Tacloban City is the capital of the province of Leyte and is one of the major cities in the Visayan region of the Philippines. Like most of the country, Tacloban City celebrates fiestas or festivals that commemorate its foundation or its patron saint. In the case of Tacloban City, there are two festivals that are celebrated every year: the Pintados Festival and the Sangyaw Festival.
Of the two, the Pintados Festival has the longer history and is therefore more established as the Sangyaw Festival is conceived fairly recently by the mayor of the city.
The Pintados Festival of Tacloban City is derived from the ‘pintados’, literally ‘the painted ones’, which is native warrior class that existed before the Spaniards came to the country. As their name implies, this class of warriors are distinct in that their bodies are heavily covered with tattoos. Tattooing then was more of a ritual as the pintados achieved their tattoos only after figuring heroically in war. Achieving the honor to be tattooed is not the end of the story though as the process then, given the implements that were available to the natives at that time, was very dangerous and painful. Upon imprint however, the tattoos will serve as the warrior’s badges of courage and honor, not entirely unlike the medals that are worn today by soldiers and generals.
This is why the bravest and the greatest of the pintados are the ones that have the most tattoos imprinted all over their bodies. These native warriors were very much heavily tattooed that when Spanish missionaries, upon their arrival in Tacloban and their first sighting of the natives, were terrified out of their wits. As with most native traditions then however, the way of the pintados faded with the onslaught of Catholicism brought by the Spaniards. With the revival of nationalism and interest for things indigenous in the Philippines however, the tradition of the pintados was one of those that are revived and was transformed into a cause for celebration.
The Pintados festival is celebrated every 29th of June. It is an event of merry-making the last throughout the month. The festival was first celebrated in 1987 and was initially conceived by civic leaders of Tacloban who were into organizing cultural activities for the city. As with its namesake, the merry-makers in the festival are painted from head to toe, thereby making the Pintados Festival one of the more unique festivities in the Philippines. During the festival, the streets of Tacloban City are deluged with people covered in paint all over dancing on the streets. The festival also celebrates numerous aspects of pre-Spanish civilization of the Philippines such as the native folk religion and the local epics.
The other festival celebrated by the city is the Sangyaw Festival, whose name is derived from the local word for ‘herald’. Sangyaw Festival was firs observed in 1974 when it was personally conceived by the country’s First Lady at that time, Imelda Marcos. Back then, the Sangyaw Festival was held on the date which the Pintados Festival is now celebrated, June 29.
When Imelda Marcos and her family were booted from power, the festival was discontinued due to it being a remnant of the deposed administration. The Sangyaw Festival though has made a comeback in 2008 when the mayor of Tacloban City decided to revive the festival. It is now held side by side with the Pintados Festival, and much like the way it was celebrated decades earlier, the Sangyaw Festival’s main attraction is the numerous cultural contingents that come from all over the country to compete with one another during the festival.
These two back-to-back festivals make Tacloban City a prime tourist destination particularly for those who want to experience the local color and culture through the tradition of the fiesta.