Monday, April 1, 2013

Guimbal’s Historical Bantayan Festival



the much-anticipated tribal dance competition that highlights the Moro raids, photo by Vincent Angelo Gefes

Now on its 11th year, the theatrical dance presentation of Guimbal’s Bantayan Festival re-enacts the battle between the Guimbalanons and the Muslim pirates. Series of activities are set on its 5-day celebration that will open on April 2 (Tuesday) Opening Parade, Float and Street Dancing Competition at 2:30 p.m. and Drum Beat Competition at 4 p.m.; April 3 (Wednesday) 1st Guimbal Cross Country Fun Ride at 5:30 a.m. and the Search for Miss Bantayan Festival at 7 p.m.; April 4 (Thursday) Bat Racing, Porma Balas and Pinta Lawas at 8 a.m., Fluvial Parade at 1:30 p.m. and the Re-enactment of the Moro Raids at 3 p.m. at Bantayan Beach Resort; April 5 (Friday) Art Workshop at 8 a.m. and Musical Concert with Manila Artists at 7 p.m.; April 6 (Saturday) Tribal Dance Competition at 3 p.m., Merry-Making at 5 p.m. and Awards Night and Fireworks Display at 9:30 p.m.

photo by Vincent Angelo Gefes

The much-anticipated tribal performances highlights with the guimba---ancient instrument of the Spanish Panayanons that resembled a drum and is beaten by hand to send messages from tower to tower to warn the community of an incoming raid. The construction of a Bantayan or watchtower is another important scene to look forward to. Adding more drama to the presentation is the intercession of St. Nicolas of Tolentine, the town’s patron saint and the Blessed Virgin Mary in driving the pirates away from their land. The Bantayan has become instrumental in securing the area for defense and to protect their peaceful community from Muslim.

one of the remaining Bantayans or Watchtowers of Guimbal situated in the shores of Bantayan Beach,
photo by Vincent Angelo Gefes

Watchtowers, locally known as Bantayan, have stood vigil over the southern coast protecting the population from pirate raids. The main local threat to the southern coast of Iloilo was from pirates who were based in Sulu. The pirates found the sheltered bays along this part of the southern coast to be favorable spots to come ashore for fresh water and provisions and to capture prisoners to sell as slaves. These incursions posed not only a personal threat to locals, but also played a part in destabilizing an already fragile economy.

Guimbal is dotted with watchtowers along Barangays Tuguisan, C. Colon and Pescadores. The history of these fortified walls tells of an eventful and troubled past. Three survived, their ruins silently maintain vigil over sun-worshippers.

photo by Vincent Angelo Gefes
A Bantayan is a small sheltered tower serving as look out posts to warn against pirates. Some watchtowers in Guimbal were more to become permanent and lasted for generations and are increasingly rare.

The towers were generally built using a circular base, between four and five meters in diameter and up to eight to ten meters tall. For security, they had only one entrance gate located at medium height of the structure that could be accessed only by rope or wooden ladder. Many of the constructions still remain, though in a varied state of conservation.

The watchtower would be manned by a small team of lookouts and they needed a quick and reliable way to communicate with each other if they were going to be effective. Some devised a simple communication system that involved the watch men building a number of bonfires. They would light them when pirate ships were sighted and while smoky fires would be used in daylight, blazing fires would be used at night. Each tower would pass on the signal, either on a clockwise or counter clockwise direction around the town.

The St. Nicolas of Tolentine Parish, photo by Vincent Angelo Gefes

The locals also depend on their church to protect them, often sleeping in them if pirate ships have been sighted. Many of the ancient churches in the Iloilo still resemble small fortresses, with few windows and a bell tower to warn of danger. If the villagers were lucky, the pirates would take everything of value before torching the buildings. If they were unlucky, they would be killed or taken to their ships to be ransomed for money or sold as slaves.

photo by Vincent Angelo Gefes

The heritage of such brave spirits has left the coastline with a legacy of historic monuments that, today, are part of the character and cultural landscape of the annual celebration of Bantayan Festival.

For more information, please contact Mrs. Karen Gayanilo-Felicio, Municipal Tourism Officer at 09177222477 or (033) 3155277/ 3155288.

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