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Ilonggos preparing for Paraw Regatta Fest

Colorful sails, swift boats and their determined fishermen crews vie for the Regatta’s top prize.

MANILA, Philippines - As early as now, the province of Iloilo is mapping out plans to hold the “Paraw Regatta Festival” in February 2010 so Ilonggos from abroad can plan to come home.

Vicki Jardiolin-Villa, who hails from Jaro, says the other major activity in her town at that time is the fiesta of Our Lady of Candelaria on Feb. 2.

The Iloilo Paraw (sailboat) Regatta, launched in 1973, is a race among native outriggers in the strait between the island province of Guimaras and Iloilo City. Called “paraw” in the local dialect, these native outriggers faithfully copy the materials and design of sailboats that carried the first settlers from Borneo who were in search of a peaceful home in Panay in 1212 A.D. The sailboats survived the centuries and became a vital part of the Ilonggo seafaring life.

The Paraw Regatta, now on its 37th year, was envisioned to preserve the heritage and culture of the early Filipinos, so inextricably entwined with the sea. The boat race has grown into an event of international stature and considered one of the country’s important yearly tourism happenings.

It was founded by a group of concerned Ilonggos in 1972, among them Manuel Villa Jr., the present chairman of the Paraw Regatta Foundation which has organized and celebrated the festival for the past 37 years.

The primary objective of the regatta is to help develop the local tourism industry and preserve the “paraw” as the legacy from the earliest period of Ilonggo history; celebrate the skills of “paraw” sailors — marginal fishermen who take the week off to train and complete in the regatta; and bring a fiesta spirit into their lives.

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Timed with the strong winds, the third week of February has been declared Iloilo Paraw Regatta Week. The festival features several exciting major events: the “Samba de Regatta,” a vibrant dance contest with lush color and pulsating rhythms, and a grand parade participated in by dance troupes and bands from Iloilo City universities.

The main venue of the festival is Villa Beach and its seafood restaurants.

No festival in the Philippines is complete without a beauty pageant. A Miss Paraw Regatta is chosen every year to reign over the festival. “Reggae-ta,” the beach shindig, roars in the evening of Saturday — bands playing in the two party venues.

At about 10 p.m., the beachfront between the two resorts are lighted up by “Luces by the Sea,” a grand fireworks exhibition that lights up the skies of Villa Beach. On the same Saturday, well-known dance troupes perform Philippine folk dances.

The main event, the sailboat race, is on Sunday. Visit the race’s website at www.iloiloparawregatta.com.

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