances from the age-old cultures of seven ethnic groups are the stars in this indigenous festival
Every year, usually during the month of March, Bukidnon’s main avenue blooms not just with golden trumpet trees but with the blazing reds of its locals’ indigenous attire.
Representatives from the province’s seven groups of indigenous people dance in a parade to powerful drumbeats, with age-old movements from their stories and heritage.
Kaamulan is a celebration of the province’s Bukidnon, Higaonon, Talaandig, Manobo, Matigsalug, Tigwahanon, and Umayamnon people and their culture. Kaamulan comes from the word “amul,” which literally means “to gather.”
Such gatherings are usually for rituals, thanksgiving for a good harvest, a wedding ceremony, among others.
DOMINANT. Red is the prominent color of Bukidnon’s indigenous, usually interspersed with black, white, and occasionally, yellow.
At Kaamulan, the indigenous peoples’ different legends, rituals, celebrations, and other ways of life are portrayed through dances and performances.
While Kaamulan has events spanning several weeks, the festival’s highlight is the street dancing, held March 24 this year at the province’s capital, Malaybalay.
STREET DANCE. The morning street dancing is the highlight of the weeks-long Kaamulan Festival.
PLAY. The dances portray the indigenous peoples’ different ways of life and stories.
According to Loreta Sol Dinlayan, head of the Bukidnon Studies Center and assistant professor of Social Sciences at the Bukidnon State University, the Kaamulan Festival began in the 70s, when Bukidnon’s local leaders, among them indigenous peoples, agreed that the province’s indigenous culture should be celebrated.
The festivities began with just Malaybalay’s indigenous people, who sang, danced, and played their native instruments on the streets.
Kaamulan eventually became a celebration of the culture of all seven ethnic groups in Bukidnon.
FROM PAST TO PRESENT. Kaamulan Festival started on the streets and continues to be celebrated on the streets.
BANGKAKAWAN. At the heart of gatherings and celebrations is usually the bangkakawan, where a bangkakaw, a suspended log turned into a percussion instrument is played, and where the locals dance to the beat.
KAAMULAN. This painting titled 'Kaamulan' by Gene Laboy and displayed at the Bukidnon State Unigersity, shows the bangkakaw at the center and the celebration around it.
Every year, around half of Bukidnon’s 21 municipalities – the other half would participate the following year – perform on the streets in the morning and on the provincial capitol’s grounds at noon.
Each municipality has one or more indigenous peoples represented, and each performance usually has a clear storyline, or has interconnected rituals and dances.
The municipality of Don Carlos, for example, has dances celebrating the bounty of Lake Pinamaloy, and then tells the legend of how the datu’s heir went to the lake and was bitten after he accidentally angered the bunsalagan, a spirit living there. The giant banog (Philippine hawk), with the intercession of baylans (healers), then healed the heir.
ABUNDANCE. Don Carlos municipality’s dances portray the bounty the Manobo people receive, most from and because of Lake Pinamaloy.
MYSTICAL HEALING. The giant banog helped heal the injured heir of the datu.
Spirits are prominent characters in many of Bukidnon’s legends. At another municipality, the spirit Laaw, portrayed as a towering dark figure, gives favor to the indigenous people.
At Libona, the performance highlights a horse sacred to the Higaonons.
LAAW. Quezon municipality’s performance tells the story of how the spirit Laaw blesses and heals the people.
SACRED HORSE. At Libona municipality, there are horses regarded as sacred.
FARMING DANCE. One of the dances performed in Kibawe municipality is this dance reminiscent of farming.
FISHING. Dangcagan dancers set their fish traps for Pulangi River’s bounty. Pulangi River is both a real and legendary river providing resources for the Manobos and more.
War dances showcasing the strength and skill of warriors are also a common theme among the indigenous peoples’ performances.
WAR DANCE. Libona municipality is only one among the many that performed war dances during the Kaamulan.
Relationships and rituals are also shown through courtship dances and wedding rituals.
COURTSHIP. Courtship is also a common theme among Bukidnon’s indigenous dances. This was performed by Pangantucan municipality.
WEDDING. Pangantucan also showed a Manobo wedded couple atop its float.
There are also dances that take after creatures, like of birds, monkeys, and more.
BIRD DANCE. Lantapan municipality, among other municipalities, has dances imitating birds.
Kaamulan performances are participated in by young and old alike. Leaders are usually at the head of the parade of each municipality.
LEADERS. At the front of each municipality contingent are usually leaders.
DANCING ELDERS. Some older leaders, meanwhile, dance with seemingly boundless energy.
CHILDREN. Children across many municipalities also gamely participated.
MUSLIM MANOBOS. Indigenous people who have also embraced another faith, like the Muslim Manobos, also participate in the festival.
Kaamulan counts both indigenous and non-indigenous as its participants.
Dinlayan, of indigenous Bukidnon blood herself, said that at first the festival was only participated in by those belonging to the seven ethnic groups. Over time, though, students, teachers, and employees joined in.
“Their consciousness is expanding,” Dinlayan said. “Students and teachers have become more open to and respectful of indigenous peoples, and indigenous peoples have become prouder seeing other people perform their dances.”
VARIED. Over the years, participation in Kaamulan has become more varied, with students, teachers, and employees joining in.
All this participation, though, is with the permission of the respective indigenous communities and their elders. As the indigenous dances are usually sacred, respect and permission to perform them are in fact necessary. Even choreographers are properly oriented on the nature of the dances, and they first show the routine they prepared to the indigenous elders for approval.
Permission and asking blessing from the spirits and Apu Magbabaya (God) is important to Bukidnon’s indigenous peoples. Before the street dance starts, a pamuhat (ritual) usually offering chickens and coins is always conducted to ask permission to go through with the celebration.
PAMUHAT. Elders of indigenous communities hold a ritual to ask permission to hold the street dance. Photo taken at a previous Kaamulan.
Amid the solemnity and sacredness of the festival, Kaamulan is also a competition. The different municipalities compete for three titles: Best Street Dance, Best Float, and Best Ground Presentation. The floats are usually part of the street dance, and the ground presentation held at the capitol grounds is a performance more extensive than the street dance.
BEST STREET DANCE. Malaybalay, Bukidnon’s capital, is the winner for the street dance competition this year.
BEST FLOAT. Lantapan municipality won best in float. Floats are usually made of natural materials, and feature performing musicians on board.
BEST GROUND PRESENTATION. Pangantucan municipality, which features a Manobo wedding among other rituals and dances, was first in ground presentation.
Aside from the street dances and the ground presentations, Kaamulan also has other important performances like the Piniliyapan, a cultural night held before the street dance. This year, the main event was the Ulaging, a Bukidnon epic.
CULTURAL NIGHT. Different groups performed indigenous songs, plays, and dances during the Piniliyapan, a cultural night before the Kaamulan street dance.
EPIC. Ulaging, a Bukidnon epic, features the meeting and marriage of Agyu and Tagyakuwa.
COMMUNITY DANCE. After the performances, the performers started pulling in the audience for a community dance.
Claire Madarang is a writer, researcher, and documenter whose work and wanderlust takes her to adventures like backpacking for seven weeks and exploring remote islands and bustling cities alike. Follow her adventures, travel tips, and epiphanies on her blog Traveling Light and on her Instagram.