The Karatong Festival of Bontoc

Posted: January 16, 2011 in Events, Journals, Photography
Tags: , , , , , ,

A karatong is a percussion instrument made out of bamboos that serves as signaling device by our ancestors particularly in the areas of Leyte. It is usually struck against small pieces of wood or another bamboo to make sounds. During times the heights of the Muslim Moros raids, the sound of karatong alerts the community of the incoming danger. Sometimes they are also used to call balangay meetings and of special gatherings like weddings, feasts and funeral. It is believed there were specific beats from the karatong to correspond the purpose of the call whether it’s a distress call or for a start of the day’s harvest session. Unfortunately this local tradition was long banished, unpracticed, and ultimately found its way into folklores – the stories of the days long forgotten.

Performers showing their karatong instruments.

At present time the Sinulog Festival of Cebu became one of the country’s most popular Catholic traditions. It is a dance ritual that commemorates the Cebuano people’s Islamic and pagan origin, and their acceptance of Roman Catholicism and their worship to Sto. Niño or the Child Jesus. The Sinulog has grown overwhelmingly popular the past two decades  that by the year 2008 (or earlier) the province of Southern Leyte, with the pulled strings of Tourism Department and National Heritage Commission, ordered all the towns therein to come up with a festival of their own during their fiesta celebrations. And the small town of Bontoc remembered karatong.

We no longer have Sinulog contest during fiesta, instead we call it the Karatong Festival. The dance almost remains the same as to the Sinulog we were used to:, the struggle against the bitchy-withces or floods or famine, the beat of the drums and bugles, the conversion to Christianity plot and the jovial worship sequence to Sto. Niño. The only noticeable upgrade to the dance is the inclusion of karatongs as major elements of the story. This year marks the 4th Karatong Festival.

The Festival competition was organized by the LGU of Bontoc and the Sto. Niño Parish Church headed by the Municipal Tourism Officer Mr. Jourdan Tantoy and Fr. Felito Briones respectively. It was held at the SLSU – Bontoc Campus grounds, formerly RKKMAFTI. The contingents for this year’s festival are the Bontoc, Divisoria, Paku and Hilaan National High Schools.


Bontoc National High School delegation

Divisoria National High School contingent

Miss Tourism Bontoc 1st runner up Ms. Roien Yvonne Meole of the Divisoria NHS, was crowned the Karatong Festival Queen.



Hilaan National High School Delegation



Paku National High School delegation.

Under the scorching heat of the sun (no bikinis this time) the contingents presents their wonderful interpretation of the Karatong Festival. They’re no Sinulog Cebu caliber type but are very entertaining to witness live for the thousands in attendance. And after a rigorous calibration of points the Paku National High School won this year’s glory by a thread via a controversial decision, yes there was a tie-break probably on the 1st and 2nd place.  They took home P30,000 plus trophies and certificates.  Second place went to Divisoria, then Bontoc and Hilaan, taking home 20k, 15k and 10k respectively.

For the minor awards:

Best Musicality – Paku NHS

Best in Street Dancing – Divisoria NHS

Best Choreography – Divisoria NHS

Best Karatong – Paku NHS

Most Discipline Contingent –  Hilaan NHS

Best in Costume – Paku NHS

Festival Queen – Divisoria NHS, Ms. Roien Yvonne Meole (she again, 1st Runner up in MBT)

The crowd during the Karatong Festival under the scorching sun.


Regarding the selection process on the municipality’s official festival, my Tatay Dindo shared to us time ago about a peculiar argument about the choosing of the karatong when our town is most famously known for its abundance in mangko (mackerel fish) and lupoy. I couldn’t disagree more because personally I’ve never really heard what a karatong before then. Was there a story that mentioned karatong during the Spanish era? the Americanization? the Japanese occupation? Did a karatong ever saved a life during the wars? Was there a karatong when Bontoc separated with Sogod and was made a municipality? The answers are all NO, NONE, WALA. But we all have to agree mangko and lupoy fed Bontocanon since the beginning of Philippine History, even during the Wars. They were also served in many kinds of dishes during the July 30, 1950 municapal inauguration. Just imagine…Lupoy Festival.

Wild as it may seem and no matter how controversial results of the competiton, but the spirit of the Karatong Festival has once again delivered successfully to the people. It’s the one time of year where people enjoys solid feast and thanksgiving in a major major way. So sponsors don’t try to miss your pledges next year! May our very own festival continue to progress in popularity and practice in the years to come.

Fiesta Highlights

(warning I’m in a bad-photography state lately: bad flash, bad batteries, bad composition, and scorching sun so please endure these photos).

Bugsay 2011

BUGSAY 2011. 6 boats, 3 men each, 2 rowers, 1 drummer, one big race. The Winklevoss brothers in Social Network would be so proud

I'm still convincing my brothers to enter this race next year, just three rounds around the boulevard bro!

The Bontoc Riders during the Fun Ride event

The Bontoc Riders during the Fun Ride event

that's my father Tatay Dindo painting for the Festival Float.

2 am in the morning

Motocross Competition. January 16 at near Top of the World grounds, Sto. Niño, Bontoc.

after 10 loooong years of waiting, Motocross is back in Bontoc.

Child wonders the Galia brothers, sons of Dodong Galia, entertained the crowed in their pee wee categorie races.

  1. vic says:

    good job Doc huh…

  2. Nel-nel Masendo Navarrosa says:

    Great coverage, Lester, tnx for sharing!

  3. irishprecious says:

    Love this post. Great job! 🙂

    I also attended a fiesta honoring the Sto. Nino in Tondo Manila, only their feast was not as grand as the yours and Cebu’s, but the devotion’s all the same. 🙂

  4. lapiskamay says:

    Gee thanks Irish!
    you should visit the one in Cebu (kahapon natapos), its the grandest festival in the country. Next year i’d be there probably. ^_^
    you are right the people’s devotion is simply overwhelming during this kind of events, kaya maganda talaga i.cover.

  5. Reigh P. Monreal says:

    Thanks for this post. By the way, the raiders that we were incorrectly informed as Moros were not Muslims. They were called so by the Spaniards because they resembled the Moors of the northern part of Spain. They were actually bandits from the southern part of Mindanao. They belonged to different groups like Balangingi, Laut, Iranon or Illanon and Tiron (the origin of Tirong, as in “ipakaon sa Tirong”). On the other hand, there are karatong festivals elsewhere. One even joined past editions of Sinulog. I am certain it was not Bontoc’s. Warmest regards to my friends from Bontoc: Lynn Guasa, Glynda and Maimai Sayahon, Annick Doodz Galdo, Brod Rene Tindugan, etc.

  6. jackieB says:

    it’s funny how festivals were born…..Similar to your Karatong Festival, the Pintados Festival of Tacloban has nothing to do with Tacloban’s history. It came out because of politics and commercial purposes (like Gaisano want to have more customers)….

    nice photos, btw, they are colorful and i think the ‘scorching sun’ did help 😀

    • lapiskamay says:

      thank you Jackie you’re on my side again, glad to have your support. hehe
      Karatong really came out of nowhere in Bontoc. But yeah karatong really a really good political product, and it’s solid Sinulog-material, epic folklore stuffs they say it was.

      And with regards to the photos.. I photoshopped most of them, gave them some magic and presentability. hehehe.

  7. Reigh P. Monreal says:

    I agree with JackieB. The entire Visayas region was inhabited by tattooed people. With Tacloban “owning” the Pintados, Philippine history has been corrupted.

  8. jackieB says:

    you photoshop? alin diyan? they look real hehe ang galing mo pala magphotoshop kung ganon! 😀

    • lapiskamay says:

      lahat yata Jackie. hehe di ako magaling magphotoshop oi, adjust-adjust lang sa mga brightness and contrast., kunwari SLR gamit. may mga tutorials kung pano sa internet, sinunod ko lang yun. pagkakuha. hehe

  9. Art Cuadra says:

    nice ! hopefully next year i can join the karatong festival. hehe

  10. Art Cuadra says:

    hopefully ter…. keep up the good work! maypa journalism nalang gkuha nimo.hehe.. may pinagmanahan jud. regards ko sir dindo ha. god bless

  11. salamat 4 ths datas.. dri raq magkuha pra i.publishd 4 publicati0n.. d0n’t worry i.apil nhu ang source..tnx

  12. Reigh P. Monreal says:

    Bontoc is a major source of abaca. Maybe an abaca festival can do for the town, although there may be a few abaca festivals elsewhere, like in Bicol. The boring side of festivals, especially streetdancing and what they call as “showdown” is that the choreography is almost always borrowed. This is the result of too much exposure to other festivals and the “importation” of choreographers who are not aware of the local culture, who do not conduct research on local heritage. If Bontoc is really serious about enhancing local culture and the arts, the LGU should start a series of barangay-based cultural mapping to discover movements and music that are unique to the town.

  13. Mariedel Monton says:’s so nice you know.. I appreciate all of these stuffs…

  14. keiffer says:

    can you please give me a link for the karatongs music?

  15. Ric Gio says:

    why can’t you have another name for your festival? there’s karatong festival already in dulag, leyte. surely, bontoc’s history, life and culture is so vast to avoid duplication and potential problem with that of dulag’s festival. is there any government body that should regulate these cultural undertakings? ang pinoy nga naman!

  16. […] the four SLSU campuses. It is important to remember that the Bontoc town has been celebrating the Karatong Festival since 2007 as its main Fiesta attraction. However the Dulag town of Leyte also holds the same […]

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