Saturday, March 5, 2011

Panagbenga 2011 Part 1: The 16th Baguio Flower Festival Grand Parade and Streetdance Competition

Panagbenga is a kankanaey term which means “a season of blooming”.  It is largely known as the Bagiuo Flower Festival which pays homage to the beautiful flowers of the city.  It is said that the festival is held as a celebration of Bagiuo’s re-establishment from its grim experience in the 1990 earthquake (

The roots of the flamboyous Panagbenga can be traced back in 1995 from the realization that Bagiuo City should have its own “fiesta” or festival just like any other major city in the Philippines. However, Bagiuo City is unique in itself having been created later by the Americans and not earlier by the Spanish colonist. This is the main reason why the city did not start as a town that had a patron saint for which to celebrate on religious grounds.  Another drawback is that Bagiuo City’s charter day is on September 1 which is already the rainy season, not a very inviting weather for a parade.  Fortunately for Bagiuo, Atty. Damaso E. Bangaoet of the John Hay Poro point Development Corporation came up with an idea of a flower festival, since flowers are one of the things that Baguio is known for, and having it in February when the flowers are in bloom added to the charm of the idea (  The idea was accepted by the different sectors of society and immediately garnered an overwhelming support from the community. The need to preserve and promote the rich cultural heritage not only of Bagiuo City but also reflective of the Cordillera region became the driving force behind the continued success of the Panagbenga throughout the years.

In the early days of the festival, the Panagbenga was held as a series of celebrations running for a period of 10 days, kicking off at the launching ceremonies, stretching over two weeks for the Session Road in Bloom and ending in the last weekend with the Grand Parades. But since the festival grew in popularity, two weeks became three, later on covering the whole month of February, and now it even stretches on to the first week of March (GoBagiuo).

Different events filled the celebrations but the core remains to be the Parade of Floats, the Streetdance competition, Session Road in Bloom, Market Encounter and the Pony Boys Day. The Baguio Flower Festival Foundation (BFF) was organized to manage the festival.

It is the rich cultural flavor of the festival that brought me to Bagiuo to witness firsthand the famous Panagbenga.  The theme this year was "The Environment and Community in Harmony".  Dont mind my big panda hat, it was the prevailing fashion statement at the time. As they say, you do what the ifugaos do....

The festival hymn was composed by Professor Macario Fronda of Saint Louis University (SLU). Today, the hymn still wafts in the air all thoughout the festival.  The Grand Parades are the climax of the celebration and brought tens of thousands of spectators all over the country annually. The first Grand Parade is the parade of the Street Dancers from the different Baguio schools showing off choreography, costumes, coordinated formations including the accompanying drum & lyre bands. A competition is held for the best streetdance group. 

The different participating schools showed off their colorful ifugao and cordilleran native costumes, the lively beats and their captivating moves.  All of these represent the vibrant colors and life in the highlands.

The second Grand Parade is the Parade of Floats which is a semblance of the Pasadena Rose Parade of California. Larger-than-life floats stuffed with the best flowers of Bagiuo city are paraded through the streets of the city. But i'll dwell on it in my next post.  I'll go back now to Session Road where it got even better from the ramie-clad children to the fairies and princesses of the road.

When i think of Benguet, Baguio and the rest of the Cordillera region, the first thing that comes to mind are the red and yellow ramie native ifugao garb. None prepared me to imagine the grandiose designs of the Streetdancers of Bagiuo, with their equally enthralling choreography. I can't wait to see what they have in store for the competition.

Ramie is the cloth woven by the ifugaos to ward off the sometimes-unforgiving cold weather of the cordilleras. Ramie is cotton handwoven featuring ifugao designs. The headresses here are made of feathers and beads. 

The parade stopped at pre-determined areas where the streetdancers perform their dance, hoping to win the award for best streetdance group of the year.

As early as 5 am, thick crowds of people already lined up the streets to witness the parade. Seats here meant newspaper or plastic lined pavements where you squeeze in just to get a peak.  Some people i heard have already secured their places by the road and slept there in tents. (Mental note: if you cant stand the cold inside a tent, then be early than 6 am).  With all these me, attending the Panagbenga every year, i dared think that the plateau where the city sits might get flattened every year by a few inches. 

After the streetdance parade, everybody proceeded to the Quirino Grandstand (?) for the competition.  I roam around the grounds and tried to get a closer view of the streetdancers. The competion is divided into the primary (elementary kids), the secondary (high school i think) and the open category (colleges and where the competition got tougher).  These beautigul ladies competed in the open category.

Even the men are spectacular in their ifugao waist garb. The feather headresses matched their stately stance. This traditional Ifugao wear for men is called the wanno or G-string. The cloth that encircles the body is worn high and tight. The ends hang loose both front and back.

Weavers especially from Kiangan, Ifugao created textiles with and without dyed designs. They weave blankets, G-strings, skirts, upper garments, belts, hip and hand bags. Each type of textile reflects particular social functions. But I think these kids are fairies of the highlands.  

Up close and personal, you get to see the intricacies of the ifugao designs. The colors red and yellow still remain dominant and the men sported the typical waist band.  Specifically, the Ifugaos are an agricultural people and immortalized by the magnificent rice terraces.  Their clothing is adaptive of the rugged terrain of the extensive Cordillera Mountain ranges of Central Northern Luzon. They have developed and maintained a distinct culture which until recently has resisted outside" influences (wikipilipinas).

Ifugao women wear the tapis, a wraparound skirt called the ampuyou or tolge. The ordinary tapis features narrow white horizontal stripes and broken line of red triangles, and is worn just above the knee.

The streetdancers gamely posed for pictures, one just have to ask. These beautiful young girls features yet another type of garment worn by ifugaos, the blanket. Blankets are actually several pieces. The middle piece is called the body or adolna. The side pieces are called balingbing. A narrow band with fringes called talungtung borders the width of the blanket. The right side is the blanket’s back or adogna. The reverse side is referred to as the putuna or its stomach.  There are several types of blankets: the gamong, which is for the dead and has several designs (mortar, little men, python, lizard, snake, ladder and shuttle); The hape, which is for the wealthy, usually worn by the young, and has three pieces; and the kintog, formerly used to exchange for pigs but now known as oban and used for carrying babies (DLSU Litera1No 4).

Although the ifugao culture is heavily grounded on rice, this did not prevent the streetdancers to decorate their costumes with flowers all over. This is the flower festival anyway.

And under the heat of the sun, their props proved to be handy.

Even the men, supposedly the warriors of the tribe, sported flowers on their heads, arms and feet.

The Grandstand grounds were literally flooded with flowers. With their fancy headresses, Bagiuo was truly in bloom.

While the streetdance competition progressed, the other streetdancers waited for their turn to wow the crowds.

So sorry. This young ifugao girl seemed to hate me for taking their picture. I cant help it, those young girls and boys are as cute as dolls.

The people of Bagiuo City really took their festival seriously. The costumes are fancy and impressive. The ladies are a hit! headturners even without the fancy costumes...

Competing in the streetdance contest takes months to prepare. These kids sure look serious about it though.

This group featured a flower-inspired headdress. Complete with the beads and the bangles, this group had my vote for the best costume for staying true to their ethnic roots. Pity i didnt get a good shot. The sun was relentless that day. But thank the heavens the weather was still cool. Watching the competition will get you sunburned (another mental note: sunblock in Bagiuo, and flash) 

A modern take on the flower headdress and costume.

Though the competition was on the other side of the grounds (and i couldnt squeeze through the thick crowds to take shots), i chanced upon this group practicing in the sidelights. In ifugao culture, the dance is an important ritual in most instances not only weddings or courtship.

The basic steps of the ifugao dance consist of hands moving downwards reflecting the people's affinity with the earth that provides for their food.The steps include a stamp by the left foot and a light, forward movement by the right. Instrumentalists lead the line, followed by male dancers, while the female dancers are in the rear.

The ifugao dance figures in every event and happenings in the tribe. There's the courtship dance called apayao, the Bangibang funeral dance for wrongful or violent deaths, the bindian or the victory dance, the bontoc war dance, the bumayah for the thanksgiving festivals, the dinuyya or the festival dance during a feast, and so many others. (Glossary, Philippine Dance) 

Truly, the festival and the streetdance not only showcases the talent and skills of the people in Bagiuo, but also provides snapshots of the culture of the people of the cordilleras. 

Panagbenga 2011 Part 2: The Float Parade

New Post: for tips and advice on enjoying Panagbenga, you can go to:
Tips for a Hit and no Miss Panagbenga
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