Thursday, January 29, 2009

Araw Ng Lianga

If there is one thing Filipinos are good at, it is finding a variety of seemingly legitimate reasons for hosting an impromptu celebration at the drop of a hat. It is not just because they are a fun-loving and extremely sociable people with a hyper-developed sense of hospitality, they also believe as a nation that life is too short and hard enough and, therefore, would simply be intolerable without them taking the time out, once in a while, to just hang loose, feast on good food, drink a little and simply have a bit of fun with family and friends.

That is why fiestas in the Philippines are so wonderfully revealing of facets of the Filipino character. They speak most eloquently about the fatalistic optimism with which the average Filipino views life and living in this world and the great value he places on his relationship with his family, friends and the body of people he interacts with on a daily basis that comprises his immediate community.

Last January 15, as the civic parade marking the town's annual Araw Ng Lianga (Lianga Day) celebration snaked its way through Lianga's main streets, I sat on the sidelines and took the time to ponder on the more recent and contemporary origins of this festival.

As far as I can remember, Lianga always celebrated its annual town fiesta in honor of its patron saint, the Child Jesus or the Sto. Niño, on the 15th of August. This is contrary to the traditional schedule for festivals dedicated to the Sto. Niño in other parts of the country which, by Catholic tradition, usually fall in the middle of January like the world-famous Sinulog Festival in Cebu.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Wet Start

Old timers in Lianga are used to some degree of wet, rainy weather at the start of every new year. In fact, that is primary reason why although the town's patron saint is the Child Jesus or the Sto. Niño, the annual town fiesta is now celebrated in the middle of August, during the less stormy months of the year, unlike in many other places in the country like Cebu which commemorate that patron saint's feast day in January.

In the old days when roads in this part of the country did not yet exist, traveling to Lianga by sea during this time of the year was simply too risky and exceedingly dangerous for those who made it a regular habit to partake of the local folk's legendary hospitality during its annual fiesta.

True to form, the first two weeks of 2009 were indeed rainy but as the rain continued to fall day after day, accompanied by periods of gusty winds and hurricane-like weather, residents here began to get worried. They may have been expecting some rain but certainly not the prodigious amount they have been getting.

After about a week of continuous rain, many of the local folks within the town poblacion found themselves struggling with flooded streets and houses. The situation was even worse in many of the outlying villages or barangays where drainage canals and flood control infrastructure were largely non-existent.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Year

I came home last December 31, after an absence of several weeks, to a Lianga rocking and popping from the crackle of firecracker explosions and wreathed in the acrid smoke of the expended pyrotechnics with which it habitually celebrates the coming of every new year. Times may be hard and extra money scarce but the residents of my hometown are well known for doing things their own way and since they have become accustomed to ending each year with a bang (or plenty of it) they will always scrimp, save and find ways to do ample justice to what has become a noisy tradition.

I had legitimate doubts that I would be able to get home for the New Year celebration. The weather in Manila had been unseasonably wet and stormy and plane flights to Butuan City had been cancelled the previous day because of poor visibility there. When I boarded my plane, rain pelted the windows and the sky was overcast and gloomy. My fellow passengers and I ended up sitting on the runway for almost an hour while waiting for clearance to take off and there was an almost palpable sigh of relief from everyone when we did manage to get airborne and wing our way south.

The weather in Butuan turned out to be much better than I expected it to be. It had rained on and off the previous days but when I got off the plane, the air was hot and sultry despite the cloudy skies. I heaved a sigh of relief thinking that I had managed to shake myself free of Manila's wet and damp weather. Upon hindsight, I could not believe now how wrong I was to make that assumption.