The provincial Fiestas are a nightmare for bar managers and owners because every year they happen and every year more and more girls leave work and return to the province for the fiestas, often staying away for a couple of months. Just the other day as I was bewailing the lack of girls for the opening of Cambodia after being told a whole lot were in the province. Shagger who was sick and tired of listening to me said, “now there’s an article people would like to read, write up something about the Fiestas and their role in Philippine society”. Well Shagger does have moments of clarity and who am I to question him, so with that said here comes an article on Philippine fiestas and I hope all who read this, find it informative and entertaining.
To examine the Fiesta and understand what it means to Filipino’s I believe it is necessary to briefly look at the history of fiestas and see how they developed in Philippine culture. The beginnings of the Philippine fiesta go back to before the Spanish conquistadors arrival in the 1500s. In the original culture the indigenous Filipinos would make regular ritual offerings to placate the gods, and it is commonly accepted that these occasions of offerings together with the Spanish influence evolved into the fiestas we know today.
For the indigenous peoples the fiesta also marked a time to recognize their connection with the land and to celebrate the gifts the land had bestowed upon them. This connection with the land is almost a universal truth and it is celebrated by peoples of diverse cultures throughout the world. There are many different “harvest festivals” but perhaps the world’s best known celebration of mans connection with his physical environment, together with accompanying religious overtones, is Americas Thanksgiving Day.
With the Spanish invasion of the Philippines and their predominant cultural influence the fiestas took on a whole meaning. The Spanish kept elements of Filipino culture and simply combined them with their own creating the basis for Filipino fiestas as we know them today. For the Spanish the Fiesta meant a multitude of things. Firstly it was a celebration of life itself and secondly a celebration of the Spanish system or more accurately the Spanish way of life. Thirdly there were always religious overtones and fourthly political aspects. Last but by no means least the fiestas represented recognition and a celebration of the people’s closeness to the land and the importance of the physical environment in ensuring their survival. During Spanish times the Fiestas involved people from all levels of society. People from an entire provincial area through to a local Barrio, no matter how rich or poor, took part in the Fiesta.
The very word fiesta is a Spanish word originally so there is no denying the Spanish influence on these proceedings. For the Spanish the celebratory aspects of the fiesta were accompanied by a well developed sense of the dramatic and a natural flair for ostentatious showmanship with a healthy dose of melodrama thrown in. The Fiestas provided the perfect outlet for these aspects of the Spanish psyche. For example during the fiestas in Spanish times the women would be paraded down the street dressed in the most flamboyant clothing they could find. There was always joyous dancing and partying and this was in some ways the predecessor to modern day beauty contests. In this regard the fiestas were comparable to the Madri-gra’s. The concept of a woman’s beauty being displayed and celebrated is still very much part of Filipino culture and in modern times this takes the form of a beauty contest which are often an integral part of modern fiestas. Many provincial fiestas will include a beauty pageant featuring 15 and 16 year old girls and this will often include a parade where contestants along with various sponsors will be paraded down the street for all to see.
The Spanish were devout Roman Catholics and this Catholicism served both as a justification for colonialism (converting Filipinos to the Catholic faith) and as the major pervading influence on the structure of their society. From the most powerful and wealthy land owners through to the political appointees, the conquistadors and even the average Spaniard the Catholic religion influenced the society they lived in and helped define their place in that society.Given that religious beliefs were a cornerstone of Spanish culture it is only natural that they should play a major part in the Fiestas. Indeed the very basis for many of the modern day, nationally recognized fiestas in the Philippines, is religion. For example the most easily recognized fiesta throughout the Philippines is that of the Black Nazarene which represents a black statue symbolic of Jesus Christ carrying a cross. Every January 9 a blackened statue of Jesus Christ bearing a cross is set on a gold and red carriage and pulled through the Manila district of Quiapo by male devotees. The feast of the Black Nazarene is a time honored Philippine ritual that is reputedly as old as Filipino Catholicism itself. Even though in the modern world change occurs rapidly here in the Philippines time honored festivals such as the Feast of the Black Nazarene continue to draw larger and larger crowds every year.
Most fiestas in the Philippines will have religious overtones either in the form of a direct physical representation of certain sections of the bible or in a the form of celebrating a local patron saint. This is clearly demonstrated by the Feast of the Black Nazarene (as shown in the two photographs above) which draws literally thousands of male devotees as seen in the two pictures above.
Under Spanish rule the fiestas were used as an occasion to reinforce the Spanish political system that held sway over most Filipino societies. The political aspects of Spanish society were always emphasized from the wealthy land owners through to the political appointees. Often the fiesta was marked by an actual political appointment and nearly always a speech and maybe a present giving session by some of the provinces more powerful identities, all of whom were invariably Spanish.
Just as the pre Spanish fiestas recognized and celebrated mans connection with the land so to do the modern day fiestas, in fact it is almost as if in this regard, fiestas have gone the full circle. Initially an essential element of the fiesta was to celebrate mans connection with the land and the gifts it had bestowed upon him. With the arrival of the Spanish this element of the fiesta was lessened but never forgotten and in today’s provincial fiestas this connection with the land has been re-emphasized and plays an important role in most provincial fiestas. Many Filipinos who reside in the cities, come fiesta time, will travel to the provinces to experience the so called rural lifestyle. At these fiestas it is not uncommon to see the older folk engage in the traditional dances which mimic the peoples work on the land. This is a subtle reinforcement of tradition and recognition of provincial man’s close link to his immediate physical environment.
(A traditional provincial dance performed by the older generation in which they mimic work in the rice fields.)
Recognition of mans connection with the physical environment will often take the form of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. One perfect example of this is the Kadayawan Festival in Davao which represents a celebration of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. The fiesta is one week long and celebrated every 3rd week of August which is the season of good harvest of fruits and orchids.
The modern day Filipino fiesta incorporates all the facets of the indigenous peoples and the Spanish fiestas as well as some uniquely Filipino aspects. For Filipinos the fiesta works on multiple levels and represents numerous things. In Filipino culture the provincial lifestyle is romanticized through artwork, literature and movies and the fiesta represents a chance for city dwelling Filipinos to get back in touch with their roots and experience the rustic lifestyle portrayed in popular culture. The Fiesta also represents a chance for them to mingle with seldom seen relatives and friends. In fact the general get together element is a critical part of fiestas in the Philippines. .As one popular Filipino writer put it the provincial fiesta “is the tie that binds Filipinos from a region or an area together, a time to reunite with your extended family and you kababayans (countrymen/women.)
Another important part of the Fiesta is the social mingling aspect and the giving and sharing aspects. No matter where you are you are expected to attend and take part in the festivities. This taking part will include a variety of things from dancing and singing in the streets or at a designated meeting place (often the town basketball court) through to sharing food or drink with close friends and relatives. Again a Filipino writer has expressed it well, “no mater where you are, you’re expected to attend. It is a time to rejoice in friendship, spend all you have, forget the expense, just be happy you can afford to entertain and feed others, if you can”.
For Filipinos the fiesta often represents the recognition of certain physical aspects unique to an individual geographical region in the Philippines. For example the ebon-ibon festival which is held in the town of Candaba Pampanga Philippines. This fiesta emphasis environmental conservation and represents the people’s recognition of this areas unique physical attributes. The Ebon-Ibon festival is a showcase for the many species of birds and their eggs that can be found here as well as recognition of the unique marshlands and swamps that attract a huge variety of birds to this area.
One very important part of the modern day fiesta is inherited from the Spanish and that is the love of pomp and pageantry. The provincial fiestas represent a chance for the Filipinos to express their natural attraction towards pomp and pageantry as well as an excuse just to have some dam good fun. A perfect example of this is the Centurion festival held in the town of Pinamalayan on Oriental Mindoro. During this festival the townspeople dress up as roman centurions and parade through the streets posing for photographs with onlookers.
Filipino society places a large amount of importance on the social aspects of life and the fiestas are very much an expression of this. As one Filipino writer put it “The fiesta is part and parcel of Filipino culture. Through good times and bad times, the Filipino fiesta must go on. Each city and barrio has at least one local festival of its own, usually on the feast of its patron saint, so that there is always a fiesta going on somewhere in the country”. A Filipino friend of mine is fond of quoting an old maxim which says “The Filipino is a social animal” and the fiestas are very much proof of this. Most of the larger fiestas will have an overriding theme but beneath that theme the fiesta is viewed as an excuse to socialize and party with ones peers and friends. The fiesta is a social gathering which serves as a chance to mingle, a chance to party and most importantly, a chance to renew old friendships and family ties.
In summary the fiesta is part and parcel of Filipino culture and every fiesta has multiple levels of meaning to all Filipino patrons. For Filipinos the fiesta is an expression of religious philosophy and recognition of a certain way of life or a certain political system. It is also a reflection of mankind’s connection with his physical environment as well as a reflection of the unique characteristics of a certain geographical area. It is a chance for the older generation to reinforce cultural values, as well as, providing a chance to strengthen the all important ties of friendship and family. The fiesta also represents a chance for Filipinos to explore the rural lifestyle that is so constantly idealized in Philippine art and literature. Last but not least the fiesta is simply an excuse to have fun, to have a holiday, to engage in ones love of pomp and pageantry, to entertain and to socialize.
Below is a list of the more prominent festivals and fiestas throughout the Philippines along with a brief description of each fiesta.
The Ati-Atihan Festival commemorates the 13th century land deal between 10 migrating Bornean chieftains and the aboriginal Ati King Marikudo. It also honors the town patron, the infant Sto. Niño.
The festival features thousands of drummers who ceaselessly pound their drums while festival attendees dance on the street with soot blackened bodies and colorful costumes.
This is Cebu cities premier fiesta., The Sinulog is a century-old tradition observed in this part of Visayas region. Included are a mass prayer dance which takes place on the streets of Cebu culminating at the Cebu Sports Center.
This is the major festival celebrated in Iloilo city. Participants don Ati warrior costumes with black body paint then to the beating of drums they dance on the streets brandishing weapons and shouting ancient war cries.
Baguio Flower Festival
23 February – 3 March
This festival takes place in the City of pines Baguio during flower season. The townspeople of Baguio reveling in the cooler climate don multi colored costumes which mimic the colorful blooming flowers that can be found in the region. The flowerbeds are presented in a parade of floats, Panagbenga.
28 February – 1 March
This festival is features the tribal ethnicity of Bukidnon The fiesta commences with an an early morning pamuhat ritual which is then followed by an ethnic food fest, trade fairs, and a lot of native dancing.
The island of Marinduque is commonly referred to as the “Lenten Capital of the Philippines”,. During Holy Week, the people of the island engage in the age-old ritual of the “Moriones”. This will mean colorful warrior costumes are worn, together with carved masks which depict the Roman soldiers of Christ’s time. This parade supposedly depicts the story of Longuinus, the centurion who pierced Jesus’ side – and his subsequent beheading.
CUTUD LENTEN RITES
San Fernando, Pampanga
This fiesta features the villagers of San Pedro engaging in the act of self-flagellation. Villagers perform this on Good Friday whipping themselves with burillo whips. The event climaxes at midday when penitents are literally nailed to their crosses.
This festival is designed to celebrate a bountiful harvest and is marked by a dazzling display of colorful flowers and showcases the towns culinary traditions. There is a heavy emphasis on the kiping – a colorful, translucent rice tortilla that serves as an edible ornament and the suman-sweet, sticky native rice cakes.
FLORES DE MAYO / SANTACRUZAN
A parade of the town’s loveliest ladies, depicting the search and discovery of Christ’s Cross by Queen Helena and Constantine.
Murcia, Negros Occidental
The underlying theme of this festival is oneness with nature. The main parade includes participants dancing down the streets clad only in mudpacks.
PINYAHAN SA DAET
Daet, Camarines Norte
The people of Camarines Norte are renowned for their love of pineapples and this festival is actually in honor of the pineapple. Alternatively known as the Pineapple Festival this occasion features a colorful street presentation complemented by art exhibits, trade fair, cultural dances, and sport events.
PARADA NG LECHON
Pampanga is renowned for its tasty lechon (Roast pork) and every June this culinary delight is celebrated in Balayan, Batangas, popularly known as the “Parada Ng Lechon”. This festival features a dazzling display of succulent pork .The festival coincides with the feast of St. John the Baptist, where people repeat the ritual of baptism by pouring water.
TACLOBAN PINTADOS FESTIVAL
For the natives of Tacloban tattoos in the pre Hispanic days signified aggression and courage. These days they symbolize a cultural revival, and a wild,fiesta called the Pintados. Participants in the festival deck themselves out in body paint, mimicking the warriors of old while dancing to the frenetic beat of drums.
The Spanish colonization of the Philippines began with a blood-sealed peace treaty on the shores of Bohol. This event is remembered today via a fiesta at the island’s capital city. The festival incorporates a street parade featuring ten colorfully-dressed groups dancing to the beat of drums. There’s also a traditional Filipino carnival, a martial arts festival, and Miss Bohol Sandugo Beauty Pageant, and many other exciting activities.
This is an exotic and colorful pageant re-enacting the Spanish-Moorish wars, with particular emphasis on the Battle of Covadonga where the Spanish forces under General Pelagio took their last stand against Saracan.
KADAYAWAN SA DABAW
Davao’s annual festival, Kadayawan Sa Dadaw is an entire week long and culminates. on Saturday morning when the Kadayawan parade is held. This parade features colorful, orchid-bedecked floats and more than a dozen “ethnic” groups dancing to the beat of wooden drums.
BONOK-BONOK FESTIVAL & SILOP CAVE ADVENTURE
This festival features Surigao’s tribal background. The Surigaonons celebrate their heritage with a loud, frenetic street dancing parade.
PEÑAFRANCIA VIVA LA VIRGEN
This is a 9 day long festival that combines religion with culture and tradition. The festival culminates at sundown with the fluvial parade as it makes its way down the river, surrounded by a sea of glowing candles.
ZAMBOANGA HERMOSA FESTIVAL
The big fiesta in Zamboanga the city of flowers is the annual Hermosa Festival. The prominent spectacle of the fiesta is the vinta (native sea boats) race. Also featured are cultural and flower shows, art exhibits, and trade fairs. This is an all out celebration of life Chavacano style!
This festival made Bacolod famous was originally an event meant to fortfify the locals to face hard times by putting on a smiling face hence the now famous parade of people wearing smiling face masks. The main part of the festival includes street dancing, drum beating, drinking, eating and just partying.