Bambanti Festival 2024: A Kaleidoscope of Colors, Flavors and Traditions

Bambanti, the Ilocano word for scarecrow is a revered icon up north in the mountains and plains of Isabela. The Province of Isabela is known as “The Rice Bowl of the North” and “The Corn Capital of the Philippines”. They see these makeshift, human-like objects as sentinels that help protect the farmlands, as friends of the farmers who safeguard their crops by discouraging birds to pick on their harvest of corn or rice.  And every fourth week of January, the whole province lights up in vibrant colors and sounds as they celebrate this week long festival.

Attending my first scarecrow festival was a completely new experience for me, it was quite the surreal experience.

Bambanti Festival 

The Bambanti Festival is a multiverse of all the festivals held in the province of Isabela. This is usually held at the Kapitolyo in Ilagan City, Isabela.This year's theme, “Ettam ngana ta Isabela” is an Ybanag phrase directly translating to “Tara na sa Isabela” or “Let's go to Isabela”. 

It is a week long because there are exciting competitions that showcase each municipality and town's heritage. You have the Street Dance Competition, Festival Dance Showdown, Queen Isabela Pageant and Bambanti Festival King and Queen for starters. 

They also have the Bambanti Village to showcase their big scarecrows and local products. You also have live performances by various local artists near the end of the week, and almost every night as well. You can also see a foodpark near the Queen Isabela Park with plenty of their best streetfood among the entrances to the Kapitolyo.

This festival has won multiple awards, from the Aliw Award for Best Festival Practices and Performance from 2015 to 2017,  Aliw Award Hall of Fame in 2018 to setting a Guinness World Record in 2019. It was for the largest gathering of people dressed as scarecrows, which is counted at 2,495 and was achieved by the Provincial Government of Isabela in Ilagan, Philippines on 25 January 2019.

Vice Governor Faustino “Bojie” G. Dy III, who oversees the event, mentioned that January is a perfect time for the festival. The weather is cool, and people are still in the festive spirit after Christmas.

“This year’s celebration is our way of giving gratitude for all the blessings and welcoming the challenges ahead,” he said.

The Bambanti Village

The village featured giant Bambanti figures along with a booth filled with local agriculture products and arts for people to buy or enjoy. You will be welcomed and amazed by big scarecrows made from natural materials. 

Each booth embodies a municipality by showcasing not just their local products but also their famous landmarks or sometimes even their own festivals. These show off the skillful craftsmanship of Isabelenos as they only had a limited time to create these artful booths.

All the while though, this is still a friendly competition with their neighboring municipalities. They opted for having two categories to make it fair to everyone, even the towns that don't have a big budget to play with making their art. While it looks awesome at morning, you should also see this during the night time, as the place is illuminated nicely.

Agri-Ecotourism Booth Winners:

Category A: 

    1st: Echague 

    2nd: Ilagan City

    3rd: Cauayan City

Category B: 

    1st: Cordon

    2nd: San Pablo

    3rd: Quirino

Giant Bambanti Winners: 

Category A: 

    1st: Ilagan City

    2nd: Echague

    3rd: San Mariano

Category B: 

    1st: Cordon

    2nd: Burgos

    3rd: Delfin Albano

Bambanti Dance Competitions

Bambanti Festival’s Street Dance Competition as well as their Festival Dance Showdown was held at Isabela Sports Complex. The twist in Isabela's dance competition is the fact that it feels more organized and most people can see the routines better as a whole, since it is held in the Sports Complex, complete  with ample seating for festival goers and a stage for the Festival Dance Showdown. 

For this year, there are1,600 Bambanti Festival 2024 street dancers from three cities and thirteen municipalities. Competitors are wearing their elaborate and colorful scarecrow-inspired attires, that is also reminiscent of their town's main product or harvest.

While you can't see them up close, their routines are fluid and have complexity as well as passion, and their upbeat energy can still be felt with every movement. Sixteen groups from the province’s cities and towns participated under two categories to keep it fair to all contingents.

They danced to this year's tune of “Ettam ngana ta Bambanti! Ettam ngana ta Isabela”. 

Street Dance Competition Winners:

Category A: 

    First and Overall winner: Jones

    2nd: Alicia

    3rd: Echague

Category B: 

    1st: Sta. Maria

    2nd: Cabatuan

    3rd: Quirino

Makan Ken Mainum

Makan ken Mainum is Ilocano for food and drink. Now on it's 8th year, it features the next generation of cooks in Isabela. Organized by Madame Chef Mary Ann Arcega-Dy, the event encourages IsabeleƱos to create innovative dishes and beverages that uses locally harvested products, with the main goal of introducing them not just to the festival goers but to introduce them to local establishments. 

Their food and drinks featured, much like their festival is full of flavor as well as vibrant colors and presentations. Here are some of the dishes made by our next generation chefs.

Queen Isabela

The Queen Isabela pageant during the Bambanti Festival 2024 emphasizes more than just physical attractiveness. Judges seek a regal embodiment of Isabela, reflecting its status as the "Queen Province of the North." 

The event showcases the beauty of Ibanag and Ilocano females from the province's 28 municipalities. For residents, the pageant is a source of pride as each participant represents their town. 

Participants display their physical beauty in various attires, including elaborate gowns, casual wear, and bikinis. The Top 10 finalists face a challenging Q&A session, addressing significant topics such as same-gender marriage, testing their intelligence and wit.

It felt like a full circle journey as the newly crowned Queen Isabela 2024 is Ms. Kristine Joy Guzman of Ilagan, Isabela, with her recent win as Binibining Ilagan 2023.

She has proven that her advocacy in her heart, elegance and charm as warm as Ilagan's hospitality is her driving force for capturing the hearts of the whole province. 

  • Queen Isabela 2024 is Ms. Kristine Joy Guzman of Ilagan City
  • Queen Isabel,a Tourism 2024: Precious Faith Mirasol of Sta. Maria
  • Queen Isabela Culture & Arts 2024: Jhudiel Eunisse Taguinod of Echague
  • First Runner-up: Grace Esther Due of Roxas
  • Second Runner-up: Alexis Ann Ramos Cauayan City

Bambanti Festival King and Queen

This part of the festival is all about showcasing elaborate costumes that represent each town's culture and festival. These costumes are exhibited at the Ilagan City Municipal Hall before the competition at Queen Isabela Park. They are symbolic costumes and larger-than-life props that highlight the creative side of IsabeleƱos, similar to the creativity seen in the Bambanti Village.

Winners are Echague for Category A and Quirino for Category B.

The Grand Concert scene in Isabela

To finish off the program, the day of the Festival's dance competition ends with various artists like Ms. Julie Ann San Jose, John Rex, Thea Astley ... singing to classic songs like ... and the Isabela Province hymn. For the last night of the Bambanti Festival 2024, they had a Grand Concert, filled to the brim with feels of joy and serendipity as the whole province sang alongside The Juans (known for their song “Di Tayo Pwede”) and Morisette. And the  night ended with a grand fireworks show.

Touring around Ilagan City

Since you're already in the area, you might as well come for the beautiful landmarks. There are actually a couple of new places to be, as some of there are opened up at the height of 2021. 

  • Giant Butaka This is what will welcome you when you arrive.
  • Ilagan Japanese Tunnel
  • Meraki Garden 
  • Ilagan Sanctuary
  • Hacienda De Luis
  • Our Lady of the Pillar Parish in Cauayan, Isabela
  • Magat Dam- Located in Ramon, this is a place that rivals Tagaytay or Antipolo when it comes to views. You can have picnics and pictorials here. This is a multi-purpose dam which is used primarily for irrigating about 85,000 hectares (210,000 acres) of agricultural lands, flood control, and power generation through the Magat Hydroelectric Power Plant.
  • Philippine Crocodile Conservation Center- A one of its kind in the Philippines, this animal shelter takes care and promotes the welfare of the Philippine crocodile.

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