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Kahilwayan is an Ilonggo term that means freedom or independence and Santa Barbara's cultural festival depicts the role of the Ilonggos in the historic uprising against Spain.
The town's Kahilwayan Festival showcases in a dance drama the series of events that led to the open declaration of the revolution in the Visayas that's now known as the Cry of Santa Barbara.
The raising of the Philippine flag by revolutionary forces led by Gen. Martin T. Delgado in Santa Barbara on November 17, 1898 signalled the start of the rebellion against Spain in the Visayas and Mindanao
It is a testimony of the bravery and heroism of the Ilonggos who openly showed their defiance against Spanish oppressors.
So important was the role of this uprising in Philippine history that Santa Barbara was the only municipality outside Luzon that was declared as a National Trunk Site in the Centennial Freedom Trail during the Philippine Centennial Celebration in 1998.
In 2001, the Municipal Government headed by then Mayor Isabelo Maquino launched the Kahilwayan Festival as an innovative way of retelling the story of the Cry of Santa Barbara. It is aimed at catching the attention not only of local folks but foreign tourists as well.
The Kahilwayan Festival features hundreds of students garbed in colorful period costumes (rayadillo, saya, kimona, and camisa chino) competing in street dancing and theater to the tune of the Marcha Libertador composed by Delgado's brother Posidio.
Their street acting serves to reenact the struggle for freedom against oppression by local Ilonggo folks led by Delgado.
There are two judging areas for the dance-drama presentation: at the public plaza and town market.
The major events highlighted in the storyline of the Kahilwayan Festival are the following:
All these events must be incorporated in every competing group's performance.
Kahilwayan is just one of the festivals in the Philippines but what makes it unique is its originality and historical basis.
It is about highlighting important past events in a manner that the younger generation can understand, appreciate, and enjoy. It is about looking back and giving honor to the people who fought and died for the freedom that we are enjoying today.
Its uniqueness resulted in its inclusion in the 365 Days Calendar of Events of the Department of Tourism in 2002 even if the Kahilwayan Festival was only introduced to the public a year before that.
It is also for this reason that the Dinagyang Foundation invited the Municipality of Santa Barbara to the Kasadyahan Contest during the 2002 Dinagyang Festival. It was a great triumph when Tribu Kahilwayan won the competition even if it was a first-timer in the event.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) considers the Kahilwayan Festival as Iloilo's foremost historical cultural festival and included it in the 365 Days Calendar of Events.
It has also become one of Iloilo's multi-awarded local festivals after it won four times as champion in the Kasadyahan Competition of the 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2007 Dinagyang Festival, as well as second placer in the 2004 and 2005 Aliwan Fiesta Dance Parade Competition in Manila.
In 2008, the Kahilwayan Festival was awarded by the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) as the 2008 Best Tourism Event of the country for the festival category-municipal level.
Since its launch in 2001, the Kahilwayan Festival has presented its repertoires in several major events in the country such as the Independence Day celebration in Manila in 2005 and 2006, Palarong Pambansa, National PRISAA, and Parade of Festivals.
It has continued to gain popularity not only in the province but in the entire country as well, and the yearly event is expected to draw even more visitors to the municipality.
The festival was named Best Tourism Event for the culture and arts category in the municipal level for 2011, 2012 and 2013 by the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines-Department of Tourism Pearl Awards.