Mindanao city honors archangel with festival

St. Michael is much loved in Iligan, where his feast is celebrated with much fanfare
Mindanao city honors archangel with festival

Devotees carry an image of St. Michael the Archangel around the southern Philippines city of Iligan on Sept. 29 to mark the feast of their patron saint. (Photo by Richel V. Umel)

It is said that Christians, Muslims and the Higaonon tribal people of Mindanao used to live in harmony until the “devil” came, destroyed their farms and sowed the seeds of conflict. Then an archangel came, St. Michael, who defeated the “devil” and helped rebuild the community.

That is the story behind Iligan City’s Diyandi Festival when people showcase their different cultures as a thanksgiving to their patron, St. Michael the Archangel.  “Diyandi” is a Higaonon word that means “a celebration of life.”

”It is a celebration and thanksgiving to St. Michael for protecting the people of Iligan,” said Sorilie Bacsarpa, a member of the city council, adding that the festival was a “symbol of unity, cooperation and a celebration of a good harvest and a good economy.”

Every year, the city sponsors a street dancing competition and it has become one of the festival’s highlights. The dances tell the story of how the archangel Michael has protected the city from natural and man-made disasters.

One particular dance shows his battle with Lucifer as the people chant in their tribal languages, accompanied by bamboo musical instruments. A festival queen in her gown and headdress then takes center stage and dances while holding an image of St. Michael.

Bacsarpa said the city had decided to hold its own festival after seeing that religious festivals across the country had proved popular. Before naming the festival “Diyandi,” it was called “Kasadya” (Joy), and before it "Sayaw-Saulog" (dance celebration). ”We want our young generations to witness and discover the cultures of Iligan through the dances,” she explained.

No politics, thanks

Last year church leaders banned politicians from taking part in the festival to prevent a “politics-flavored ritual.” In the past, local officials had always been part of the so-called “Pakanaug” rite, when the image of the saint was brought down from its pedestal.

A congressman would customarily hold the archangel’s spear while the mayor took charge of the helmet and the police chief carried his shield. The image of the patron saint is then be taken to the entrance of the church for the faithful to venerate.

According to Catholic Church tradition, St. Michael the Archangel is one of the principal angels whose name means “Who is like God” in Hebrew.

St. Michael is much loved around the Philippines, nowhere more so than in Iligan and the town of Jagna in Bohol province, where his feast is celebrated with much fanfare every Sept. 29.

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