South Cotabato celebrates 8th Kawayan festival

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/16 February) — Bamboo has found a dear place in the heart of South Cotabato.

The province is celebrating the many wonderful things that the “world’s tallest grass” can offer, through the Kawayan Festival, an activity aimed to draw more tourists to the province.

Now on its eighth year, the festival also showcases the useful contributions of kawayan, the Ilonggo term for bamboo, to its people, culture and development.

The Kawayan Festival started on February 15 and will end February 21 at the South Cotabato Productivity and Technology Center (Protech) along Alunan Avenue, beside the provincial capitol.

Since the festival started in 2004, the Kawayan Festival has held in February to make it a more joyous month for the province and to complement the traditional Valentine’s Day celebration observed worldwide.

“Kawayan is abundant in South Cotabato and so we thought of coming up with a festival in its honor, just like we have the T’nalak Festival, which is held very July,” Emmanuel Jumilla, Protech manager, said during the opening day.

T’nalak, a fabric made of dyed abaca, is woven by women members of the T’boli tribe. The festival in honor of the province’s foundation anniversary in July is named after this intricate artwork.

Jumilla told MindaNews that the Kawayan Festival found a home at the Protech since the facility works to promote the province’s investment and tourism potentials.

“The bamboo industry is a viable livelihood alternative for many of our people. On top of that, it’s environment-friendly,” he said.

The Kawayan Festival is celebrated every February, a lean month for tourism in the area. “We want this to change,” Jumilla explained, adding the provincial government has institutionalized the festival through its inclusion in the provincial government’s Annual Investment Plan.

In the week-long event, products made of bamboo are the centerpiece attraction.

In the town of Polomolok just along the national highway, houses and furniture made from bamboo has become a stable source of income for families there.

“We have been provided an avenue where our products have bigger chances of being noticed by buyers. This festival is a big push for us to continue our trade,” said Edith Sabalsa, a proprietor of one of the shops in Polomolok.

Sabalsa is among those competing for the living room showcase competition, which has a top prize of P15,000 worth of tools/gift certificates and P5,000 cash.

Jumilla said they want the bamboo industry to be fully developed for the local economy and tourism.

“We envision the province to be a major producer of quality bamboo crafts that visitors can buy as pasalubong for their loved ones,” he said.

Apart from the bamboo huts outside the Protech, handicraft such as lamp shades, wall frames and vases are also displayed inside the building, along with the living room showcase.

Rep. Daisy Avance-Fuentes (2nd district) said bamboo, also known as the “Grass of Hope,” is an integral part of the provincial culture. Several houses in rural areas in the province are still made of bamboo.

“Kawayan mirrors the soul of South Cotabato. We should be the ones who should first patronize our bamboo products,”  siaid.

The quality of handicraft products has also significantly improved through the years.

Fuentes stressed that an established bamboo-based industry would eventually contribute to the economic growth of the province.

Jumilla said technology seminars and training have been extended to those engaged in the industry to equip them with modern productions techniques via the Department of Science and Technology and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

The festival also highlights the culinary importance of bamboo. Mouth-watering cuisine using  bamboo as main ingredient is featured in the week-long festival.

Locals commonly cook the bamboo shoots by adding coconut milk to ingredients like shells, okra and saluyot.

Live bands play nightly at Protech’s compound. Barbecue and other foodstuff as well as beer can be bought at the makeshift tents.

A “Laro Kawayan” (bamboo games), usually played in town fiestas, is among the events that will surely entertain the young ones and the young once.

Watch the children in the bamboo triathlon as they walk with a “kadang” ( bamboo pole stick), run and balance on a bamboo beam, and climb a greased bamboo pole.

Then there’s “Likha Kawayan,” a competition that seeks to bring out the best in creating home decors, novelty items, and toys, among others, using bamboo as raw materials.

So come and enjoy, and don’t forget to buy a pasalubong [keepsake]. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)