Tawi-Tawi celebrates its 44th founding anniversary with a series of activities, hosted by the town of Languyan, from Sept 23 to 27. A highlight of the weeklong celebration is the Agal-Agal Fest.

Delegates from other islands arrive on lansas or wooden motor boats, adorned with festive flags.

Wearing colorful costumes inspired by traditional Sama attires, the dancers perform igal ma lan on the streets of Darul Akram in Languyan.

A female dancer wears costume made of dried seaweeds, seashells, and starfish. She uses burak, a natural sunblock paste, for her face, and wraps her teeth with aluminum foil, to imitate the practice of having gold dental crowns famous among older folks.

A male dancer carries a rattan basket commonly used in harvesting seaweeds.

Dance routines dramatize the process of seaweed farming.

Dance routines dramatize the process of seaweed farming.

The tawti dance portrays a fisherman catching catfish or tawti. The dance starts with fishermen going to sea. They dive and swim until one of them gets punctured by a tawti, prompting his companions to rush to his aid. In other versions, the fisherman is believed to be pagsuran (possessed)—the evil spirit entering through the wound.

In the performance, sometimes the fishermen will fight over fresh catch, but will settle amicably later on.

The silat is a variation of the kuntaw, a martial arts dance, where the performers use blades like the barong or kalis to show off their skills in defending themselves.

Sitangkai town is the top seaweed producer in Tawi-Tawi.

An agal-agal farm in Bongao, the capital town of Tawi-Tawi.

PHOTOS: Celebrating the tradition of seaweed farming in Tawi-Tawi

Reliving the past was the highlight of the recent Agal-Agal Festival in the province of Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao.

Dubbed as the “Seaweeds Capital of the Philippines” and “Carrageenan Capital of the World”, the province celebrates the Agal-Agal (Seaweed) Festival every 25th of September.

It was the main event in this year’s 44th Kamahardikaan sin Tawi-Tawi or the southern province’s founding anniversary, held in the town Languyan, some 55 kilometers from the capital Bongao.

The celebration honors the bounties of the sea, especially seaweed, the top source of livelihood in the province.

The festival features a street dance, igal ma lan, competition, that include performances portraying a fisherman’s process of catching catfish, locally known as tawti, and seaweed farming.

The event also showcases traditional dances like the tawti, kuntaw, silat, and more—putting the spotlight on the cultural practices and traditions of the people of Tawi-Tawi -- the Sama, Sama Dilaut, Jama Mapun, and Tausug.

More than the extravagant display of costumes and props and spectacular choreography, the festival is a time to reflect on the history and struggles of their ancestors, who trusted in nothing but the wisdom of the sea to guide them.


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Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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