Sunday, October 21, 2007

55. Rolling on the River: APALIT’S APUNG IRU FIESTA

VIVA APUNG IRU! Apung Iru’s Fiesta as celebrated seventy seven years ago. As one can see, the deep-seated traditions and rites have remain unchanged through the years. Picture caption reads,”Plancha (water float) of St. Peter and some decorated bancas, Annual Festival of Apalit, Pampanga, June 28-29, 1926”.

Religious festivals revolving around a body of water are common events in countries of Asia. Water, after all, is an all-important element that has come to stand for life. In India, mass bathing is done in the holy waters of Ganges River to cleanse people of their sins. In Thailand, every full moon on the 12th lunar month (usually mid-November), the Loi Krathong festival is held, to honor Mae Khongka, the mother of waters. Under a moonlit night, flowers, candles and incense are floated on rivers all over the country to the accompaniment of prayers, songs and fireworks display.

In the Philippines, fluvial festivities are also observed with much folk revelry especially in provinces with river towns like Bocaue (Bulacan) and Peñafrancia (Bicol). But in terms of mass fervor , unabashed excitement and elaborate preparation rituals, nothing beats the celebration of the fiesta of Apalit, highlighted by a traditional river procession of its pintakasi, Saint Peter or Apung Iru, on the waters of Pampanga River.

Held every last week-end of June (28-29 this year), the fluvial rites may have begun as a primitive festival to honor the many gods of nature that our ancestors worshipped. With the coming of our Spanish colonizers, the rites could have merged with Christian elements, mutating into the distinctive folk festival that we know today. In the midst of all these is the one object of the townsfolk’s deep veneration--the age-old ivory image of the titular patron, Apung Iru, originally owned since the early 1800s by Apalit’s eminent family, the Arnedos.

The life-size image shows a seated Saint Peter, complete with papal accouterments: a gold crown, cape, ring and staff. The santo is housed in the Capalangan barrio chapel after a fire gutted the private shrine where it used to reside. The religious pageant begins with a town procession of the santo, carried by members of the Knights of Saint Peter. Then, the sacred image is brought to the river bank of Sulipan where as much as five thousand people and a flotilla of boats wait with eager frenzy for the saint’s arrival. It is here where the libad or fluvial parade begins.

Anticipation mounts as Apung Iru is transferred from a wooden boat to a processional pagoda decorated with multi-colored flowers. Swimmers fill the river to assist in the smooth conveyance of Apung Iru. With the image enthroned, the floating pagoda begins its 7-kilometer, 2-hour journey to San Simon town. From the banks of the river, throngs would acknowledge the passing Apung Iru by waving leafy branches and fronds or by making the sign of the cross. With excitement reaching fever pitch, brave souls would dunk themselves in the waters of the river, unmindful of the danger, swimming alongside the flotilla as hundreds more throw food offerings to water-drenched devotees.

It is interesting to note that in Christian Goa, India, a similar fluvial festival is observed every 29 June to honor Saints Peter and Paul and to welcome the monsoon. Fishermen from the large fishing families of Bardez taluka would lash their boats together to form rafts on which religious presentations were made. From the 17th to the 19th century, Goa was a major center for ivory; could the fine ivory used in carving the image of Apung Iru have originated from this former Portuguese colony?

Whatever, Apalit’s ancient way of paying homage to Apu Iru remains unrivalled in color and spirit, and, flavored with the Kapampangan’s zest for living and feasting, continues to be a unique, mind-boggling experience that mixes deep religiosity with riotous revelry!
(5 July 2003)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

54. Pampanga's Churches: SAN MIGUEL DE MASANTOL

NUEVA CASA PARROQUIAL DE MASANTOL. A new parochial house was built next to the church of San Miguel to serve as the parish priest’s residence with a multi-function open social hall on the groundfloor. Completed during the term of Fr. Teodoro Tantengco. Dated 27 March 1927.
Masantol town was one of the last foundations of the Augustinian missionaries in Pampanga. The town derived its name from “ma-santul”—abundant with santol (Sandoricum koetjapa Merr.)—even if today there are no substantial number of those aforementioned fruit-bearing trees here (so much like Mabalacat and its fabled balakat trees!). Popular lore however, tells of the townspeople penchant for “sinigang”, a local viand that owes its taste to souring agents like kamias or sampaluk. Local folks, however, favored santols to give their sinigang an uncommon zing. In answer to consumer demand, vendors from nearby Macabebe, Lubao, and Guagua trooped here selling baskets of santols by the thousands—hence, the town name.

It used to be that Masantol was just a barrio of Macabebe that counted only 4 puroks in its district—Bebe, Nigui, Kaingin and Bulacus. On 26 June 1877, Gregorio Bautista, Juan Lacap and Manuel Fajardo called for a separation of the said puroks from Macabebe. This was soon granted by a government decree (with a little help they say, from Fajardo, who presented two white steeds to the approving officials!) and so, on 20 March 1878, Masantol was separated from Macabebe. Two months later, the town was inaugurated as San Miguel de Masantol.

In 1886, it was the parishioners’ turn to lobby for the independence of their parish, a request granted by the governor general on 13 January 1894. The town’s pintakasi (patron saint) is San Miguel de Arcangel and his image can be found in the church erected in the last part of the 19th century by parish priests from Macabebe. The church, done in Renaissance style, was finished in 1901, during the term of Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda. The first parish priest is P. Jose C. Mariano.

The façade of the church shows eclectic architectural forms, from the tapering arches of the semi-circular entrance door, the linear windows of the bell tower, lattice work on the windows to the Doric columns propping the belfry. There are scroll-like flourishes above doors and windows and the canopy features a balustrade.

In 1927, during the term of Fr. Teodoro Tantengco, a new casa parroquial or convento was built to serve as residence for the parish priest and for other social purposes. Five years later, in 1932, during Msgr. Bartolome Zabala’s stay, the church was refurbished inside and out, and the churchyard was cemented and defined. In the 1980s, the church was further reinforced with cement and steel.

Masantol holds the distinction of being the first town visited by Pampanga’s patroness, Virgen de los Remedios, in the days of the Cruzada de Caridad, which was organized by the 1st Bishop of San Fernando, His Excellency Cesar Ma. Guerrero. This was on 15 April 1952. To mark this event, the portrait of the Virgin was installed on the patio of the church.
(28 June 2003)

Sunday, October 7, 2007


MABALACAT TOWN BOOTH. The 21 municipalities of Pampanga competed for the best booth of the fair and each tried to outdo each other with their creative designs and structure. Most had art deco motif, the prevailing design fad in the 1930s. One of the favorite booths was the Mabalacat booth, but did not win a prize.
MISS PAMPANGA OF 1933. Corazon Hizon, a slim, raven haired beauty from San Fernando became Pampanga’s muse at the 1933 Pampanga Carnival. She was the daughter of Jose Hizon and Maria Paras. After her reign, she married Marcelino Dizon.

Pampanga’s peacetime years were a period of plenty for the province, making it the richest market outside of Manila. To celebrate the advancements made by the province in the last two decades, a provincial fair was proposed by the current administration officials led by then Pampanga Governor Pablo Angeles David. Thus, from 22 April to 6 May 1933, the Pampanga Carnival Fair and Exposition—“the greatest concourse of people on the island of Luzon”--was held at the Capitol grounds in San Fernando. Appointed as Director General was the Hon. Jose Gutierrez David, justice of the peace of San Fernando and Pampanga’s delegate to the 1934 Constitutional Assembly.

The main purpose of the Pampanga Carnival was to showcase the products, commerce and industries made by the province. In so doing, it also hoped to show the progress it has made in its other pursuits, encourage better reciprocal relations with other provinces and promote local and international tourism. More than a display of prosperity though, the Carnival was also meant to be a concrete expression of local autonomy in keeping with the principles of a truly democratic government. The proceeds of the Carnival were to be set aside for the construction of roads and schools in the province.

As such, almost all of the 21 towns of Pampanga came to participate, setting up their own booths and displays, in the grand tradition of the national Manila Carnivals. The 12-hectare Provincial Capitol was transformed into one giant fairground where “beauty and romance reigned supreme”. The grand entrance to the auditorium had an art deco motif, the prevailing design fad at that time.

Provinces from near and far were invited to participate and Bulacan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Ilocos Norte, Laguna, La Union, Tayabas, Pangasinan, Baguio and even faraway Lanao responded by sending their delegations. Schools led by the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, San Juan de Letran, U.S.T. and Pampanga High School were also represented, as well as local, national and international industries like Honolulu Iron Works, International Harvester, I. Beck, Inc., Alhambra, La Insular, Gonzalo Puyat, Erlanger and Galinger, Pampanga Sugar Mills, Angeles Electric Light and Ice Plant, San Fernando Soft Drinks, Moderna Furniture and Carbungco Restaurant. Government bureaus like the Bureau of Forestry, Commerce, Science and Plant Industry also set up their own stalls. Designated as the official photographer of the fair was the popular Juan de la Cruz Studio, managed by Kapampangan Rogerio Lagman.

Awards were presented to the winners of the best booths, products and displays. Medals were designed and executed by Crispulo Zamora, the leading metal crafts company that also made Manila Carnival medals, crowns and trophies. Notable winners included the town booths of Bacolor, (2nd prize, a geometric pavilion topped by the Villa de Bacolor crest), Guagua (2nd prize, with a façade painted with hieorglypics) , Macabebe (3rd prize, surmounted by a painting of a vendor, captioned with “Macabebe-Home of the Peddlers”), and San Luis (3rd prize, made of bamboo and decorated with buntings). Businessmen Rafael Lazatin, furniture maker Teodoro Tinio, and the Nepomucenos, owners of Angeles Electric Light and Ice Plant and Reyna Soft Drinks, were among those who earned individual 1st Prize honors. The top awards, consisting of 2 Gold Medals, were won by the Pampanga Trade School and Pampanga Agricultural School.

The much-awaited selection of Miss Pampanga 1933 provided the climax of the fair. Pampanga’s leading muses, most from socially prominent families, competed for the honor of representing the province to the Miss Philippines Contest. The contestants were feted and paraded in motorcades. In the finals, the crown went to slim and fashionable Corazon Hizon of San Fernando, the daughter of Maria Paras and Jose Hizon.

In the end, when the lights dimmed and the curtains fell on the fairgrounds, the successful staging of the 1933 Pampanga Carnival was truly a tribute to the people of Pampanga whose energy, enterprise and spirit were made manifest in their notable achievements of the peacetime years.