Shariff Kabunsuan Festival 2022
Held annually, the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival honors the man whom the festival is named after in spreading the teachings of Islam in Mindanao.
An Arab Malay from Johore, Malaysia, Shariff Kabunsuan, conducted an expedition to the islands of Lanao and Maguindanao in the early 16th century to preach the religion of Islam.
This writer had heard of the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival from other travel writers but had little prior understanding of it. Being given the opportunity to cover it allowed me to learn more about the numerous inspirations that go into its celebration. With the Bangsamoro region’s history at the forefront of the festivities, the week-long time I spent covering the festival provided me with an in-depth study of the cultural diversity and fascinating traditions of the people of Bangsamoro.
In keeping with the festival’s theme of “One Heritage, One Culture, Endless Possibilities,” which honors the Bangsamoro homeland and its people for their shared history, colorful but distinct cultures, skilled handiwork, distinctive traditions, and breathtaking scenery, here are a series of events that made this year’s Shariff Kabunsuan Festival a giant success.
Kuyog street dancing competition
The 2022 Shariff Kabunsuan Festival’s opening salvo was a medley of roars, spirited choreography, and thunderous drumming beats as contingents from North Cotabato, Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao del Norte, and Sultan Kudarat adorned with elaborate headdresses, and vibrant costumes competed for the top plum.
The dazzling display of dancing and drumming energy kept the crowds that flocked to Cotabato State University’s Grand Stand wildly entertained.
As each section of the crowd expressed their thunderous support to their favorites, the performers from Tulunan, North Cotabato was the day’s undeniable winners. They took home the first prize of 300,000 pesos while the contingent from Isulan, Sultan Kudarat bagged the 2nd prize worth 200,000 as Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao round off the top 3 with a 100,000-peso bounty. The other three non-winning groups were also awarded with consolation cash prizes.
Before the Kuyog competition, there was also a colorful reenactment of Shariff Kabunsuan’s arrival on Mindanao. The play also depicted the legends of two brothers Mamalu and Tabunaway who lived when Islam was first introduced to Mindanao. Tabunaway accepted to be converted to Islam while Mamalu maintained the pagan beliefs of his elders, resulting in Mindanao’s diversity.
Inawl Fashion Show highlighting the beauty of the Inaul cloth
Cotabato State University’s gymnasium was transformed into an oval catwalk where a slew of gorgeous models showed off the Inaul-inspired creations of local designers.
Converted into more blistering designs and spectrum of vivid hues by combining the five main patterns: Sikukaruwang, Lombayan, Karanda, Biyaludan, and Sikuaundune, the Inaul weaving heritage of Maguindanao finds new life as the focal point of adornment for formal gowns and outfits inspired by Moro traditional fashion.
For a cloth once only used as a malong, the journey of the Maguindanaoan Inaul reaches creative heights, as it is now being turned into stunning modern clothes while keeping its century-old symbol of strength, monarchy, dignity, and nobility.
As evidenced by the ooh’s and aahh’s elicited from the audience of the Inawl Fashion Show, the Inaul fabric has found a new way to keep a living tradition alive. Inspiring weavers to create continuously because of growing demand provides a new lifeline to the living tradition of Inaul weaving.
*The eight local designers who participated in the Inawl Fashion Show are Melissa Ajaddi Chin, Wilfred Yee, Pepe Quitco, Akmad Kari, Jr., Cely Nicolas, Marc German, Joy Puro Abayon, and Israel Ellah Ungkakay.
Bonus dose of history
Finding a small window from the many festivities, we explored the city for some dose of history. Our first destination is the Bangsamoro Museum.
The 21 limestone secondary burial jars discovered on the Kulamana Plateau in South Cotabato and in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, were my favorite exhibits in the museum. However, there were many more that were also fascinating, such as the written timeline of the modern history of the Bangsamoro.
Researchers from the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu first uncovered the jars in the early 1960s. Soon, specialists from other countries joined in, and they continued to do so until the early 1970s when Ferdinand Marcos ordered the bombing of the region following the declaration of Martial Law. Carbon dating puts these jars to around 2,000 – 2,500 years old.
Because the body is typically left to decompose until it is stripped to the bones, the jars are referred to as secondary burial jars.
The older burial jars came in quadrilateral shapes with cylindrical lids. The bodies of the jars are decorated with different geometric designs, and the lids are adorned with depictions of human features that hint at the gender of the deceased. (often phallic in males and mammary in females).
Side-trip to the Grand Mosque
No visit to Cotabato City is complete without seeing the splendor of the Grand Mosque or the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque. Despite having seen it from every perspective conceivable during my prior visits to Cotabato, the feeling of spirituality it exudes and its gorgeous appearance remain a source of fantastic wanderlust experience for me.
This time, I saw it from the lens of my drone as it swiveled in the air capturing the waters of Tamontaka River and the surrounding hilltops as well. Indeed, every moment spent in the presence of the Grand Mosque is magical.
Bangsamoro culinary showcase
The festival’s Culinary Showcase added depth to our gastronomic exploration. During the December 17 event, traditional Bangsamoro delicacies were demonstrated to us by local chefs and cooks. We were shown, from the gathering of ingredients to the final plating, the process of making several classic Moro main dishes and appetizers.
We dined on the Lininggil of Maguindanao, Sinini—a Kambing dish, and Tiyula Itum of Tausug descent, the Maranao’s Palapa sakurab and niyug, all of which were served to us on a dulang  in a manner typical of a traditional pagana  meal. After that, we dug into the appetizers and desserts, including Tapay (fermented rice), Bulibid, Daral, and Kumukunsi.
Guinakit fluvial parade: a fitting festival finale
Serving as the festival’s grand finale is the Guinakit Fluvial Parade, which honors the arrival of Shariff Kabunsuan arrival on the banks of ‘Masla Pulangi’ (Rio Grande de Mindanao).
The Maguindanao word “Guinakit” (“convoy of boats“), it describes the Moro boats used by the royal family. Legend has it that Shariff Kabunsuan sailed in one much like it.
Made from wooden material and heavily decorated with colorful Muslim garb, almost a hundred Guinakit cruised the waters of the Tamontaka river carrying passengers playing traditional Moro musical instruments and actors portraying Shariff Muhammed Kabungsuwan and his party.
Hundreds of spectators lined up the paved bay walk along the banks of Tamontaka River to witness the sheer number of fleet parade through the calm waters on myriad formations.
As the final boat pulled up to the embankment at the fluvial parade’s endpoint, revelers reflected on the year’s highly successful Shariff Kabunsuan celebration with smiles on their faces. Other events also held during the festival are: Agri-trade fair, SK Fest Bazaar, Qur’an Reading exhibition, an exhibit of the life and works of Shariff Kabunsuan, the opening of cultural and heritage booths, spoken poetry and a Grand Pagana at the People’s Palace.
More than 500 years after his arrival, Shariff Kabunsuan remains a vessel for the Bangsamoro people, now with their own autonomous government, to continue showcasing their rich history and colorful culture.
 Dulang: Traditional feasts in Sulu and the surrounding islands are not complete without a set of “Dulang” meals. Alternatively, it could refer to the platter on which the food is served.
 Pagana: is a social gathering for eating from a pindulangan or dulang, a display of traditional dishes served on a brass or a platter.