I wrote this commentary for the Philippine Online Chronicles.
Mangoes from Guimaras are celebrated as one of the sweetest in the world.
Situated between Panay and Negros in Western Visayas, the small island of Guimaras is said to possess unique soil qualities that make its mangoes luscious and sweeter.
It thus comes as no surprise for the local government of Guimaras to commemorate the island’s establishment as a province through the holding of the Manggahan Festival.
Guimaras was a sub-province of Iloilo before it was turned into a separate province last May 22, 1992. The mango fruit is called mangga in Filipino or paho in Hiligaynon which is the dominant language in Guimaras and the rest of Western Visayas.
Since its first holding in 1993, the Manggahan Festival has become an annual celebration every summer season that serves to promote the island’s burgeoning mango industry and attract tourists.
This year the festival was held last April 15-21, the last day being the peak of the festivities with a street dancing contest at the provincial capitol grounds in Jordan, Guimaras.
I went out with some friends from Iloilo last Sunday, April 21, to experience the Manggahan Festival and its brand of mango mania first hand.
We set out around seven in the morning. The port, usually bustling with people residing in Guimaras crossing over to Iloilo City for work or schooling, was busier than on normal days with a line of a few dozen forming on the ticket booth.
Many of our fellow passengers in the boat were tourists from other parts of the country as well as the typical Koreans and other foreigners who were apparently also going to the Manggahan Festival.
Near the end of the 15-minute boat ride from the Iloilo City Ortiz port to Guimaras we read a streamer hung at the side of the wharf in Jordan, Guimaras that warns against the bringing or importing any mango and the fruit’s derivative products that are not from the island.
It is good to know that the province is highly protective of its mangoes, around which has formed an industry that produces the 1995 Guinness Book of World Record’s “The World’s Sweetest Fruit.”
After setting foot on the island, we took a jeepney ride from the wharf to the staging area at the heart of Jordan’s commercial district in San Miguel where banderitas and green and yellow flags signal that we have arrived.
Along the way, we passed by stalls selling mangoes and mango-related delicacies and products, including dried mangoes, mango tart, mango jam, mango juice, mango butterscotch, among others.
But the main hub of activity is in the provincial capitol grounds where the festival’s culminating program and mango stalls are overflowing with crowds of people. The mangoes here were sold from P50 to P90 per kilo, depending on the quality and the variety.
Of course, the main highlight for our group of friends was the Mango Eat All You Can contest which ran during the entire length of the week-long Manggahan Festival.
You pay P100 to consume as many ripe mangoes, ibus rice cake, and native sara coffee as you can. You pay P90 for ripe mangoes only and P50 if you want green or unripe mangoes with salt and bagoong (fish paste). And you are then given 30 minutes to finish all the mangoes you can manage to devour.
Usually mangoes are eaten by slicing them lengthwise with a kitchen knife to produce three flat pieces. The middle slice contains the large seed while the outer slices contain the mango’s flesh which you then scoop out with a spoon.
But given the time constraints and the pressure to make the best deal out of the P100 many make a messy dash to eat each mango with their bare hands.
I myself did this but found it hard to stomach all the sweetness in one seating. I surrendered after the fifth fruit. I was full already.
But according to the organizers, one Frenchman who joined the contest ate more than 20 mangoes. They actually set aside about 10 tons of mangoes for the entire activity.
Of course, all the mango mania in the Manggahan Festival is reflective of the way “food has acquired full status as a tourist attraction.”  In this particular case, Guimaras is projected in the popular imagination as the destination where mangoes can be enjoyed the best.
While this has primarily been defined by an international division of labor that keeps countries like ours perpetually dependent on foreign capital and oriented towards raw product export, it nonetheless offers a potential counterpoint to the “globalization of hamburgers, the dictatorship of fast food.”
Promoting the development of national industries like local mango growers in Guimaras may prove to be a potent antidote to the way global corporate fast-food chains has colonized palates by selling dishes that are practically the same everywhere in the world.
We did not eat lunch anymore after eating all those mangoes. Or rather, those mangoes served as our lunch. Still, it did not prevent us from buying more mangoes before heading home around noontime.
Apart from mangoes, Guimaras is also famous as a summer destination for its white sand beaches, picturesque nature scenes, and a quiet, rustic countryside.
All this perfectly fits the construction of the Guimaras identity around the mango fruit.
1. Fabio Parasecoli, Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture (Oxford: Berg, 2008), 131.
2. Eduardo Galeano, Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World, Translated by Mark Fried (New York: Picador, 2000), 253.