Tuesday, June 14, 2011

*253. Pampanga Towns: STA. RITA

MUNICIPIO DE STA. RITA. Carved from Porac, this small Pampanga town is noted for its delectable sweets; now it's creating a reputation as the province's premier artistic center with its world-renown ArtiSta. Rita. Ca. mid 1920s.

Like all Kapampangan towns, Sta. Rita started as a small clearing in a place known as Gasak, now part of Barrio San Isidro. The erection of the church in 1726 formalized the founding of the settlement. Eighteenth century documents indicate that Sta. Rita was an adjunct of Porac as baptismal records were joinly registered in the libros canonicos under these two places. In 1770 or 1771, however, Sta. Rita became independent from Porac, taking its well-deserved place as one of Pampanga’s proud towns.

The town was named after Sta. Rita de Casia, a woman with two sons who had plotted revenge on the killers of their father. But before they could commit a grievous sin, Sta. Rita prayed that they be taken away from her. Her sons fell ill and died. Now alone, she applied to a monastery to be a nun, but her acceptance to the was fraught with much obstacles. Because of her life’s trials, she is invoked by women with troubled marriages and people with desperate problems.

Life in Sta. Rita, however, is anything but troubled or desperate. It is strategically close to Bacolor, the “Athens of Pampanga”, the province’s art and cultural center. In fact, Sta. Rita was long known as “Sta. Rita de Baculud” or “Sta. Rita de Lele” (neighboring Sta. Rita), as Bacolor was where Sta. Rita folks often went for their marketing, accessed via Sta. Barbara. To date, Sta. Rita consists of just ten barangays: Becuran, Dila-Dila, San Agustin, San Basilio, San Isidro, San Jose, San Juan, San Matias, Sta, Monica and San Vicente.

Early in it history, the town enjoyed a flourishing farming industry. Sta. Rita gained repute for pioneering the use of the native plow. The practice of deep furrowing—credited with producing more bountiful harvests-- was introduced by local farmer Simon Vergara, a technique that calls for planting sugar cane sticks to a depth of 12 inches or more. This practice, now known as “simberga” was named after him.

Out of the town’s abundant sugar produce were created delicious confections that has put Sta. Rita in the Philippine culinary map. The town is the undisputed source of the most delectable ‘sans rival’ in the province, a kind of butter torte, strewn with cashew bits in between creamy layers. Then there are the ‘turrones de casuy de Sta. Rita”, honeyed cashew brittle bits wrapped in melt-in-the mouth, paper-thin wafer, made in the same way as a Communion host. The homegrown industry—led by the Ocampo family—continues to thrive and enjoy a loyal following among sweet-toothed foodies who care very little about calories.

Then there is the much sought after green duman-- processed rice from from 'lacatan malutu' variety, planted extensively in the barrios of Sta. Monica and San Agustin. Harvested once a year every November, the red-husked rice is then pounded, roasted and cleaned, to become duman. Prized for its fragrant scent and taste, duman becomes a special treat especially when soaked in hot carabao milk or hot chocolate. Others prefer it toasted, sprinkled with sugar or baked into rice cakes. Pounding duman grains is always a community affair, but the long hours are made light by all the bonding and merrymaking that goes on. This has given rise to the annual Duman Festival, now a popular tourist event of the town.

Indeed, Riteños were among the first to embrace the renaissance of Kapampangan arts and culture that began in the new millenium. After all, the old town had always been famous for its rich, artistic traditions and love for celebrations through the years. In 1946, Sta. Rita held a post-war fiesta that was unsurpassed in grandness and talked about for years, highlighted by marching bands, firework displays, zarzuelas, sports fests, processions, parades and a beauty search for Miss Victory, Miss Peace and Miss Progress.

The town also popularized the “Serenata”, a musical joust of endurance, in which its very own Sta. Rita band reigned supreme. A variant of the pabasa, the Serenata is conducted with two sets of bands who try to outplay each other in a musical “sagutan” that lasts from 8 pm. to the wee hours of the morning of Holy Thursday or Good Friday. The lively tradition continues in Sta. Rita to this day.

The old-world Sta. Rita Church, with its current cura, Msgr. Gene Reyes, is also at the forefront of cultural and heritage preservation. Amung Gene has started a modest sacred arts museum with contributions from the town visitas, from antique santos to household heirlooms. The giant campana was recently automated while the smaller, cracked bells from the belfry were brought down purely for display.

Then there’s the Arti Sta. Rita, the world-class repertory founded by Alejandro “Andy” Alviz, a native of the town. Himself an accomplished artist (he was a choreographer for the Mcintosh musical “Miss Saigon” that catapulted Lea Salonga to stardom). The group of singers, actors and dancers has performed the world over, charming audiences with their repertoire of new and traditional Kapampangan melodies, also recorded in their bestselling CDs. Alviz also organized stagestruck mothers into the group “Ima”, which has staged musicals like “Beauty Parlor”.

Santa Rita may be small by physical standards—it has a population of just under 40,000 people-- but it is a big-hearted town that is proud of its glorious past, imbued with a vibrance of spirit as it takes a leap of faith into the future.


Anonymous said...

Dacal pung salamat qñg pamandiquilan yu qñg quecaming nuan a balen Sta. Rita.

(Erratum: "Sta. Riteños" can be also called "Riteños."

Liud ya ing Bangsang Capampangan!

=Satcheil Macasias Amamangpang-Labitag

alex r. castro said...

Got it! It's like 'Fernandinos', not 'San Fernandinos'! :-)

Karen S. Shih said...

This is the municipal which was burnt by the Huks! I am not certain if it was a Carpio who was mayor at that time but seems like, that's why they evacuated their house, which was turned into a school till the 1960s.

A bit of correction on duman: the plant is called lacatan malutu (red-husked glutinous rice). It is the finished product, pounded, roasted and cleaned, which is called duman.

alex r. castro said...

Thanks for the correction, Karen. Will amend that duman reference! We have not hanked you enough for helping us around Sta. Rita. It was the best visit ever, and I don't think we can top that next year!

Karen S. Shih said...

Oh, don't mention it! I was in and out of the tour, multi-tasking! Hahaha!

Had I known about your visit ahead of time, the information could've been more detailed, and thus, more interesting.

Anonymous said...

Hi, The said Ocampo's delicacy was actually famed by them,, but the real story was ing matwang ocampo, mkipagobra ya san juan kari apung sela a original a gagawang turon at sanzrival,, karin ya mebiyasa ing matwang ocampo kaybat migsarili ya san jose and then the rest is history,, u can ask the story to CaTalina Camilo who is the pamangkin of apu sela,,there are 3 sisters who began the turrones and sanzrival,, apu sela, apung maria and apung pelang,, hope u can research about this alex because it would be sad for them not to have the credit of the famed delicacy,, thank you very much...