Sunday, May 2, 2010


OL' MAN RIVER. A grand pagoda bearing the antique ivory image of Apalit's "Apu Iru" wends its way on the Pampanga River, accompanied by a fleet of bangkas, bearing devotees and fiesta revelers in the annual fluvial procession. Before the advent of motorized boats, the Libad Bangka of Apung Iru was a quieter affair. Ca. 1965.

Every year, on the 28th of June, the ancient town of Apalit becomes a showcase of unabashed Kapampangan religiosity and revelry as it celebrates its 3-day fiesta in the grandest, wet and wildest manner. The Feast of the town patron, Saint Peter, fondly known here as Apung Iru, is marked with the usual religious rituals, capped by a colorful fluvial procession—Libad Bangka—that takes devotees on a raucous and even dangerous 6-hour journey of faith along the waters of Pampanga River.

The principal figure of veneration is an age-old ivory image of San Pedro, once a plain fisherman by the name of Simon Peter, who became one of Christ’s apostles and later, the first Pope of the Catholic Church. The seated image, based in Capalangan, shows St. Peter as a Supreme Pontiff, robed in papal regalia. It dates to the second quarter of the 19th century. In 2002, a fire razed its shrine, destroying the saint's original accessories —gold and silver keys, tiara, pectoral cross and emerald ring. But the image remained unscathed, and this fortuitous event was hailed as a miracle by residents.

The Apung Iru image is associated with the old Arnedo family, having been passed on to Dña Maria Espiritu de Arnedo, wife of Macario Arnedo y Sioco, who brought Apung Iru to Capalangan. To ensure that the cult is perpetuated, a corporation known as St. Peter’s Mission was put up by the Espiritu-Arnedo-Gonzalez-Ballesteros-Sazon families, which designates an official caretaker of the image--a camadero/camadera . Augusto “Toto” Gonzalez III is the current camadero of the precious heirloom santo.

The Libad Bangka was said to have been organized by Don Pedro Armayan-Espiritu in 1844, shortly after obtaining the image from his aunt. But such riverine rituals were not unknown in pre-colonial times, often undertaken by natives to appease angry river gods.

The traditional ritual process observed today starts with the “Pamandakit”, where Apung Iru is fetched from his Capalangan shrine and brought to the dome-shaped Apalit Church. Here, he stays for the duration of the fiesta, to be brought out in a land procession (“limbun”) led by the Knights of St. Peter. At Gatbuca, near Calumpit, the image is transferred to a small pagoda to shouts of “Viva Apu Iru!” by revelers on boats and along the banks of the river.

The first leg of the journey begins until the mini-pagoda, escorted by a fleet of brightly decorated boats, reaches the mouth of the great Pampanga River. The image is once again transferred to a grand “plancha” or pagoda float, already filled to the brim with avid devotees. More boats join the fluvial procession, until they number in hundreds, and as the water parade gets into full swing, revelers douse each other with water from the river. As the procession progresses, the atmosphere grows even more festive and wilder: in a state of frenzy, devotees shower each other with fruits, cooked foods, candies and viands in plastic bags, and more water.

The libad ends at twilight, and in Barangay San Juan, Apu Iru is conveyed back to the church through another “limbun”. A display of fireworks and an applauding, jostling crowd welcome back the image, born on the shoulders of the Knights of St. Peter. An all-day, all-night feasting follows, with Apaliteños opening their homes to guests and pilgrims to partake of their special menu of asado, menudo, embutido and other Kapampangan delicacies.

On the last day of the fiesta, Apung Iru is returned back to his Capalangan shrine, in a ritual known as “Pamanatad”. The riotous revelry on the Rio begins again. On land, the bunting-decorated streets leading to the Capalangan shrine are filled with people waiting to get a glimpse of the returning image. Emotions run high as Apung Iru makes its way to the shrine, with people clapping and cheering his name. Gradually, the din subsides, the town settles down as the devotees make their way back home, basking in the glow of another successful Libad Bangka, while counting the blessings bestowed by one who never fails them, their high and mighty patron, Apung Iru.


robbyandharry said...

Viva Apu Iro!

Im so happy that this year, i was able to visit Apu Iro in a more peaceful mode, a day before its Visperas. (visperas to the visperas hehehe)

alex r. castro said...

I suppose you went home dry too? Naku, am sure you had a great time (and great eating) with Toto.

robbyandharry said...

hahaha tamaaaa!
i haven't seen truck-loads of food! (went home with a bag of traditional kapampangan sweets from toto. i personally like the suspiros del amor!)

alex r. castro said...

Aphrodisiac food! Haha!

aaron said...

what is suspiros del amor?

alex r. castro said...

a kind of a meringue.

Jelo said...

Hello where did you get info? Do you know any contact details of their parish church? I need more info about Apo Iro for my story. Please help me. Thanks!

alex r. castro said...

Sorry, I don't have contact details. Info for this article was culled from different sources, e.g. Tonette Orejas of PDI who was my former student, from the Center for Kapampangan Studies publications, and from the direct heirs of the owners--the Gonzaleses, who are acquaintances.