Rice festivals

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces -

Rice is so much the topic of headlines, with the impending shortage of supply as the most popular issue. Few people are aware that the month of April commemorates the Panagyaman Rice Festival, the national  celebration of successful rice harvest. Panagyaman is an Ilocano term that means thanksgiving, commonly referring to a good harvest that deserves to be celebrated. The harvesting activity every month of April thus historically begins a slew of festivities and fiestas across the country during the months of May and June. Presidential Proclamation No. 606 which was signed in 2004, first recognized the successful implementation of hybrid rice production and irrigation development programs. It is also meant to express the government’s appreciation and gratitude for the patient work of the farmers in planting our staple food, without which the nation and its people cannot possibly subsist.

Rice festivals have been celebrated in our country since the beginning of time. The Ani (“harvest) festival is celebrated in March in the rice granary town of Dingras, Ilocos Norte, in a festive way. Marcos is another town in Ilocos Norte, which is purely agricultural and where the Mannalon Festival is celebrated during the last week of March. The Sinanggiyaw Festival is celebrated in October in Dumanju, Cebu. The name Sinanggi-yaw comes from two old Cebuano words, sinanggi meaning abundance of harvested agricultural products of our farmers and sayaw meaning dance. Through street dancing and field presentation, performers dance merrily bringing all the Sinanggi performance focused on three aspects; planting, harvesting and thanksgiving. The Pasalamat Festival in La Carlota City, Negros Occidental is a thanksgiving celebration during April for a good harvest. The Pahiyas Festival is celebrated in May in Lucban. The event is popular for the elaborate edible decorations that cover entire houses like fruits and vegetables, most prominent of which are the brightly colored rice wafers known as kiping. In Sariaya, Quezon, the Agawan sa Sariaya Fiesta is celebrated to usher in a bountiful harvest and abundance of agricultural production. In Tayabas, Quezon, a thanksgiving event marked with agro-trade fair and the famous “agawan ng suman” (rice cake merrymaking) is done in honor of San Isidro Labrador, patron saint of farmers, for the good harvest and abundance of agricultural production. In Kiangan, Bakle ad Nagacadan is celebrated after the harvest season to express their hearted gratitude for a bountiful harvest. Abundant “binakle” (ricecake) and “baya” (ricewine) are found in every household for anybody to partake with. This is usually celebrated during the month of September. Pagdiwata is the Tagbanuas’ feast of thanksgiving for a bountiful rice harvest along with food offerings to deities and departed kin. The rite involves men and partaking of rice wine with the spirits.

Rice is considered the grain of life, and as such, becomes something sacred, almost spiritual. In her famous book, “The Governor-General’s Kitchen,” Felice Sta. Maria mentions some traditional practices of our ancestors that indicated how “sacredly” rice was regarded. It is something material that reflects the Lords faithfulness as our Great Provider.

Now, the production of rice is not as bountiful for the nation as it is affected by climate change and the conversion of rice land into subdivisions and commercial areas. We commend President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose 61st birthday we celebrate today, for keeping a close watch on the hoarders and opportunists and adopting broader measures to avoid food shortage.

Rice festivals are an intrinsic part of our culture and we should not forsake the important values that spring from our traditions. All Filipinos  should join the farmers in thanking the Lord for each harvest with a fervent hope that food will always be sufficient, if not bountiful, in the years to come.

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