(published in the August 27th issue of the Manila Bulletin, Travel and Tourism section)
There’s always room for one more festival in the Philippines. And if it originates from a place that is well known for its cultural and historical gems, then that is one good reason to head 137 kilometers south east of Manila to find out what a new event called Niyogyugan Festival is all about. Niyogyugan is a portmanteau derived from the word niyog (coconut) and yugyog (to move to a beat); the festival held in August in the capital city of Lucena is the Quezonians’ way of giving thanks for the blessings they receive from the coconut, a major source of livelihood in the province. August 2013 also marks the 135th birth anniversary of Manuel L. Quezon, the President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines from 1935 to 1944.
This is only the second year of Niyogyugan, yet judging from the response to the week-long celebration held from August 12 to 19, it might not be long until this agri-tourism event becomes another major tourism attraction in Quezon. The Philippines’ eighth largest province has, of course, earned its place in the country’s tourism map owing to its harvest festivals: Lucban’s colorful Pahiyas Festival, Gumaca’s Araña’t Baluarte, the Hagisan Festival of Tayabas, and Sariaya’s Agawan Festival, which are all celebrated in May.
Niyogyugan Festival aptly opened with the State of the Province Address by Governor David Suarez at the Quezon Convention Center, followed by the opening of the Agri-Tourism Trade Fair at Perez Park and the 3rd Quezon Artists’ Gallery Exhibit at Pacific Mall.
The awarding of the annual “Quezon Medalya ng Karangalan” (QMK) was also held during the festival week. The QMK is given to outstanding Quezonians for their achievements and contributions to the welfare and development of the province. This year’s 10 awardees include Rene Robles, an internationally acclaimed painter known as the founder of an art form called “assertionism,” and Menchu Sanchez, an OFW nurse who made the news when she was cited by US President Barack Obama for having rescued newborn babies in New York City during the rage of superstorm Sandy.
Three interrelated activities: a float competition, street dancing competition, and the crowning of the 2013 Niyogyugan Festival Queen on August 14, were the event highlights.
Karosa ng Niyog (Float Competition)
The float competition was a venue for the participating municipalities to depict their local products, destinations, or noted personalities in their karosa or float design. For its creative representation of the historic San Diego de Alcala fortress, and its flagship festival Araña’t Baluarte, the municipality of Gumaca won the Best Float Award and a cash prize of PhP. 150,000. Second place went to Quezon Island, which featured a colorful fish figure made of woven coconut fronds as its main icon. Third placer Lucban bagged third prize for incorporating in its design the vibrant Pahiyas Festival, its famous Lucban longganisa and pansit habhab, and its homegrown hero, Hermano Puli.
Sayaw ng Niyog (Dance Competition)
In every festival, the activity that draws the most audience involvement is the street dancing competition. When the music starts and the dancing contingents begin strutting their stuff, their collective energy infects the spectators, and the mélange of movements, colors, and sounds build up to a festive crescendo. Both on the streets and in the ‘performance-level’ presentations at the Quezon Convention Center, the euphoric air was palpable.
The dance participants were challenged to interpret, through costumes and dance moves, how the coconut, or the tree or life that fulfills our needs and blesses us in many ways, should be celebrated. All participating groups danced out their stories in different awe-inspiring ways, but the three that got the judges’ top scores were the contingents from Dolores (1st place), Unisan (2nd place), and Mauban (3rd place). “They stood out from the rest because of their precise moves, energy, passion and sheer enjoyment of their performances. Of course, they’re the best in terms of depicting the history and characteristics of their respective municipalities, and for their faithful compliance with the festival theme,” said Juancho Cabcaban, a former Bayanihan dancer and one of the dancing competition judges.
Reyna ng Niyogyugan (Festival Queen)
Sixteen ladies representing their respective municipalities vied for the title of 2013 Festival Queen. They all exuded beauty and poise as they paraded and modeled costumes using coconut-sourced and other indigenous materials to highlight the festival theme. Erika Fontamillas from Guinayangan, the Seafoods Paradise of Quezon, was crowned Reyna ng Niyogyugan. Ma. Jannela de Guzman from San Narciso and Ana Katrina Alzona from Quezon Island were first and second runners-up, respectively. The Best Festival Costume Award was given to the Festival Queen second placer from San Narciso, who wore a creation by talented designer Roy Fernandez Aquino. The designer worked with the women members of the San Narciso Weavers Association who proved their skills by turning raffia grass and coconut leaves into the main materials for the gown, and making colorful details such as fans and flowers as embellishments. Various coconut parts—shells, husks, midribs—likewise went into the intricate design. A mask to symbolize the community’s strong faith that is highlighted during the Senoryon every Lenten season completed the ensemble.
Quezon Products for the World
Not to be outshone in the creativity department was the Agri-Tourism Trade Fair, which exhibited not only the best products from all over Quezon, but also the rich imagination and resourcefulness of its people. The booths were built and decorated using different parts of the coconut and other eco-friendly materials. The products on display reflected the many ways with coconut, showing that it has gone a long way from the traditional copra and coconut oil business model. Coconut is now widely used in many food and beverage preparations, health and wellness needs, industrial products, building and ornamental products, among others. The coco coir is an excellent material for erosion nets, insulation, biodegradable pots, and planting medium.
Once hailed as the top coconut producer in the country, Quezon is now in close competition with Davao Oriental for the title. The Philippines itself has been outpaced by Indonesia, India, and Thailand in coconut product development. But Governor David “Jay-Jay” Suarez couldn’t be more emphatic when he said, “We were number 1 once, and we will be number 1 again.” The Niyogyugan Festival is meant to be a wake-up call to revive the coconut industry in Quezon.
With the Governor’s resolve to have a bigger and grander celebration next year, it is never too early to calendar a visit to Quezon for the next Niyogyugan Festival. The event provides fiesta lovers a chance to dance to the beat, bask in the colors and the exuberance, and join the locals when they chant “Ang saya saya…Niyogyugan na!” (It’s so much fun…it’s Niyogyugan time!).
There’s a South Seas saying that goes, “He who plants a coconut tree plants food and drink, vessels and clothing, a home for himself and a heritage for his children.” The coconut is the tree of life. And like life, it merits celebration.