History and Culture
In Zamboanga, A Colorful Regatta Steeped In History
Choose Philippines | Oct 22, 2019
Story and photos by Chrisel Almonia
Every sinew in the dark-skinned biceps of Frankie Apalad Jr. and Abibasar Asmad tightened with every row, their wooden banca thrusting against strong waves. Sweat and saltwater were blinding their eyes but with a final pull, the colorful sail of Vinta 001 from Barangay Mariki reached the finish line a few minutes ahead of some two hundred others. This is the first time that the pair won the annual Regatta de Zamboanga, one of the highlights of the Hermosa Festival. Frankie believes that hard work and perseverance as a team made them victorious this time. "Pinagbutihan talaga namin ngayon," Frankie gushes, his face beaming with a wide smile, "Ilang linggo din kami nag-practice." (We performed really well, we practiced for several weeks.)
The race is one of the highlights of the Hermosa Festival, celebrated every October in honor of Zamboanga City’s Patron Saint Nuestra Señora La Virgen Del Pilar. During the festival, the whole stretch of R. T. Lim Boulevard is splashed with color as vintas with colorful sails brave the waves for the annual Carrera de Vinta. For the people of Zamboanga, the traditional outrigger boat is a representation of their history and culture. Also called lepa-lepa or sakayan, the vinta was used in ancient times to transport people and goods to and from different islands.
[related: The Stunning Pink Beach Of Zamboanga City]
The competition is dominated by Sama-Badjao fishermen who all aim to bag the cash prize, trophy, and gifts. The Sama-Badjaos are called sea gypsies as they are more at home playing and making a living at sea. Aside from fishing, several of them are usually found near incoming commercial ferries, diving underwater to catch the coins being thrown by boat passengers.
Each year, the Carrera de Vinta is witnessed by thousands of locals and visitors who endure the scorching heat of the sun just to see the one-of-a-kind competition. The Local Government of Zamboanga defines the race as an activity that brings all walks of life together, representing the unity among religions who peacefully live in the City. “Ito ang isa sa mga activity dito sa Zamboanga City na pwede nating ipag-mayabang,” DOT Asec. for Mindanao Myra Paz Abubakar emphasized. (This is one of the activities in Zamboanga City that we can be proud of.)
Following the Regatta de Zamboanga is the Wow Sardines grand boodle fight, one of the regular activities of the Hermosa Festival for eleven years now, affirming Zamboanga City's title as the Sardines Capital of the Philippines, with 80% of the country's sardines supply hailing from Zamboanga City.
Thousands of cans of sardines donated by different canning companies are opened and laid on the table with rice and crackers for everyone present to feast on. On this table, government officials, tourists, and locals partake of the victuals together until the table is clean, usually in 10 minutes or less.
Tourists from other countries were also fascinated not just with the annual festivities but with the community as well. The smile that Zamboangue?os paint on their faces catches the hearts of visitors who are new to the place. Zack Williams from Florida beams “I just really like it; it looks like a nice community, so I really enjoyed it.”