On fiesta.

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces -

(Part 1 of 2)

Fiesta is our highest form of community expression. In its production, it exemplifies the talents and culture of the Filipino. The fiesta is Philippine culture and history in microcosm.

Some fiestas are the story of the Catholicization of the Philippines; and the Filipinization of Catholicism. Take for example, the terpsichorean rituals of the Obando fertility rites. The roots of that fiesta are deep in the pagan traditions of the Philippines. It hearkens back to the days of our ancestors dancing sacred groves to the anitos (village or household gods); praying through the oldest expression of humanity’s connection to the natural world. Our ancestors prayed for fertility then. With the coming of Catholicism, overlaid was the devotion to three saints, one after the other. First came the Virgin Sta. Clara, then San Pascual Baylon (appropriate since “Baylon” translates as ‘fond of dancing’) and finally Our Lady of the Conception. In Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere Doña Pia, desiring a child, makes the journey to dance during the feast in Obando. The result was Maria Clara.

In the fiesta we find the Filipino as an artist. For example, in Lucban, during the pahiyas, we discover that modern art, at times, is nothing more than calling folk art by a new name. The leitmotif of the pahiyas is the kiping, in an explosion of color. Part of the event is straw dummies dressed in all sorts of attire, what we would term today an assemblage. The art of Lucban reflects the colors and beauty of Nature. In essence, the pahiyas is folk art as environmental art.

In Marinduque, the masks used during the Moriones are painstakingly handcrafted during the year. The Moriones also references another aspect of our history; our close ties with Mexico. The Moriones was introduced by a Jesuit from Cuernavaca, Mexico sometime in 1859; after the Jesuits were readmitted to the Archipelago. The Moriones is the story of Longinus, the centurion who speared the side of Jesus Christ upon the cross. It is the masks that depict Roman soldiers. The mask is carved from coral wood, painted pink or red. It is wide-eyed, Roman-nosed, eared, with a black beard and an open mouth that resembles a fish’s, topped by a colorful headdress called turbante. The carving and design of the masks has evolved over time; becoming more creative and ornate in its design. Becoming Filipino art.

If the Moriones has a touch of the carnival spirit to it, the Ati-Atihan is the closest we have to the Carnival. It is undoubtedly the most uninhibited fiesta in the Philippines. In the Ati-Atihan we find the Filipino as homo fantasia. The fiesta allows Man’s imagination free reign; not only in the Ati-Atihan but any of our festivals. The Ati-Atihan though is a surrealistic spectacle. The moving force of the festivity is the unleashed inhibition and imagination of each and every participant. In the Ati-Atihan we find the Mad Hatter’s homage to the Santo Nino.

The fiesta is not just our highest community expression. It is the repository of our customs and traditions. It is the soul of the Filipino. Man is homo festivus; always seeking an excuse to celebrate. Fiestas are their own excuse for being. It puts the talents of the Filipino on display; the Filipino as artist, gourmand, musician, dancer and host. It is the veneration of our saints and the celebration of our Catholicism. The fiesta is the Filipino.

The fiesta is one of the blocks upon which a community is built. There has to be a folk foundation, a binding force, upon which the structure of a nation is built. In other words, as Nick Joaquin says: “The local precedes the national; and it’s the town that gives birth to the nation.” We look at the fiesta as a local tradition; connected only to its community. What the fiesta does is tell the story of localities, and in doing so it tells the story of the Philippines. The fiesta is living tradition.

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