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Tagoloan starts festive tradition

Cantago Festival honors
Nuestra Señora de Candelaria

Text and photos by Roel Hoang Manipon, Assistant Editor

agoloan in Misamis Oriental annually celebrates the feast day of its patron, Nuestra Señora de Candelaria or Our Lady of Candelaria, on February 2 with traditional masses, processions and feasting, like most parts of predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.
Like many towns, cities and provinces of the country, the town just east of Cagayan de Oro City, the hub of northeast Mindanao, is now creating its own festival to promote itself and establish an identity, mining its heritage and traditions, mostly Christian Cebuano.
Spearheaded by Tagoloan mayor Heckert Emano and shaped by Mindanawon director and community and event organizer Basilidas Pilapil, Jr., the Cantago Festival was started in 2017. It stems from and pivots around the feast day of Nuestra Señora de Candelaria, representing the Tagoloanons’ devotion to the Blessed Mary.
The festival, a portmanteau of Candelaria and Tagoloan, is meant to be a thanksgiving for Nuestra Señora de Candelaria as the town’s protector and provider and to show her impact on the lives of Tagaloanons.
The old image of the Nuestra Señora de Candelaria is housed in the simple Tagoloan Church, and locals believe it to be miraculous. No one knows exactly the image’s age. It is believed that it was the Jesuit missionaries who brought the veneration of Our Lady of Candelaria to Tagoloan.
The local parish has a short history of the image, which began in 1942 when the townspeople sought shelter in Santa Ana from the invading Japanese army. Two parishioners, a man and his nephew, went back to get the image of Our Lady of Candelaria from the church. They were able to get the head and hands of the statue and the image of the infant Jesus, packed inside a sack. On the way to Santa Ana on horseback, the cargo fell to the river they were crossing, but the boy was able to retrieve it. In Santa Ana, the image was placed in an altar of a chapel. The Tagoloan Church was bombed five months later. After the war, parishioners carved a body out of santol wood for the Virgin's head and hands and fashioned a gown out of a white United States army tent.
On February 3, 1986, after the feast day, the image of Our Lady of Candelaria was placed on a boat for a fluvial procession from the town proper to Baluarte, together with musicians. Along the way, a large wave hit the boat, overturning it. Fortunately, no one died, and the image and the musicians arrived safely.
In 1992, a group called Mother Butler began making gowns for the image, which became a tradition. Yearly, the image is dressed with a new gown as people pray the rosary before the start of the nine-day novena leading to her feast day. Devotees began donating new gowns, many of which were lavish. The gowns are now housed in a little museum behind the church.
The Cantago Festival now becomes part of the history of the devotion to the image. The image of Nuestra Señora de Candelaria is central to the festival, and a candle is a prevalent image, a symbol of Mary, which "provides light for us to glance a very progressive and productive future."
The festival is held from January 27 to February 3, 2018, and includes many events. This year, it had a fun run, a horse show and competition, a mountain bike race, parades, reliigous and civic gatherings, entertainment, games and a gay beauty pageant, coinciding with traditional activities of the feast day on February 2.
The highlight is, of course, the street dancing parade and showdown. For the dance, Pilapil created its own eight steps. The parade is accompanied by floats of giant candles of different materials. The lively dancing and merry-making are accompanied by rousing music, mostly using drums, but laced with strains of church hymns such as “Oh Maria Reyna” and “Ave Maria.” Each contingent is led by queenly dancer in spectacular gowns called Hara sa Cantago.
This year, a kick-off ritual called Ritwal Alang sa Kalambuan was performed before the parade on February 1. Starting from the Gracia Elementary School and ending in front of the church, the street dancing parade was participated in by all of the town’s ten barangays—Baluarte, Casinglot, Gracia, Mohon, Natumolan, Poblacion, Rosario, Santa Ana, Santa Cruz and Sugbongcogon. Most of the costume designs were inspired by early gowns of the Virgin Mary—white, azure and billowy—or the Hispanic-Filipino attire or terno.
The contingents converged by the grandstand near the church for the showdown, presenting a dance tableaux. For the second time, Casinglot was declared showdown champion, followed by Santa Ana in second place and Gracia third. Casinglot was also considered the best contingent in street dancing, followed by Santa Cruz in second and Gracia third.
While the Cantago Festival is still being shaped and made unique, may it light the way for Tagoloan to focus on and enrich its own heritage and culture.

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