Palo Sebo or Palosebo is a traditional game that involves climbing a greased bamboo with one's bare hands and feet to get the flag atop of it. The player who reaches the top, gets the flag, and brings it back down to the ground is declared the winner and will be given a prize. This game is usually played by two or more boys during town fiestas and other celebrations in the provinces. It may use only one pole or multiple poles, and may be played individually or as a team. Alternatively, a small bag containing a prize of toys, coins, or candy is placed on top of the pole.
The game's name is derived from the Spanish words palo, meaning “pole”, and sebo, meaning “grease”.
Before the game starts, a long, straight and well-polished bamboo pole, with a small flag or bag at the top, is lavishly greased to make it very slippery. The pole is then set upright in an open area, commonly in town plazas, and then planted securely on the ground. Colorful strips of paper are attached to the pole to match the festivities. In most areas, a town brass band usually provides musical background on the event.
The participants are asked to gather around the bamboo pole to determine the order of climbers. The first climber will position himself at the foot of the pole, while other participants stand behind him and wait for their chance to show their individual climbing skills. At a given signal, the first participant will scamper up the pole, using only his bare hands and feet, to try and reach the flag as fast as he can.
In case the first climber fails or slides down to the ground without the flag, he is immediately replaced by the player next to him. The game will continue until a player reaches the top of the pole, unties the flag, and reaches the ground with the flag on his hand. The declared winner will then be given a prize by the town officials or the organizers of the game
The more popular version of this Filipino game is the individual event, where only one bamboo pole is used and only contestant is declared winner. In some provinces, the palo sebo is played by using two or more bamboo poles where participants compete with each other by climbing simultaneously. This version is usually practiced in the northern parts of Luzon.
The palo sebo can also be played in teams, where three to four boys help one of their teammates reach the flag faster than the opposing team. The first team to reach the flag shall be declared winner. In case the entire team slides down the ground without the flag, a new team shall be organized until a winner is declared.
In Ormoc, Leyte, another version of the palo sebo, Palomba Og Saka sa Lobe (racing up a greased coconut tree), is played during the town fiesta to honor its patron saints—St. Peter and St. Paul. In this version, a coconut tree is used instead of the bamboo pole and is greased six feet from the ground. The participants will try to reach the top where a coconut husk containing a silver coin awaits them.