Children in angel costumes hang from harnesses during the Kabanhawan Festival in Minglanilla.
The first-class municipality of Minglanilla celebrates Easter quite differently compared to its neighboring provinces. A local event filled with high-flying acrobatics, jaw-dropping dance routines, and heart-pumping action perfectly caps off an otherwise solemn Holy Week.
The Sugat Kabanhawan Festival (sometimes called the Kabanhawan Festival) can be considered Minglanilla’s very own Sinulog. It blends several church activities like masses and foot processions with social engagements like parades and beauty pageants.
This primarily religious celebration hosts a series of activities and presentations to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Day.
The re-enactment of the meeting between Mother Mary and the Risen Christ is the main highlight. Jam-packed with complex stunt work and impressive performances, you will definitely not find this in any other Philippine festivals.
The annual Sugat re-enactment has been an important tradition in the history of Minglanilla.
This yearly celebration gave this Southern Cebu municipality the moniker of “Sugat Capital of the Philippines.”
What is the Sugat Kabanhawan Festival?
Sugat Kabanhawan borrows the words from the Cebuano dialect, meaning “meeting” and “resurrection.”
The festival starts at midnight on Easter Sunday, with a role-play and mass at the Minglanilla Sports Complex.
The hour-long re-enactment transpires at around 3 AM. It features exquisite wirework displayed by dancers harnessed from high ziplines to create mesmerizing dance choreography and intense fight scenes.
One of the scenes is the battle between the Archangel Michael and Lucifer – depicted as a dark eagle.
The most notable role, though, are the Angels, played adorably by a number of child volunteers.
One special volunteer has the prominent role of removing a black cloth covering Mother Mary – commemorating the victory of Easter Sunday.
The performers also consist of numerous props men who push large contraptions or carry important narrative set pieces. Dancers spin fire poi and blow torches to bring some heat to the performance.
The re-enactment concludes with an actor dressed up as Jesus Christ, standing atop a high platform above the stage – implying His resurrection into heaven.
The festivities continue into the morning as contingents from around Cebu perform their street dance routines during a street parade on the National Highway. The festival ends with the Ritual Showdown performed at the sports complex.
A beauty pageant for the Festival Queen is also held a few days before the re-enactment.
Attending the festival is a great addition to the many Easter activities for families in Cebu.
The Importance of Sugat Kabanhawan in Minglanilla
Like Cebu City’s festival, Sugat coincides with a religious event. Sinulog is celebrated on the feast of the Sto. Niño, while the Kabanhawan festival occurs at the end of Holy Week.
The festival is said to have been introduced by the Spaniards in 1889.
The earliest versions of the celebration consisted of Minglahanons slaughtering water buffaloes equal to the number of children playing the angels in the re-enactment. This practice stopped when the number of buffaloes decreased.
Year after year, Sugat wowed the crowds, creating an audience from its neighboring provinces and turning it into a tourist attraction. It welcomes massive crowds from around the Philippines, once recording over 100,000 viewers.
As viewer numbers skyrocketed, the re-enactment was performed at the sports complex, moving from its previous venue at the town plaza in front of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.
It has been the venue for the re-enactment since 2000.
In 2005, the organizers – consisting of the local government and the church – added festival activities to turn the celebration into a more social event.
They added street dancing, a ritual showdown, and other recreational activities that are all held at the sports complex.
Unfortunately, the organizers canceled the 2020 celebration amidst the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cebu. The event was also broadcasted online in 2021.
The festival finally welcomed a live audience at the Sports Oval on April 17, 2022, since the COVID Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) downgraded the town and the rest of the island to Alert Level 1.
However, the street dancing competition – which brings in thousands of viewers flocking the streets – was canceled by the organizers.
The Kabanhawan Festival may be going back to its magnificent state in a few more years. Regardless, it remains to be the biggest reason to visit the municipality during Holy Week.
It boosts tourism in Cebu and preserves a significant tradition in Minglanilla that has been present since the Colonial Period. It creates a spectacle of joy, wonder, and awe to keep you on the edge of your seat. Sugat Kabanhawan is proof that you can spend your Easter with splendor.