MunaTo Festival: A Return to Sarangani’s Roots

Bernard Supetran

One of the most unique traits of Sarangani has to be the fact that it is one of the youngest provinces in the country, yet at the same time, one of the oldest.

Youngest because it is just 26 years old, which created as an independent province in 1992 from South Cotabato’s coastal municipalities.

Oldest because it is host to the more than 2,000 year-old anthropomorphic man and burial jars unearthed in the remote Pinol and Ayub Caves in Maitum town. Now on display at the National Museum, it is described as an “exceptional archaeological assemblage and unparalleled in Southeast Asia”.

This Old World charm took center stage once more as the province recently marked its 26th founding day and the 16th MunaTo Festival to celebrate its rich cultural heritage and diversity.

Themed “Kulay Munato”, the festivity is derived from the indigenous Blaan phrase Muna Toh or “first people” which showcased the culture, nature, and adventure attributes of the Sarangani, which serve as its tourist come-ons.

According to Sarangani governor Steve Chiongbian Solon, this year’s festival is special with the recent conferment of the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Living Treasure) by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts to Blaan igem (mat) weaver Bai Estelita Bantilan.

He said the Gamaba award will boost the province’s cultural treasures and the tourist attractions of Malapatan, Bantilan’s hometown, which is also noted for the elegant Maguindanaon handwoven inaul fiber which has been displayed in international fashion shows.  

Adding color to the celebration is its award as the fifth Most Competitive Province in this year’s Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index (CMCI) which ranks local governments on the framework of productivity. 

Senate Committee on Tourism chairperson Nancy Binay, was guest of honor and spoke on the congressional legislative efforts to preserve and promote the heritage of the indigenous peoples.

She noted that the festival is a showcase of the harmony and diversity of the lumad tribes, Moro peoples and Christian settlers who have the province their home.

The highlight of the four-day fest is the Municipal Village exhibit which put to the fore the local products, cuisine, tourist attractions and cultural heritage of Sarangani’s seven municipalities.

Another main event is the Craft Conference and Exhibition which displayed the intricate hand-weaving tradition of the Blaan, Tagakaolo, Tboli lumad tribes, and the Maguindanaon, Maranao and Taosug Moro communities.

Receiving special attention was demonstrations on the weaving of the exquisite Mabal Tabih abaca fabric of the Blaan tribe, regarded as the province’s crown jewel of cultural resources.

Fringe events included the Sbuno, the traditional tribal wrestling game in southern Mindanao, sporting events, indigenous peoples’ day, musical concerts, and the Pearl of Sarangani which chose the province’s ambassadresses of goodwill and tourism.

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