The annual celebration of Salakayan Festival is an opportunity for the people of Miagao to pay tribute to their cultural roots. Taken from the Hiligaynon word “Salakay” or “to attack,” the festival is marked by the locals ready to defend their land from the attacks of Muslim pirates. This dance-drama presentation depicts the battle waged by the local defenders against the piratical activities and slave-hunting expeditions of the Muslims pirates or Moros—name-calling of Spanish authorities of the Islamic people of Mindanao.
Moros take the able bodied and were brought to the slavers’ lairs to join the other captives from other settlements awaiting the long journey south. Those who attempt to flee were either clubbed or killed if they resisted vigorously. Among the able-bodied captives, women and children were preferred because they commanded a higher price in the market in Sulu, Makassar and Java. Once taken into custody, the slaves were then stripped naked and are fastened by a rattan collar around their necks. The captives were then forced to row the vessels. Slaves were sold to work heavily in the fields or negotiated to merchants for other Asian markets. Others were used as household retainers or as rowers of pirate vessels. Slaves who proved their loyalty and converted themselves to Islam were raised in status and often becoming raiders themselves.
The presentation ends with the victorious battle that took place in May 7, 1754. Along with the tribal dance competition is the special procession of the Higantes or towering figures that commonly depict archetypes of the town, such as historical figures of local relevance.
Coastal settlements in the islands of Panay became the objects of frequent Moro raids. Many towns in the north and south of Iloilo became easy targets and Miagao was not spared from these raids that resulted to the burning of the original structure of St. Thomas of Villanova church situated at that time in Sitio Ubos.
The history of the Salakayan Festival began with modest gatherings in the streets around the town center. And throughout the week-long celebration, series of special events to mark Salakayan became potent festival symbols.