The fiesta

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

OUR sitio in Barangay Sambag 2, Cebu City holds two fiestas, one for the Immaculate Conception in December handled by the youths and another for the Sto. Niño in January handled by the older folks.

The runup to the fiesta features novenas and entertainment programs. Benefit dances (bayle in the past, disco nowadays) are usually reserved for weekends or on the eve of the fiesta. Sponsors prepare snacks or “painit” served after the novena. In these activities, the mananabtan (prayer leader) and the kantura (singers) are stars.

On fiesta day, the sound system blares early. The holy mass is held in the morning, after which games for children are played. No resident, or okay, not many people serve food to visitors. The festivity is in the noise and the usual drinking binges among friends, not in the feast.


The fiesta had a different mood in Poro and Tudela towns in the Camotes group of islands where I spent many summer vacations growing up. Poro is the birthplace of my mother Juliana while Tudela was the birthplace of my late father Timoteo.

By the way, Tudela’s old name is Tag-anito. Tudela is obviously of Spanish origin and the name was tacked onto the place by a Spanish priest when Spain became our colonizers from the 16th century to the late 20th century. Tag-anito is derived from pag-anito, an animistic ritual practiced by the Visayans before Spain Christianized the archipelago.

It is safe to assume that Tag-anito villagers were known for practicing the pag-anito ritual, which is a festive activity. When the Spaniards assumed control of village affairs, they replaced pagan rituals with Christian ones. I would say that the fiesta easily replaced the pag-anito, thus the former’s hold on the affairs of Tudela folk.

In Camotes during my summer vacations there, I linked up with relatives and youths in my age group. But I was fond of Tudela, particularly the upper part of Barangay General where my uncle Mario used to live. He was once engaged in the business of buying and selling of livestock and momentarily prospered because of it.

I would stay in his house, which was big by countryside standards, near Kanmanok, one of the peaks of Tudela, and bond with my cousins. In the runup to the fiesta, which is held in the middle of the year, relatives would come and stay for several days. That forced us kids to sleep in the “lawting,” which to me was like an unfinished ceiling.

I would go with my cousins to the bayle that, on the eve of the fiesta, featured the selection of the fiesta queen. We fashioned dry coconut leaves into torches (sulo) and used these to light our way.

There was no decent supply of electricity in Tudela at that time. Instead, generators powered the amplifiers and few bulbs. Meanwhile, vendors used petromax lamps to light their displays.

The fiesta was festive in a real sense. Almost every house offered food to invited guests and visitors. We would eat and go on drinking binges virtually the whole day, visiting as many houses as possible.

What I learned then was that you need to limit the amount of food you eat per house and also your alcohol intake, that is, if you want to survive the entire day.

The serving of food during fiestas is actually a sort of investment because when the other barangays hold their own fiestas, your previous guests and visitors become your hosts when you visit their places.

That was in the old days. Cebu City, however, has shown us what the fiesta has become in a modern and highly urbanized setting. It is now a highly commercialized ritual that is all about pomp and pageantry.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 18, 2014.


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