We have Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach to thank for the now viral ‘confidently beautiful with a heart’ phrase. This expression does not only apply to beauty queens, however. It also aptly describes some festivals in Quezon province that draw local and foreign visitors here in the month of May.
Quezon celebrates four major harvest festivals in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. The most ornate and colorful is, of course, the famous Pahiyas Festival of Lucban, with the Araña’t Baluarte of Gumaca steadily gaining more visitors each year. The Agawan Festival of Sariaya and the Mayohan sa Tayabas may lack the frill and flamboyance of their sister festivals, but they build their activities on a different objective—that of giving and sharing one’s blessings. And that means more action-filled fun and experience for Mayohan visitors.
An online source cites writer and film director Orlando Nadres and then Mayor Faustino “Dondi” Alandy Silang as the originators of the Mayohan Festival in 1988. Both avid heritage advocates, they envisioned it as a way of renewing social and cultural awareness among Tayabasins (or Tayabeños), as natives of Tayabas are called. It was meant for them to honor their humble origins as peasants and farmers and to give tribute to San Isidro and to the land they till for their primary source of livelihood. It has since evolved into a week-long festival that opens with the Parada ng Baliskog, a parade of welcome arches created by various government and private groups using local materials. It peaks on May 15 of each year with the traditional Hagisan ng Suman.
Mayor Dondi Silang shares a no-nonsense explanation on how the native rice cake called suman came to be the ritual gift of the Hagisan. Farmers harvest rice from their land, but since it is inconceivable to throw rice in its raw form as thanksgiving gift, they thought of making suman out of glutinous rice and wrapping them in young coconut leaves for easier sharing.
The suman is creatively wrapped in such a way that when it is thrown, the tail called tatangnan graciously swirls behind. It also makes it easy to tie several pieces together or to hang them on bamboo poles called bagacay. He stresses that this special way of wrapping is done only for the May 15 festival. For the rest of the year, the Tayabasins use banana leaves as suman wrappers.
Judging from the amazing number of suman shared (thousands from the city hall alone), others would think that the goods thrown to the visitors are of inferior taste and quality. Mayor Dondi is quick to counter that that is not the way in Tayabas. He cites an instance when, during a past Mayohan, a balikbayan commented to have tasted the best suman ever during the festival. “I always tell people that whatever they give away comes back to them in similar form. Sacrificing quality has its karmic effect, and so care must be done to give only the best out of one’s bounty, as it could affect future harvests or income.”
Sharing is not limited to the tasty suman, however. Since Mayohan has become an occasion for much-anticipated homecoming of family members and friends, a lot of balikbayans from different parts of the world find their own way of symbolically sharing their blessings. In some instances, crowds scramble for dollar bills being thrown in place of suman from lofts or upper floors of residential houses. Some local businessmen happily give away other forms of consumables or whatever products they derive their income from.
Invited guests from the media were given a chance to join Mayor Dondi and his city hall staff in the suman-throwing experience. The goods were neatly lined on the balcony of the Tayabas City Hall ready for the passing of the all-male revelers participating in the procession. As soon as the image of San Isidro went past the balcony, the suman throwing started, resulting in pure chaos with the men (and a few women) below jumping and jostling to get as much suman as they could. It is believed that the more suman a person gathers, the better his harvest or income gets.
But wishing for more bountiful crops is not the only reason some people risk being trampled on. A man carrying a young boy on his shoulders tried to catch his share and almost did when a piece of suman hit the boy on the head. The goody fell on the ground but was snatched by another man, unfortunately. The boy was close to tears, probably not because of pain as the force could not possibly hurt that much, but at the thought of losing his snack. His facial expression promptly changed into a smile when the man carrying him managed to catch a bunch of suman.
There was just plenty of good stuff to go around that afternoon.
Several years back, I was at the bounty-grabbing side in another event at the Araña’t Baluarte Festival in Gumaca. In this festival, the coveted objects are not bunches of suman but the freshest and the best green harvests of this town. The choicest fruits and vegetables are beautifully arranged in chandelier fashion (arañas) and hung in artistically designed arches (baluartes). After the festival, I went home with a big plastic bag full of various great-tasting veggies.
The experiences of giving and receiving leave feel-good memories and are both rewarding albeit in different ways. As American entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn, who became famous for his rags-to-riches story, said: “Giving is better than receiving because giving starts the receiving process.”