The San Miguel Fiesta

Seņor San Miguel

Photo: Edwin Orbe

Iligan's patron saint: St. Michael the Archangel

Can a city reputed to be the industrial hub of the land of promise, Mindanao, also be one of culture?

Despite its being too urbanized and surrounded by industries, Iligan surprises a lot by being a city bursting with culture and tradition.

This is due to the fact that Iligan, in a sort of way, has become a melting pot of the various ethnic elements of Central Mindanao.

Putting its neighbors – the predominantly Muslim Maranao, lumad Higaunons, the migrants from Luzon and the Visayas as well as foreigners – then add the Hispanic-Christian influence into a big cauldron, boil them into one thick mixture of peoples, you come up with the Iliganon: that very warm and hospitable individual who loves to make merry, especially in September during the feast of Michaelmas in honor of its patron saint, St. Michael the Archangel.

With his unique cultural inheritance and love for merry-making or "kasadya," the Iliganon looks forward to events where he could celebrate and show off his own unique culture – offspring of the cultural intermarriages that had taken place for centuries.

And he does this with fervor and seeming abandon especially during the fiesta week on Sept. 22 to 29.

Like most Filipinos, Iliganons honor its patron saint, Michael the Archangel or Seņor San Miguel, as he is popularly called by the Iliganons.

This yearly event, celebrated on the 29th of September, is the most awaited by the Iliganons because it not only gives them the chance to showcase their biggest and most colorful cultural heritage of lumad, Muslim and Hispanic cultures. It is also a form of religious release for them.

The most popular of Iligan's traditional arts, shown during the fiesta are the Diyandi, a Higaunon dance-music performance, Kasadya street dancing contest, a Yawa-Yawa (devil-devil) play, and the Sinulog dance-ritual.

The Diyandi is an all female ritual dance performed only on the feast day, Sept. 29. It is a unique dance form which is the direct result of meshing of two cultures: Maranao and Higaunon.

Both peoples believe in the miraculous powers of Seņor San Miguel and they perform the ritualistic dance to thank or ask for his blessings.

The Yawa-Yawa (Devil-Devil) is a comedia, a religious play performed in the vernacular Cebuano, depicting Lucifer's unsuccessful revolt against God aided by San Miguel and other loyal angels.

The Sinulog is the most attended and popular of the fiesta highlights. Performed only in the afternoon of the feast day, this ritualistic street-dance drama (also called eskrima) mimics the celestial battle between Lucifer and San Miguel.

This is performed on the streets of Iligan with the dancers dressed like Roman centurions, battling an unseen foe with their swords and shields, which it must be pointed out, are of unknown origin or design.

The Sinulog is an improvised dance on the street and anybody from the crowd is free to join in. The performers, upon vanquishing their imaginary foe, cry out, "Viva Seņor San Miguel!" and the crowd roars back, "Viva!" This is repeated throughout the dance.

Another dance performance is the Kasadya, a street dance contest previously called Diyandi competition. Begun around 1986 and usually held two days before the fiesta, it has now ballooned into a full-scale festival of its own.

(Excerpts from an article by Rex Godinez Ortega titled "Melting pot of ethnic elements boils"
published in Inquirer Mindanao, Sept. 27)

Michaelmas: A Bit of History

San Miguel statue

Photo: Bobby Timonera

The San Miguel statue during the Sinulog.

Iligan City celebrates its fiesta on September 29 in honor of its patron saint, Michael the Archangel.

After the Jesuits were banished from all Spanish territories in 1768 by King Charles III, the Recollects took over the Jesuit missions in Mindanao. In 1834, the Spanish priests built on the site of its first chapel in Iligan the first parish church with St. Michael the Archangel as patron saint.

The city keeps two statues of Saint Michael. One is brownish, which has the features of the Sto. Niņo. Its feast day is during Michaelmas.

Iliganons find more affinity to it and fondly call it "guerrero" or warrior-saint and is deemed miraculous. Each year, the statue is provided two costumes, bigger in size than the previous year because the statue is said to be "growing."

The other statue is fair with classic features and is dressed like a Roman centurion. Kept at the lobby of St. Michael’s College across from the San Miguel Cathedral, it is alternately called "mayumo" and "collaborator" for it took the place of the miraculous "guerrero" when the Japanese occupied the city from 1942-1944. The "guerrero" was hidden in a cave in Pugaan because the people feared that the Japanese would deface it.

In contrast to the fuss and expense over the costumes of the guerrero, the mayumo is not opulently dressed and no miracles are ascribed to it.


Alejandro Roces in his book, Fiesta, gives two versions at the same time points out that the choice of St. Michael in lieu of Seņor Santiago Matamoros must have been due to the Spanish colonizers’ shift in a policy of peaceful co-existence. St. Michael the Archangel, who defeated Lucifer in a celestial battle, is Archangel to both Christians and Muslims.

Many myths try to explain the choice of St. Michael as Iligan’s patron saint. Roces gives two versions. In the choice of Iligan’s titulary, one tells of a sacristan who was blindfolded and who bumped into the image of St. Michael as he groped in the plaza where several images intended for various parishes were placed.

The hilarious story goes that the sacristan turned around a few times and then embraced a statue crying, "This is the patron saint of Iligan!" When his blindfold was removed, he saw that he was embracing not the saint’s image but the devil under its feet.

The other version many accept is St. Michael’s desire to be Iligan’s titular. Legend has it that the images of St. Michael and the Immaculate Conception arrived together in Iligan. The Immaculate Conception’s image was left in Iligan while that of St. Michael’s was brought on the ship bound for Misamis. A heavy storm was said to force the ship to turn back.

Another attempt was made to bring the statue to Misamis but again a storm forced the ship carrying St. Michael’s image to return to Iligan. A decision was made that the Immaculate Conception be brought to Misamis while that of St. Michael be left in Iligan.


Both Roces and Fr. Miguel Bernad, S.J., however, say this belief has no basis since Misamis, founded 23 years earlier than Iligan, already had as titular the Immaculate Conception.

Predictably, Iliganons prefer to believe the myth that St. Michael chose to be the city’s titular in the same way that Israelites believe they are God’s chosen people. Perhaps this explains the steadfast devotion of Iliganons to St. Michael who is the "mal’akh yawh" (angel of Yahweh). The name Michael also means "who is like God."

Iliganons entrust the protection of their city to this warrior-saint and stories of the saint’s miraculous exploits in trying times are legend.

(Excerpts from two articles by Christine Godinez-Ortega titled "Merry Michaelmas!" published in Inquirer Mindanao, Sept. 21 and "Devotion to 'growing' statue a way of life in Iligan City," published in the Inquirer’s Lifestyle section, Dec. 6).

The Sinulog

Sinulog participants

Photo: Bobby Timonera

Father and son join the Sinulog.

The sinulog is the most visible and most attended of the fiesta performing expressions. This street drama performance showcases in dance and mime the battle between San Miguel and Lusbel (Lucifer), as narrated in catechetical legend. The sinulog is performed along the overcrowded avenues and side-streets of Iligan andin all sense presents the triumph of the good over evil.

The battle actually is a reenactment of a sword fight (much is similar to the sagayan of the Maranao) except that the protagonist battles an unseen adversary, in one hand, the warrior (dressed similarly like the San Miguel) holds a wooden sword of indefinable origin which he brandishes in the air. On the other hand, the clasps of wooden shield (again of indefinable origin of various shapes, some circular, others very much like the Higa-onon kalasag, some with shells tha trattle when he shakes the shield) complementing the sword in an apparent hand to hand combat made more graceful by the incessant side-to-side movement of the head. The enemy is defeated and he shouts "Viva Seņor San Miguel!" and the crowds road in reply "Viva!" The warrior then genuflects.

Women in grotesque masks, painted faces and improvised patchwork costumes dance before the carrosa brearing the Seņor. Soot covered agtas (representing our negritos condescending attitude in the sinulog that implies the inferiority of non-Catholics) are the mischievous lot.

The streets of Iligan, when sinulog time comes, transforms into one huge carnival of colors and actors. It is not only spectacle to behold but a communal drama in itself real.

The Kasadya


Photo: Bobby Timonera

A boy takes a break after his group's presentation in the Kasadya.

The Kasadya Street Dancing Festival is one of the highlights of the fiesta. It features Iligan's Higa-onons, the Yawa-yawa, the Eskrima and Dyandi.

This festival is threatening to eclipse the popularity of the fiesta's Sinulog, even drawing champion competitors from different festivals in Mindanao, like the Kaamulan (Bukidnon), Lanzones (Camiguin), and Sagayan (Lanao) festivals for the open invitational category. Even participants of Maskara, a street dancing festival in faraway Bacolod City in Negros have joined the Kasadya.

A project of the Iligan Jaycees, the Kasadya is actually a form of Sinulog where the competitors are given a free hand to create and improvise on the Sinulog rituals and dances. It is here where the different dances of Iligan, the Diyandi, Eskrima, Higaunon dances and the Yawa-Yawa are rolled into one.

Darwin Manubag, executive vice president of the Iligan Jaycees, said they aim to preserve the traditional art and folk dance forms of Iligan, as well as promote them through the competition. "In this modern age, preserving our traditional art and dance forms is very important. It's what makes Iligan unique," he said.



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