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Bicol’s epic legend Ibalong turns 25

From the dustbins of history to the street theater of Legazpi City is the unfolding saga of Ibalong, Bicol region’s epic legend which has been given a new lease on life through a festival named after it in Albay’s scenic capital city.

Bicol’s biggest non-religious festival, Ibalong Festival is based on indigenous folklore and perhaps the only cultural event in the country, which relives an epic. 

HERO OF BICOL. Baltog is one of Ibalong's  legendary heroes, along with Handyong and Bantong. 
Now in its 25th staging, it is a popular recreation of a mid-19th century fragments of 60-stanza epic poem penned by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Melendreras about the ancient civilization of Ibalong or present-day Bicol.

The story is inspired by the oral accounts of Kadunung, a wandering minstrel regarded as the bard of Ibalong for being a fountainhead of indigenous folklore.

Cast in the mold of classic mythologies, Ibalong tells about its three legendary heroes—Baltog, Handyong and Bantong—who, with their supernatural strengths, rid the land of beasts and helped it attain its golden era.

Arriving at various points in history, these warriors who came from a faraway land, vanquished the dreaded beasts, which sowed terror among the populace. Among these dreaded beasts were Tandayag (giant wild boar) and Rabot (a half-man, half beast creature).

Another prominent character is the villain-turned-heroine Oryol, a beautiful half woman-half serpent, that had a change of heart as she fell in love with Handyong and joined his forces to defeat the other monsters of the land.

The Ibalong Festival puts to the fore Bicol's rich heritage and the resilient character of its people despite the adversities they encounter
The legendary heroes later cultivated the land, established a government and a justice system, followed by an age of discovery and invention that helped civilization flourish.

After recounting their heroic exploits, Kadunung suddenly stopped and promised to continue telling the story some other time.

Scholars noted that while the epic appears to be an unfinished story, it is a living legend where the readers can freely continue the saga with their own interpretations of modern-day heroism.

The epic first got into mass exposure in 1895 when editor Wenceslao Retana compiled and annotated the fragments of the poem in the book Archivo del Bibliofilo Filipino.

While the original Spanish manuscripts were lost, fragments copied by Fray Jose Castaño in Breve Noticia are included in the Bibliofilo of Retana published in Madrid, Spain.

The title “Ibalong” was supplied by noted Bicolano essayist Jose Ma. Panganiban, a colleague of Dr. Jose Rizal in the Propaganda Movement, because the original 60 quatrains had no title.

In 1992, the late mayor Imelda Roces staged the maiden edition of the festival to rescue the epic from the dustbins of history and make it a source of pride for the people of the city and the entire Bicolandia.

And when Legazpeños breathe life into a legend, guests can expect an equally legendary celebration with the pomp and pageantry of epic proportions.

In 2013, Ibalong was adapted for the stage as a dance musical at the Cultural Center of the Philippines by playwright Rody Vera and directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio with Carol Bello’s musical direction, as part of Tanghalang Pilipino’s 26th season.

Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal said that Ibalong Festival puts to the fore Bicol’s rich heritage and resilient character despite the adversities they encounter in life as can be gleaned from the epic’s unfolding story.

He said that in transforming an almost-forgotten legend into a colorful festival, the city has put a visual touch into the epic to make it more understandable by the people. 

Rosal noted that the festivity showcases the city’s strides in investment, economic development, governance and tourism. 

The festival was held on Aug. 30 where the scenes of the legend were acted out in a street theater competition.

Another highlight was the modern stage adaption of the epic based on CCP’s dance musical shown to the public at the Ibalong Centrum for Recreation. 

A much-awaited event in the two-week festivity was the star-studded Mutya ng Ibalong  on Aug. 24, one of Bicol’s biggest pageants. 

Other events were Mt. Mayon Triathlon, a dragonboat race, and an array of socio-civic and cultural activities. 

Dubbed as the “City of Fun and Adventure,” Legazpi is one of the country’s top tourist destinations, being the home to Mayon Volcano, the world’s most perfect-cone.

The bustling urban hub is also home to adventure recreational activities such as the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) to the Mayon lava watch, jetskiing and scuba diving in Albay Gulf, three ziplines at different parts of the city, and a host of cozy homegrown restaurants that have made Legazpi a culinary capital.

Topics: Bicol’s epic legend Ibalong , Ibalong Festival , Legazpi City , Bicol region
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