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.
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.
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)
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.
(warning I’m in a bad-photography state lately: bad flash, bad batteries, bad composition, and scorching sun so please endure these photos).
Motocross Competition. January 16 at near Top of the World grounds, Sto. Niño, Bontoc.