This is a belated post, and I had second thoughts about publishing this. But because I already spent some hours researching and writing this, here goes:
Last year, I made a blog entry on our town’s fiesta. Please expect that I will be writing about the fiesta every year. The fiesta is a significant event in our town. We celebrate it on the 15th of May and members of the Roman Catholic Church dedicate the day to honor St. Isidore, the Farmer. St. Isidore, the Farmer, is our town’s patron saint. As you well know, the Philippines has been under Spanish rule and influence for so long. The Spaniards have been so fervent in converting the “pagan” (this word in quotation marks to indicate that I do not think this is a proper term, the reason why could be a subject to another blog post) Filipinos to Catholics. The “fiesta” that honors a Catholic saint is a Spanish influence, but there were accounts that feasts. festivals, and grand celebrations were already held by the natives prior to the Spanish conquest. I think that the Roman Catholic Church became the most successful religion (only in terms of membership) because of their winning strategy of converting “pagan” practices to Catholic practices.
Now, back to our small town. Siquijor is a small island surrounded by Cebu, the Negros island, Bohol, and Mindanao. Because of its close proximity to Cebu, the island was said to have been discovered by the Spaniards earlier. Accounts (see Siquijor’s Provincial Government web site) have it that the island was discovered by a certain Esteban Rodriguez, a member of the Legazpi expedition team), in 1565. It would take more than 200 years for the Spanish government to establish a town in the island. The “delay” in the establishment of a town in the island was probably due to the island being small and insignificant, in terms of economic and strategic location. The delay was just probably great because it means the island’s inhabitants were free from foreign control. Nobody really knew what happened to the island between 1565 and 1783, when the first town was established, because the island has very poor documentation. Or, maybe the island disappeared those years.
Our town, Lazi, faces Mindanao. In fact, from our port, we can sometimes clearly see the mountain ridges of Plaridel. The parish in Lazi was established in 1857 (Source: Rev. Fr. Roman C. Sagun, Diocese of Dumaguete Church Historian). Of course at that time, there were only two means of living: farming (including animal husbandry) and fishing. Maybe there were more farmers than fishermen at that time, hence St. Isidore was chosen as the patron saint.
Our fiestas are the typical fiestas, without much revelry and glitz. Fiesta programs have evolved through the years — we’ve done beauty contests, basketball leagues and festivals — but the most anticipated “social” event during fiestas are the bailes (dances). The bailes have also evolved through the years, but townspeople (young and old, drunk, crazy, and sane) continue to attend the event. Because our fiestas don’t have much glitz, our fiestas (at least for me) are more meaningful. In our family, we celebrate it as a kind-of thanksgiving for the year that was. This is the day when our relatives and family friends visit us. Some of them from neighboring towns, others from outside the island. Our fiestas are our way to reconnect, and, often, to re-acquaint. No fiesta is ever the same, for me. Every year my experience is always different.
Our fiestas are not worth anything without mentioning the food. Food takes the center stage during fiestas. The star of the fiesta is of course the lechon (roasted pig) but we also serve traditional Filipino and Siquijodnon food. Oftentimes, it is just our panghimagas (desserts) that vary. The fiesta, beyond being a communal activity, is also a family tradition. Every one (relatives, friends, or strangers) are welcomed to partake of whatever is served. I could talk for hours about the fiesta, dissecting it to pieces. Maybe in future blog posts. For now, let me show you some shots taken at this year’s fiesta:
That’s me helping out at my grandmother’s home the day before the fiesta. The day before the fiesta is called “desperas” in Bisaya or “besperas” in Tagalog. We’ve helped prepare for our fiestas since we were little kids. When we were little, we were tasked to prepare the utensils by wrapping them in paper napkins. Then, we were promoted to peeling vegetables. Then, slicing them. The past years, most of the women in the family were tasked to decorate and arrange the table and prepare the desserts; while the men in the family are relegated to doing the heavier tasks, such as carrying the pots and pans filled with cooked food, the bottles of soft drinks, and driving the motorcycle to buy whatever is needed at the market. The fiesta is a family affair, even little kids have roles. On fiesta day, we all know what to do — entertain our visitors.
Our usual fiesta fare: beef and meat dishes and panghimagas. When I told my mother that we should serve more vegetables, she said it’s not economical and it’s more time-consuming. Also, meat dishes have longer shelf-life than vegetable dishes. One of our fiesta tradition is to give “bring house” to most of our visitors. The “bring house” mostly includes meat dishes, which were cooked in such a way that they do not spoil even after a week, or longer. The process of cooking and food preservation definitely deserves another post.
For me, the best time to visit Siquijor, or at least our town, Lazi, is during fiesta. People are friendlier and in more jovial spirits (as compared to Holy Week). People also tend to not talk about politics (which, by the way, is a really hot topic in the island) and temporarily let go of differences to enjoy the company of old and new-found friends and family either through music and dance, but often through both, with a little bit of booze.
Photos by Joel Lopez (aka @lokalgod)