(NOTE: This is a throwback piece, originally posted under Facebook Notes, May 2011)
Until I got invited by the Quezon Tourism Office to join their San Isidro Festival Cultural Trail, I had always associated the May 15 celebration with just the Pahiyas in Lucban. But three more exciting harvest festivals on the same day? Of course I said yes in a heartbeat!
May 15th this year fell on a Sunday, so the humongous crowd was expected. Pahiyas in the morning didn’t disappoint with its dazzling colors and the aroma of longganisang Lucban. It would have been fun to experience Agawan Festival in Sariaya and grab at goodies hanging on bamboo branches called bagacays; but we had been there on the 13th for a walking tour of the ancestral houses and the Buri Products Fashion Show. The prospect of scuffling for suman at the Mayohan Festival in Tayabas had to be skipped; we spent the previous day there visiting many historic landmarks, including the awesome Malagonlong Bridge, the oldest stone bridge built in the province in 1840.
The Araña’t Baluarte in Gumaca more than made up for the missed Sariaya and Tayabas Festivals. The festival got its name from Spanish terms referring to the farm produce neatly arranged in chandeliers (arañas) that hang on bamboo arches (baluartes).
This year, the people of Gumaca put up 17 creatively decorated baluartes along selected streets as their usual way of thanking their patron saint San Isidro for a bountiful harvest. Earlier in the afternoon, we joined the pamasyalan, a leisurely walk through all the baluartes. Along the way, various groups offered fruits, drinks, and all sorts of native delicacies to the promenaders as part of their thanksgiving ritual. I sensed this was a prelude to something even more exciting.
All arañas are fair game during the festival. At around 4 pm, a procession passes by all the arches; once the image of San Isidro goes past, it is the signal that the crowd can jump, tug, and grab at whatever produce they fancy. I couldn’t imagine myself joining the fray and I didn’t want to risk getting a serious bump from a 2-kilo squash falling on my head, so I was prepared to just watch and take pictures of the free-for-all.
And then someone made this PA: “Pakiusap lang po sa lahat, huwag na po sana kayo makipag-agawan sa baluarte 16. Ipaubaya na po natin ito sa mga bisita nating mga taga media. Yung mga barangay tanod po, paki-alalayan lang po ang mga bisita natin.”
Such a thoughtful gesture. But there was a problem.
“Wala raw pong dalang lalagyan ang mga taga media. Mga barangay tanod, pakibigyan lang po sila ng mga sako.”
Before I could say OMG, sacks were passed around and someone handed me a huge plastic bag, the size used for a week’s worth of laundry. From a distance, I could see the procession approaching and I almost missed a barangay tanod’s question. “Ma’am, ano po ang gusto ninyong kunin”? “Maski ano,” I replied, but then my eyes fell on a nice walis tinting tied to a pole. Mamang BT saw that look on my face. “Ilan po gusto ninyo”? “Ay, isa lang,” I said. Mamang BT was not convinced and quickly bundled three walis tintings.
In the commotion, I didn’t notice who handed me a buri hat, and then another offered a flower fashioned from wood shavings. Cool! I posed for a picture with Kelly Bautista, Culture and the Arts Promotions Officer of the Provincial Tourism Office.
By this time, the image of San Isidro was just a few feet away. Heads were alternately looking up to mark their target harvests, and down to check the procession.
When the image finally went past our baluarte, mayhem broke loose. I decided to stay on the sides for fear of being crushed, but then things started to find their place into my plastic bag. Mamang BT threw in a big bunch of sitaw; a woman dropped an armful of suman, some student volunteers dunked in corn, then tomatoes, eggplants, squash, more sitaw, bananas, sweet potatoes. I went crazy!
No, I got nervous! The bag was almost full and I figured I’d need at least five people to carry my loot. I begged my well-meaning friends to not add any more stuff. A woman tried to reassure me that things will be OK once the bag finds its way into the van.
But I just did what I had to do. To a young boy holding an empty sack, I gave as much sitaw and other veggies I could grab from the bag; soon his companions were asking for their share, so the eggplants and bananas had to go. An old woman asked for some tomatoes; but those tomatoes were so nice and plump…what the heck, good-bye salsa!
Mamang BT noticed the small crowd forming around me and promptly sealed my bag. “Tama na po, wala nang matitira sa bisita natin.” I checked my walis tintings. They’re still there. So I’m OK.
It’s been more than a week, but I still couldn’t help chuckling at this experience. It was such a blast!
And everything in that bag tasted good! Thank you, Gumaca. Thank you, Gillian and Kelly for the invitation. Thank you, San Isidro.
Hope you invite me again next year. I promise I’ll bring my own heavy-duty sack, and at least five able-bodied carriers.