FOR a Catholic-dominated city like Dapitan, the religious "Kinabayo Festival" in honor of its patron saint, St. James the Greater, is a unique celebration like no other.

Held every 25th of July, more than 95 percent of 75,000 Dapiteños take part in an annual tradition of exotic and colorful pageant, and a depiction of the Spanish-Moorish wars, the Battle of Clavijo, formerly known as the Battle of Covadonga, in 722 AD.

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The Spanish force of General Pelagio and his men took their last stand against the Saracans and were able to see hope of winning when the tide has turned on their favor due to the apparition of Saint James the Apostle, atop a horse, carrying a sword. This carried the Spanish soldiers into victory over the Moors.

Similarly during the pre-Spanish times, Dapitan was once a settling ground for migrant Boholano tribesmen headed by Datu Pagbuaya. Moro pirates sailed in to plunder the tribal village. The arrival of the Spanish Jesuit missionaries led the discovery that like Spain, the place was invaded by Moor invaders. The missionaries sought the help of Saint James the Greater as their patron saint; thereby, assisting the Christians in defeating the Moors, and so he came and led the Christian defenders victorious over the Moro raiders.

For old Dapiteño folks, the intervention of St. James kept Dapitan victorious not only against Moro invaders but from the other evil deeds and natural calamities such as typhoons, earthquakes, and epidemics.

Since then, people of Dapitan City re-enacts the tale of the Battle of Clavijo during the Feast of Señor Santiago, now dubbed "Kinabayo Festival."

Performers would group into two, completely attired to play as Christians and Moorish soldiers riding in horses made of rattan and bamboo, and so is called "kinabayo."

The climax of the re-enactment is the appearance of St. James the Greater on a white horse fighting his imaginary enemies with a sword to the delight of devotees and adoring shouts, "Viva Señor Santiago."

Through the years, innovations have made the event even more colorful and became a popular tourist attraction. Now it has evolved into a fusion of religion, history, culture, social and economic celebration.

Activities include sports competition, night presentations, beauty pageant, agro-trade fairs, popular street dancing and showdown, and street parties. Other exciting, crowd-drawing events are the Miss Dapitan Coronation Night; drag-race; motocross competition; mountain bike challenge; speed trail race; Airsoft war games; horse race; skydiving exhibition; drum and bugle corps contest; big bike stunts and exhibition; and regatta and jetski exhibition, among others.

The highlight of the half a month-long festivity is the famous Patunob, and the Sinug (dance procession) at St. James Church, and the procession of the image of Señor Santiago. In the Patunob, devotees welcome their patron saint by waving "parpagayo" also known as the San Francisco leaves as a form of veneration.

The annual "Patunob" is held at high noon with the most awaited "repique" towards the vicinity of the city plaza.

At 4 p.m., a religious procession in honor of Sr. Santiago and Sra. del Pilar is held on the same day.

According to Councilor Apple Marie Agolong, chair of the City Council committee on tourism, neighboring provinces in the Zamboanga Peninsula have taken an active participation in the Kinabayo Festival.

There is indeed more to its name as the Rizal Shrine City of the Philippines as Dapitan City makes its way as a major tourist destination through a uniquely diversified festivals (Kinabayo in July, Handuraw in December 28-30, Huyaka in June), not to mention the serenity that the world-class Dakak Park and Beach Resort offers, and that of other pristine beaches plus the FantasyLand inside the city's commercial center, Gloria de Dapitan that is the only theme park in the Visayas and Mindanao.