the philippine flag Sandugo Festival: Celebrating Oneness

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The Philippines, some people say, is a nation of festivals. All throughout the year, the country holds dozens of festivals spread across its 7,107 islands. Some of these have become famous the world over such as the Sinulog Festival of Cebu, the Kadayawan Festival of Davao and the Ati-atihan Festival of Aklan. And while most of these festivals are religious in nature, having traced its beginnings from the veneration and worship of Catholic Gods and saints like the Santo Nino (the Child Jesus) or the Black Nazarene, there are some that are secular and historical in nature. One of more significant of these is the Sandugo Festival.

If there's one festival that is closest to celebrating our country's close relationship and historical affinity with the Spaniards, it is the Sandugo Festival. Each year, Tagbilaran City -- a first class component city and the capital of Bohol province – holds this annual festival during the hot and humid summer month of March.

Sandugo Festival is a yearly historical event that takes place every year on the month of March, in the island of Bohol. This festival honors the celebration of a local Philippine leader Datu Sikatuna's blood compact and association or treaty of friendship with the Spanish king conquistador, Captain General Miguel López de Legazpi in March 16, 1565.

The Beginning of a Tradition

The Sandugo Festival commemorates the March 16, 1565 treaty of friendship and brotherhood between the Spanish explorer and captain general Miguel López de Legazpi and Bohol's chieftain, Datu Sikatuna. More than being the Philippines’ first international treaty, the sandugo or blood compact between the two leaders celebrates the kinship between two people of different religious beliefs, different cultures, and different nationalities.

This historic treaty of friendship was formalized and sealed through a blood compact between the Spanish conquistador and the island's leader. It is believed that the two made a cut on their arms, mixed their blood in a cup of wine, and drank it to honor their brotherhood. This symbolic bloodletting to honor and seal one’s commitment is in accordance to tribal tradition prevalent in the Philippines back then. This treaty simply means that Datu Sikatuna swore commitment and allegiance to the Spanish crown. And the blood compact sealed that commitment. The Sandugo Festival got its name from the Visayan word “dugo,” which means blood.

The treaty was believed to have been signed on the southwest coast of Bohol (the site of Tagbilaran City today), where a monument now stands. The Tagbilaran City monument not only commemorates the event, but also has a narration of the events inscribed in its plaque.

That Blood Compact marked the start of the Spaniard’s rule on the Philippine islands. This formed a relationship between Spain and the Philippines, a relationship which, several years and centuries later, turned sour and even oppressive. Nevertheless, the treaty is remembered as an important event in Philippine history that made a major impact on Filipinos then and now, in terms of religion, culture and civilization.

The Sandugo Festival Today

In true Boholano fashion, the Sandugo Festival today is celebrated through a series of various activities that last over a month. Thousands of people from all over the Philippines, as well as tourists from other countries, flock to Bohol to witness street parades, sports tournaments and cockfights, and the reenactment of the historic blood compact.

No Philippine festival will ever be complete without colorful costumes, lively music and drum beats, fireworks, solemn church services, food, and, of course, beauty pageants. The search for Ms. Bohol Sandugo, a gathering of Bohol’s prettiest ladies, is one of the highlights of the festival and has been the most awaited events year after year.

There is also a street dancing competition during the Sandugo festival, an activity that is very typical among Philippine festivals and has become a permanent fixture in most major festivals here. For the street dancing competition, each group or contingent develops its own choreography with special and bright-colored costumes. Each group of dancers has its own marching band of drums, trumpets and xylophones that provide the beat and the music. The audience is treated to beautifully synchronized dances, bursts of color and feet-stomping music as the contingents make parade on the streets.

The street dancing competition, however, has been moved to the month of July to coincide with the yearly “Tigum Bol-anon Tibuok Kalibutan.” The Tigum Bol-anon is a gathering of Boholanos from all over the world. Those Boholanos who have left the island and migrated to various parts of the globe traditionally come home to take part in this event.

Why It Is Important

The Sandugo Festival is one of the annual highlights of Bohol, which is currently growing a reputation as one of the destinations one should visit in the Philippines. Famous for its tarsiers, the Chocolate Hills, beautiful beaches and other natural attractions, the province is also known for its warm climate, friendly people and its rich sense of history and culture. The Sandugo Festival, along with its other smaller and less significant festivals and fiestas, is actually a testament to the Boholano’s love for its history and its culture.

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It began with the arrival of Miguel López de Legazpi in the shores of Tagbilaran, Bohol in 1565 and the swearing of commitment of Datu Sikatuna to the Spanish crown. The two people were believed to have made a cut on their left arms with a dagger and sprinkled their blood into a cup filled with wine, which both drunk in honor of their friendship and brotherhood. The treaty was signed on the SW coast of Bohol Island in March of 1565. This was 44 years after Ferdinand Magellan was killed attacking a Philippine village on Mactan Island about 50 miles north of here.

The Sandugo treaty is called a blood compact because the participants each drink a small amount of the other's blood. ("Dugo" means blood in the Visayan language.) This was a traditional way to formalize treaties of friendship in the Philippines. Magellan himself took part in several of these ceremonies before attacking Mactan Island.

The Blood Compact preserved the ties of friendship between two people once different in religion, nationality, culture and civilization. The Tagbilaran native chieftain who swore by his ancestral Anito and Bathala, and the Spanish courageous explorer and colonizer, who sought New World with the sword and the cross, drank to the common cause - friendship. It was the first international treaty of friendship and comity between the Filipinos and Spaniards.

The Sandugo Festival

The annual celebration of the Sandugo Festivities begins in the month of March. However the street dancing competitions have been changed to July to coincide with the annual TBTK (Tigum Bol-anon Tibuok Kalibutan) translated into English, literally or otherwise - a gathering of Boholanos (the people of Bohol) from around the world. Tagbilaran City not only rejoices its Charter Day on the month of July but also the Province of Bohol which became a separate politico-military province on July 22, 1854, thereby creating a festive mood for the whole month.

Hundreds and thousands of People from around the Philippines and the world gather for this special event which involves colorful costumes and loud drum beats, street parades, church services, fireworks, beauty pageants, cockfighting tournaments and sport tournaments.

Today, the highlight of the Sandugo Festival is a street dancing competition held in Tagbilaran City. Each local high school develops its own dance custom with special costumes and choreography. A small marching band follows each group of dancers to provide the music. The bands consist only of xylophones, drums, and trumpets. Some of the dancing was very good, and the costumes were very colorful. The parade also integrated the customary entourage of local officials, police department, local businesses and associations - and, of course, the local beauty queens, Miss Bohol and Miss Tagbilaran.

A big surprise to us was the last parade entry, which was a large flat bed truck carrying 9 or 10 very flamboyant and attractive transvestites. There were no banners on the truck, just a few white ballons attached to the cab and printed, "Miss Gay 2001". This entry was a real crowd pleaser and received more of a reaction than any other parade event. They were met with howls and hollers and cheers all along the parade route. We were told that the transvestites traditionally work as beauticians in the local beauty parlors, and are readily accepted in the community.