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In the infancy of the human race, man developed a complicated pattern of ceremonials to ensure a bountiful harvest. Time has eroded the basic rituals but so deeply engrained is their meaning, which is universal, that portions have survived to this day and become part of religious. observances.
In the Philippines, harvest festivals and fertility rites abound, reenacted in a local habitation under different names. The summer month of May is a favorite, when flowers bloom for the last time and droplets of rain presage the arrival of the monsoons and the growth of new vegetation.
The town of Obando in Bulacan celebrates its noisy three-day fiesta in May It is known far and wide and has . been an honored institution since 4 Spanish times
The annual rites consists of day long dancing - and singing - by barren couples desperate to have children. Driven out of the church by stem edicts early in this century, the Obando dancers spilled into the streets and into every available space in the town.
The ditties to which the dancers danced became famous, probably because they were mildly lascivious. The Obando rite is the only religious observance which permits- a certain amount of libidinous display and it consists for the most part of the wife coquettishly winking at her husband in the midst of the lively dance.
The Obando supplication dance is evidently a fertility rite. But it is in fact three rites in one since the town has three patron saints. Santa Clara is the patroness of the childless; San Pascual the devoted worshipper who danced his prayer; and the Lady of the Salambao (fishing net) the intercessor for the fishing town's principal source of livelihood.
The best-known patron saint of the harvest, however, is San Isidro Labrador whose domain is agriculture and the associated rituals of animal veneration and fertility. Filipino farmers adopted him with fervor and celebrate his feast day in a variety of ways. In Pulilan, Bulacan, San Isidro's day is observed by honoring the carabao, the country's traditional beast of burden.
On the Day of the Carabao, the placid beast is shaved, oiled, pedicured, decorated with flowers and all-but-perfumed for the grand parade leading to the town Church. There, the trained animals perform an impossibly acrobatic feat: they drop on their knees in homage to San Isidro. Similar feasts are held in Angono, Rizal, and not inappropriately in the eponymous San Isidro, Nueva Ecija. No other animal is honored except the horses in Pulilan's sistertown, Plaridel. The fleet animal undergoes rites of blessing and purification but on a different date.
The santacruzan is the only May festival observed throughout the country. It commemorates the discovery of the Holy Cross by Saint Helena many years after the Crucifixion. A combination of ancient flower rituals and Catholic pageantry, the nine-day santacruzan begins irk prayers and culminates in a grand procession heavy with Fe scent of flowers and led by Helena and her consort-son, Corstantin, amid the singing of solemn chants.
The crown of Philippine harvest festivals, however, is the pahiyas (roughly, a shower of jewels) which is celebrated in Lucban in the foothills of Mount Banahaw in Quezon Province.
It is a gala day in Lucban and the adjacent towns when San Isidro surveys his earthly kingdom in the long processions during which every house receives the saint's generous blessing.
The element which makes pahiyas unique is the rich and variegated display of kiping. Kiping is rice paste molded in the shape of 1 in a glorious riot of colors. They hang from windows, doors, eaves and are in open display on tables along the line oof San Isidro's procession.
In earlier days, the making of kiping was kept secret, a dim reminder of the time when it was regarded as sacred and therefore treated with the respect appropriate to its mystery. Even today, the making of kiping is entrusted only to a select few.
The tradition of kiping is alive, in part because the spirit of the feast lives I part because kiping is regarded as folk art, though a perishable one. It is the only form of trompe l'oeil actively practiced in the country and it is the more popular edible folk art (the other being festive cookies).
The kiping is the symbolic homage; the harvest display is the act of gratitude to San Isidro. At every doorstep, leaning on fences, hanging from the eaves like pendants are the products of Lucban's earth: sheaves of rice, ripe-red tomatoes, vegetables and fruits of every description. With certain variations, pahiyas is also celebrated in the other towns around Mount Banahaw. In some places, the kiping is suspended at the end of bamboo poles and hung within tantalizing reach of participants in the procession. At selected places along the route, there is a wild scramble for the kiping and everything ends in gaiety and laughter.
In still other places in the vicinity, straw dummies are a prominent part of the display. None has explained their presence, but are probably representations of the and fields of summer soon to be renewed by the coming of the life-giving rains.
The pahiyas is rich with the overtones of ancient rituals. Originally, rituals were a matter of life and death; later they turned into shameless orgies. Filipinos wisely elect the middle ground, preferring to regard rituals as forms of joyous thanksgiving.
It is in character. Filipinos like to view themselves as a race of merrymakers, carefree to a fault, indolent as well as improvident, thinks the morrow will take care of itself and believes the world well lost for a pretty face.
The image is in part invented by the Filipinos themselves and they try very hard to live up to it. They are not hedonists but they do love fun, especially when fun is part of pageantry. The one occasion of the year they can indulge both passions is the annual fiesta when they engage freely in a common ritual of eating, drinking, singing, dancing - and expressing their gratitude to the sainted inhabitants of Heaven granting them an excellent harvest.