Last week, I had an interesting exchange with Auntie Nel Yap, Sibale’s municipal agriculture officer, about—of all topics—the Sibale fiesta.
Sibale celebrates the feast of its patron saint, the Lady of the Immaculate Conception, every December 8. It used to be, many moons ago, that the Sibalenhons have only one fiesta celebration, and that takes place in Sibale. This fiesta is almost a week of festivities, with nightly dances and daytime pastime activities, usually basketball, buyang, baratilyo, parades, and left and right food feasts that could rival any in the archipelago.
When I was a child, one symbol of the fiesta is called ihaw. Ma-ihaw ka? This was a question often asked. At dawn on the week before the kapistahan, the quiet of the December air in the poblacion is rent by the cries of pigs being slaughtered. Having a sow or a boar to be slaughtered during the fiesta is a sign not only of a merry occasion. It symbolized the devotion of the citizen to the patron saint, and to the guests—relatives and non-relatives—coming to town for the annual get-together.
The Sibale fiesta, bordering on the bacchanalian, but reaching a religious crescendo with the biray on the morning of December 8, was one of the happiest experiences I ever had as a child. In fact, one of the most vivid memories I have of life in the island is the fiesta, which meant new clothes, no classes, and a lot of free time to play.
Comes now Auntie Nel pricking the conscience of the guilty on the matter of the fiesta. Home on the Sunday night after I came from Lipa City to oversee the conduct of the Ragipon 2011 Inter-Color Basketball Tournament (plug: Kusog Sibalenhon, Inc. is this year’s organizing host of the tourney) a prelude to the celebration of the Sibale fiesta in Lipa City, she texted me:
“Asi badaey kamo gi pista raha. Pisan kamo reli sa ato Sibale it pista. (Please don’t anymore celebrate the fiesta there. Join us in our fiesta in Sibale.)
I was taken aback by the text message. Surely, this is just coincidental? But before I explain why was that, let me explain first what is that.
Nine years ago, the Sibalenhons in Lipa City and in adjoining areas, including Metro Manila, mounted a celebration of the Sibale fiesta by not going home to Sibale for the celebration. They celebrated the fiesta of Sibale in Lipa City. Anomalous? No, it was propitious.
The celebration was not without convincing reason. The organizers, who belong to the umbrella group called the Sibale Development Foundation, Inc., said their act was an act of faith. They would also like to pay honor and homage to the Lady of the Immaculate Conception, whose image is installed in the Sibale Parish Church, on her feast day.
And since it is impractical for them to go home on or before December 8 on account of the testy December weather and of the enormous expense entailed in coming home to Sibale for the annual pilgrimage, they celebrated the fiesta in Lipa City.
Reasonable, wasn’t it? In our times when people are already attending the Sunday mass on TV (there are even online burol!)—why not a fiesta away from the real McCoy?
And so, the celebration of the Sibale fiesta in Lipa City became a habit. An annual thing. It grew complete with Saturday novena; a basketaball tournament played every Sunday starting in September; benefit dances in between; and the main fiesta mass celebrated often by Sibale’s parish priest himself. There is even boodle-fight lunch on the day itself, which in Asi is called langkapi.
In time, the Sibale fiesta celebration in Lipa City acquired a life of its own, even a theme, called Ragipon. Ragipon has no direct equivalent word in English. It means en masse. Kumpol-kumpol is a near equivalent in Tagalog. And also over the years, more and more Sibalenhons in Lipa City and its environs have been coming to the Ragipon. Even some from Sibale come to Lipa to attend it.
And this was Auntie Nel’s beef. She reported that in one of the fiesta preparatory meetings in Sibale, mention was made about the alleged competition posed by the Ragipon, the Lipa City version of the Sibale fiesta, on the Sibale fiesta. She implied that the Ragipon, is taking the juice out of the fiesta in Sibale itself:
“Kag kami’y nag meeting, imaw it topic ka Ragipon. Asi kuno nak Disyembre ka inro pista, muyating waya ey it napauli. (When we had a meeting, the fiesta of Ragipon was the topic. They were asking why your fiesta is in December. Look, that’s the reason why no one goes home anymore for the Sibale fiesta.)”
She has a point, but she missed it big time. She also admitted in effect that the Ragipon is drawing the Sibalenhons’ attention away from the Sibale fiesta. But what I don’t understand was the complaint why the Ragipon should be in December, in short, why it should compete with the celebration in Sibale when, in fact, this twin, parallel celebration should complement each other.
"Pay naghihinanakit ara ka mga tawo. Asi kuno nak pinarungan pa. Dapat kuno ay sa ibang buyan. Lalo ey ngasing nak nagka-campaign kami sa lokal nak turismo. (The people are a little bit sore, wondering why it should be at the same time. They say your celebration should be in another month, now that we are campaigning for local tourism.)
Well, I don’t know about it, Auntie Nel, but the last time I looked, there was only one Lady of the Immaculate Conception and her feast day is December 8. To suggest another fiesta date for the island’s patron saint is heretic, unless you are changing the calendar of the saints?
Also, I was one of the very first to suggest when Mayor Boyet Cipriano assumed office that he should strengthen the local tourism council if it is local tourism that should be promoted as an economic growth strategy. The fiesta as a local tourism attraction strategy is valid, but worn-out.
The point is that if Sibale local officials would like to entice migrant Sibalenhons to go back to Sibale and return to their roots once in a while, as what a fiesta could—must—do, our local officials need to be a little more creative and innovative in thinking of ways on how to attract visitors, local or otherwise.
Thinking or even feeling that the Ragipon competes with the Sibale fiesta is rather a myopic view. The Ragipon has become popular because it is an amalgam of the religious and the social in a practical context. Migrant Sibalenhons troop to the Ragipon—support it—because they share the same religious fervor and piety to the Lady of the Immaculate Conception as their kin in Sibale.
They patronize it because in the place where they are now—and that is away from Sibale—they find in the Ragipon an anchor, a sense of identity and belongingness that make their migrant lives a little bit bearable.
But the most compelling argument why the Sibalenhons in Sibale should leave the Sibalenhons in Lipa City alone in their own devices, particularly in their observance of the religious fiesta, is the practicality of it all: they don’t want to go home in the first week of December because of financial constraint; because they don’t want to be off work even by a few days; and because they don’t want to go through the hassle of travel at a time of the year when the sea weather becomes unpredictable.
Or, one can also say that the Sibalenhons are just plain unsentimental about going home to Sibale every December. Take your pick.
It’s the same reason why many professed Catholics prefer just watching Sunday mass on TV instead of actually going to church. They don’t want to encounter the traffic; want to save transportation money; and choose to be safe in the confines of their living rooms.
Or, maybe they are just plain lazy in taking their being Catholics seriously.
Take your pick.