Ibalong Festival is a cultural, historical, and sports festival held in the city of Legazpi in the province of Albay, Philippines every August. It is a celebration of the history of the founding of Bicol as contained in Ibalong epic that was created before the Spanish conquest and passed down as oral history until it was documented in written accounts by Spanish friars.
The festival lasts for about two weeks. It is organized by the Ibalong Executive Committee and the city government of Legazpi. Highlights include grand street parade that presents the heroes from the epic and sporting events that are participated by local and foreign athletes.
History of Ibalong Festival
Ibalong Festival comes from the word Ibalong, the old name of what is now presently called the region of Bicol. The word can mean a number of things: to bring to the other side, people from the other side, or derived from Gibalon, the site of the first landing of the Spaniards and where the first mass in the island of Luzon was held.
The festival remembers and celebrates the mythic origins of Bicol as a settlement established by heroic figures and their exploits in vanquishing fearsome monsters that are told in Ibalong epic.
Ibalong epic is part of Bicol’s oral history whose narrative chronicled its beginnings, the establishment of agriculture, and taming of the wildnerness before the coming of the Spaniards. It is believed that Fr. Bernardino de Melendreras de la Trinidad wrote its entirety in 400 pages, but over time it got lost.
Only fragments of which consisting of sixty stanzas exist today, which was first published in Bibliofilo of Retana in Madrid, Spain in 1895 from Franciscan friar Jose Castaño’s Breve Noticia. Originally without a title, it was given the title that is known today by writer Jose Ma. Panganiban which was derived from Tierra de Ibalon, the name that the Spaniards gave to Bicol.
The epic, inspired by India’s Ramayana and Mahabharta, begins with the bard named Kadunung sharing the story to kids about three heroes from Boltavara: Baltog, Handyong, and Bantong. Baltog was the first of the heroes to settle in Bicol.
Handyong came next whose numerous adventures became renowned and he was considered the bravest hero and a mighty ruler. He lifted the curse that befell on and then later married the beautiful maiden Oryol. Baltog is the hero known for defeating the terrifying half-man, half-animal Rabut.
The epic is the subject of the book by Merito Espinas entitled “Ibalong: the Bikol folk epic-fragment.” It is also famously turned into a stage production by playwright Rody Vera (direction by Tuxqs Rutaquio, musical direction by Carol Bello, choreography by Alden Lugnasan, production design by Leeroy New, and lighting designer Katsch Catoy) in 2013 for Tanghalang Pilipino of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and was presented in Manila and Albay.
First Ibalong Festival
The first Ibalong Festival in Legazpi City was in 1992. It was spearheaded by then mayor Imelda Roces. Its purpose was to bring to the forefront Bicol’s pre-Hispanic culture, history, and identity, acknowledging the invaluable folklore that is Ibalong epic. It has also grown to become a proud celebration of the city’s progress and people’s resilience, an avenue to boost tourism, and a platform for enthusiasts in sports and adventures.
The festival was cancelled for two years in 2020 and 2021 due to coronavirus pandemic. It was conducted again 2022.
Ibalong Festival Schedule of Activities
Ibalong Festival has numerous interesting and exciting events such as contests, shows, concerts, flea markets, fireworks display, cultural presentations, and various entertainment. It is also popular among sports junkie who flock to the yearly revelries to join in many of its competitions in dragon boat, golf, beach volleyball, mountain climbing, tennis, bowling, cycling, etc.
Here are some of the highlights.
Grand Parade is one of the highlights of Ibalong Festival. Participants take the role of the legendary heroes of the epic, so spectators can see the story come alive in the context of celebration. They are clad in tribal and warlord costumes complete with traditional weaponry such as swords, shields, spears as dramatizations of the events that unfolded in its many tales of adventure. Also included in the parade are the monsters described in the epic such as bats, boars, serpent, and sea creatures.
Mayon Trail Run
Mayon Trail Run is a marathon. Runners who take part in the sporting event are Filipinos and international athletes. Route of the marathon is designed to let them experience the scenic landscape of the city including its popular volcano, Mt. Mayon, and the places where lava flowed when it erupted many times in the past.
Mutya ng Ibalong
Mutya ng Ibalong is the pageant for females. It is a competition of beauty and brains, as well advocacy for a chosen charity or social cause. Winner is picked as the best from a particular year’s stable of candidates.
Where to go
Major activities are held in Ibalong Center for Recreation, the only convention center in Legazpi, Sawangan Park, Legazpi City Boulevard, and streets in the city.
How to reach Legazpi City
Legazpi City can be reached via Legazpi Airport. Land-based trips are also available. Sea ports are also open where one can buy tickets for sea-based transport connecting different parts of the archipelago.
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