Davao City’s Kadayawan Festival
Davao City is an independent highly-urbanized city on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, with a population of some 2 million people. The city serves as the main trade, commerce, and industry hub of Mindanao and the regional center of Davao Region. The city is home to Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines, and is often referred to as the “Durian Capital of the Philippines”.
The name Davao is derived from the Bagobo, an indigenous people who traditionally inhabited the region. The word came from term the natives used to refer to the Davao River, a major waterway emptying into the Davao Gulf near the city. The aboriginal Obos, who inhabit the hinterlands of the region, called the river Davah; the Clatta called it Dawaw, and the Tagabawas called it Dabo. To the Obos, davah also means “a place beyond the high grounds”, alluding to settlements at the mouth of the river surrounded by high, rolling hills.
The Kadayawan Festival, the biggest annual festival being celebrated in Davao City, derives its inspiration from the city’s rich cultural origins. Often called “The Festival of Festivals”, the Kadayawan celebrates the diversity of the local culture and the richness and abundance of nature. Thus, the faces and costumes of its main participants portray the various ethnic groups that peacefully co-exist in the city and its surrounding towns; from various Muslim tribes, to Christians and the many ethnic minority groups. It tells legends of how these tribes came to existence and how nature played a vital role in their cultures.
The name itself derives from the friendly greeting “Madayaw”, from the ethnic word “dayaw”, meaning good, valuable, superior or beautiful. The festival is a celebration of life, a thanksgiving for the gifts of nature, the wealth of culture, the bounties of harvest and serenity of living. This ritual serves as the local indigenous peoples’ thanksgiving to the gods particularly to the “Manama” (the Supreme Being) and “Bulan” (a moon deity) that the first gathering was on a night of a full moon.
It was said that, long time ago, Davao’s ethnic tribes residing at the foot of Mount Apo would converge during a bountiful harvest and had to celebrate the full moon because they believed the diwata (earth fairy) came to earth at that time. The full moon was greeted with a variety of names- ‘paghipono’, ‘takdul’, ‘ugsar’– but most significantly as “dayaw” – a thankful recognition of the full moon’s spectacular shape and sunset-to-sunrise brilliance, long believed as the reason for their bountiful harvest.
During the traditional celebration, various farming implements, fruits, flowers, vegetables, rice and corn grains were displayed on mats as villagers give their respect and thanks for the year’s abundance. Singing, dancing and offerings to their divine protectors are the highlights of this ritual. This tradition flourished and evolved into an annual festival of thanksgiving, the Kadayawan Festival.
The Kadayawan Festival is celebrated on the second week of August each year. The festival features a number of events such as cultural shows, agri fairs, and street concerts but the most colorful and lively events during the Kadayawan are the “Indak-indak sa Kadalanan” ((street dancing competition) and the Floral Float Parade which culminates the week-long celebration. My photos of the street dancing competition are featured in this article.
It’s been years since I last witnessed the Kadayawan celebrations but my travel schedule this year finally allowed me to be around during the festival week. The early morning trip to the parade grounds and the effort to compete with a throng of other photographers for the best vantage point paid off. The vibrant and culturally-rich celebration never fails to fascinate me and fix my shutterbug itch.
Brief Travel Info: SilkAir and Cebu Pacific serves direct flights between Singapore and Davao. The Philippine Airlines and several other carriers serve the 1.5 hour flight between Manila and Davao City. Accommodations ranging from backpackers’ inns to five-star hotels are abundant in the city.