It is a multi-faceted festival, presenting many aspects of culture and tradition including religious feast day (Feast of Apo Sto. Cristo Milagroso), traditional textile-making (Abel Iloko fabric), and commemorative activity to remember the life of the first Filipino labor leader Isabelo de los Reyes.
History of Viva Vigan Binatbatan Festival of the Arts
The festival was first organized by the non-government organization Save Vigan Ancestral Homes Association, Inc. (SVAHAI) in 1993. Its objective was the promotion of the historical and cultural value of what was then the town of Vigan. In 1995, Mayor Eva Marie S. Medina continued the group’s yearly activity.
From the beginning, the focus of the fest was to encourage awareness on and to preserve the town’s many Spanish-era ancestral houses. In the succeeding years, it has given the limelight on many cultural, historical, and tourist spots in Vigan.
The festival’s popularity has contributed to the growth of tourism in northern Luzon, attracting many visitors interested in unique cultural experiences.
Over the years, more activities were added. Binatbatan Festival was launched in 2002 and Karbo Festival in 2005.
Viva Vigan Binatbatan Festival of the Arts Activities
The calendar of Viva Vigan Binatbatan Festival of the Arts begins in the last few days of April and extends to the first week of May. Its activities are a mix of secular and religious. It has food and trade fair, competitions, art shows and exhibits, concerts, fashion show, parade, photography contest, dance fest, live band, and street dancing.
The following are the festival mainstays.
Labor Day and Isabelo de los Reyes
Every first of May, the Philippines observes Labor Day. In the context of the festival, it is also a day to remember Isabelo de los Reyes, a labor leader, lawyer, and writer. Born in Vigan on July 7, 1864, he studied at the Seminary of Vigan, College of San Juan de Letran, and University of Santo Tomas.
He became a journalist and wrote about the injustices and abuses of the Filipinos at the hands of the Spaniards. He was imprisoned and later deported to Spain in 1897.
After he was freed, he continued to support the Filipino nationalist movement and was critical of the American occupation.
In 1901, he returned to the Philippines and founded the Union Obrera Democratica Filipina (Philippine Democratic Labor Union), the first labor union in the country, in February 1902. He also co-founded the Philippine Independent Church together with Fr. Gregorio Aglipay in the same year.
He was again imprisoned on charges related to workers’ strikes. After he was granted freedom and his travels abroad, he began his political career as a Manila City councilor in 1912 and rose to become a senator in 1922. He died at the age of 74 in 1938.
The city government holds a wreath-laying ceremony on the first of May at the monument of Isabelo de los Reyes.
Introduced in 2002, Binatbatan Festival comes from batbat, the beating with the use of bamboo stick to separate the seed from cotton pod.
Binatbatan Festival is expressed in the dance form. Dancers have a woven basket on the back and carry a bamboo stick, and their performance reflects the striking motion of batbat. Hence, the festival is also a vehicle in promoting Abel Iloko fabric, also called inabel.
Experts believed that indigenous weaving practices of the ancestors existed prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. Such skills were handed down from one generation to the next.
Textiles produced in the archipelago were transported via sea channels and traded in the neighboring countries in Asia. In Ilocos, cotton was bartered with gold.
Inabel may have peaked during the colonial period when it was a sought-after fabric. Its usage began to dwindle starting in the American occupation due to the entry of cheap, mass-produced textile alternatives, changing preferences, and the loss of skills for fewer people of succeeding generations took weaving as a source of income.
The festival is meant to keep the age-old hand-weaving tradition of Ilocos alive.
Feast of Apo Sto. Cristo Milagroso
The third day of May is the feast of Apo Sto. Cristo Milagroso, also called Apo Lakay. People visit Simbaan a Basiit (Small Church) to pray and attend religious services.
The tradition of observing the feast dates back to the Spanish conquest. In 1882, a cholera epidemic swept the town. Its parish priest, Fr. Evaristo Abaya, requested the nearby town of Sinait to borrow the image of the Crucified Christ, Apo Sto. Cristo Milagroso, an image the latter installed in the 17th century. It was brought to Vigan and the number of people stricken by the disease subsided.
Since then, the people continued to express thanksgiving and observed religious rites every third of May. During Covid-19 pandemic, church authorities held religious services to implore aid to help stave off the surge infection.
Introduced in 2005, Karbo Festival is a tribute to the city’s farmers and its agricultural sector. Its name is derived from carabao, also called the beast of burden for it is a creature used to help in plowing the fields, hauling goods, and transporting people. It is also an expression of thanksgiving for the abundant harvest from the farms.
Its activities are the competitions involving painted carabaos and boklan art, which is a mosaic composed of seeds.
How to reach Vigan, Ilocos Sur
Book a flight to Laoag Airport and take a bus to Vigan, a trip that takes about two hours. Buses are also available from Metro Manila.
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