Karatong Festival

“Dulag, Leyte: Presenting Identity through Bamboo Musical Instruments”: By Roan May D.G. Opiso

Karatong Festival is the annual fiesta of Dulag, Leyte. It highlights the Waray bamboo percussion karatong, which in ancient times was used by the Dulagnons as an alarm when an impending danger or calamity would threaten their town (Cagara, interview, 19 October 2019).

Mr. Orlando Cagara, Secretary to the Sanggunian Bayan of Dulag, shared that Dulag’s previous festivals used to be heavily patterned after the Sinulog of the neighboring province of Cebu. In 2019, however, the Dulag local government unit (LGU), under Honorable Mayor Mildred Joy Que, decided to impart their own identity in their festival. At the same time, they wanted an all-bamboo music featured in their festivity. Hence, they elected to develop the karatong and other bamboo musical instruments.

Why Bamboo?

Upon developing the new concept for their festival, the Dulag LGU looked into the resources of their land. Dulag, according to Cagara, is generally a flat land, and though they do not have a forest, the town has six to seven species of bamboo. They have pattong, tangnan, kawayan, bagakay, among others.  


In preparation for the Karatong Festival, the Dulag LGU invited Prof. Jocelyn Guadalupe of the UP College of Music and Philippine Society of Music Educators and Mr. David Dino Guadalupe of the UP Center for Ethnomusicology to give a workshop on bamboo music. This workshop was attended by teachers of the different participating schools in the municipality and was later followed by rehearsals and further encouragement from the local government.

During the said workshop and the succeeding preparations for the festival, the schools were able to create different types of bamboo instruments. Additionally, the bamboo instrument makers named their creations based on their Leyte/Samar heritage, congruent with their aim of highlighting the Dulag identity in their festivities. Hence, the following instruments came to being.

  • Halo or Bayawak

The halo or bayawak is a set of three (3) long bamboo tubes laid in a row. Its name came from the Waray word halo, meaning bayawak in Filipino or monitor lizard in English, because its length is similar to that of the said animal.

The instrument is made from the bolo bamboo, which is locally known as kayali. The instrument is played by striking the holes at the end of the bamboo using a rubber mallet. (Some players improvised using a rubber slipper). Each bamboo tube of the halo has its own note. The longer the length of tube, the lower the pitch. At the same time, the shorter the tube, the higher the pitch.

The halo has different sizes and each one is tuned to itself; meaning, a halo is not necessarily tuned the same way as other halos. Played in an ensemble, its function is comparable to that of the tenor drum of a marching band.

In creating the halo,Romeo and Paul of San Jose National High School first took the measurements of a bamboo pole. They then hollowed out the inside, and used a pitch pipe to get the pitch of each tube. Paul started with the lower ‘do’ before going up to the highest note. Mr. Go, another teacher from their school, made the decorative design of the instrument.

  • Karatong

As part of an ensemble, the karatong has a function similar to that of the snare drum of a marching band. Though it has been a traditional instrument in Dulag, the instrument makers in the workshop made innovations on its design to suit their needs. For example, they came up with a karatong version which has a handle on one end so that it can be held by one hand and beaten with a bamboo stick by the other hand. This style makes it convenient for the drummer to dance and to play the instrument at the same time. Another style of the karatong has the instrument placed on a stand, which is then strapped to the player. This set-up allows the instrumentalist to simultaneously dance and play the instruments using two sticks. A third version is a set of karatong grouped in three’s and placed in a frame. 

Like the functional innovations made on the instrument, the decorative design of the karatong also varies depending on the maker. In San Jose, for example, some of their karatong were styled like a fish.

  • Karatoktok

The Dulagnons who attended the bamboo music instrument seminar also made a bamboo lyre or xylophone which they called karatoktok. It is played using a bamboo stick as a mallet. Like the halo, the karatoktok is also made from kayali

The karatoktok in San Jose NHS was tuned by Paul and used the notes of the song “Si Filemon” which they performed in the festival.

Aside from the halo, karatong, and karatoktok, the instrument makers also made other different bamboo instruments. They have another bamboo xylophone similar to a gabbang, and a huge bamboo clapper. The bamboo clapper though was used more as a prop than an instrument.

They also have a smaller version of halo called by Romeo as munting sawa. These shorter bamboo tubes are grouped together (one version has at least 8 tubes) in one row and set vertically in a frame, unlike the halo which is laid down horizontally. The munting sawa was acquired after the Karatong Festival and is reserved to be played in future activities.    

Instrument Method of Sound Production Melodic Range Role in the Ensemble Function in Ritual or Social/Cultural Activity
(or bayawak)
Hole at the end of the bamboo tube is hit with a rubber mallet Range depends on the maker (ex. length of the bamboo tube) Functions like a tenor drum in a marching band; keeps the beat Part of an ensemble, the instruments are played during fiestas and other celebrations, mostly functioning as entertainment music; accompaniment to street dancing.
Karatong Body of bamboo is hit with a stick Functions like a “snare drum” Part of an ensemble, the instruments are played during fiestas and other celebrations, mostly functioning as entertainment music; accompaniment to street dancing. Traditionally used as a warning device.
Karatoktok Bamboo slabs are hit with a bamboo stick Instrument tuned to itself (range may vary depending on the song) Plays melody Part of an ensemble, the instruments are played during fiestas and other celebrations, mostly functioning as entertainment music; accompaniment to street dancing.
Bamboo xylophone
Bamboo slabs are hit with a stick (No data) (No data) (No data)
Munting sawa Hole at the end of the bamboo tube is hit with a rubber mallet (No data) (No data) (No data)