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Masbate’s Lapay Bantigue Festival soars to new heights

MASBATE CITY—In the southern part of the region at the end of September, the Lapay Bantigue Festival takes to the skies in celebration of the island’s fascinating culture.

Lapay Bantigue Festival
Photo by Gagha Valencia
Held alongside Masbate City’s cityhood anniversary, the festival highlights a traditional folk dance inspired by sea birds called lapay. 

Masbateños say that such birds are a common sight in the coastal barangay of Bantigue, especially at dawn when they wait for the fishermen arrive with their catch.

Among those who were mesmerized by the birds’ tender beauty was a woman called Felisa Tupas.

Lola Felisa, as she is fondly called, was inspired to invent a dance that mimicked the fluid flapping of the bird's wings, their graceful swoop to kiss the sparkling waves, their playful frolicking by the coastline as they search for spare catch.

The dance soon spread among the villagers, who offered it to their patroness Saint Philomena.

To her they attribute many blessings, including the healing of a fisherman’s child, and an abundant supply of fish.

Some say a separate dance called the Bantigue was blended with the Lapay dance, resulting in a distinctive mix.

Later, National Artist, choreographer and dancer Ramon Obusan improved the traditional dance with music and additional steps.

In 2002, the performance of the dance in the streets of Masbate was designated as one of the highlights of the cityhood anniversary.

Masbateños today, often in elaborate costumes, dance the Lapay Bantigue to commemorate the tradition and give thanks for the bountiful catch that they enjoy from the waters that surround the island.

Lola Felisa’s story, meanwhile, continues to be passed down to younger generations, reminding them of the spirited and creative woman who started not only a dance, but a spectacular celebration of Masbateño culture.

The Lapay Bantigue festival has since been bringing honor to the island province, notching prizes in festival competitions, such as the Sinulog Festival and Gayon Bicol Festival of Festivals. To the rest of Bicol, the nation, and the world, however, it is a “pamana kag tradisyon,” a legacy and a gift to the present and the future.—BICOLSTANDARD.COM

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