Obando Fertility Rites: A Homecoming

I haven’t had the motivation to visit Obando, where I lived since birth until before college, for a very long time. Maybe it was the welcome re-connection with schoolmates from way back via Facebook, maybe it was a time when my work schedule allowed it. What seems to be the more prevalent variable must be the realization that my past, my history, should never be left ignored. The memories may not be as exciting or interesting compared to what others have said or written, but its mine, all mine.

So, this year, 2010, after more than a decade, I left nightshift work early to take the trek to my hometown, for the Obando Feritlity Rites to photo-document. It was the third day of the fiesta, May 19th, feast of the Nuestra Señora de Salambao.

The last time I visited was back in college, and it was for a paper for my class in History. I remember taking photos as additional material, but I wasn’t into photography yet.

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I found myself in Monumento, Caloocan City around 7 in the morning, which was I was assuming still a good time to catch the 8AM procession. I was initially confused where the Obando-bound jeepney terminal was, but found one eventually, near the old, now-closed Ever mall, where we used to do our groceries in the 80s, and I’d ask my mom for Icee (pre-Slurpee crushed-ice drink) after. The fare was 15 pesos, and it was a real throwback to tell the driver sa bayan lang, where the church was.

It didn’t take long to get to the designated jeepney stop, since a re-routing was necessary at this time, since Obando’s streets have always been too narrow. It was still a good 5-minute walk away, which I took rather enthusiastically. I wanted to see for myself if my usual haunts still existed, or just familiar landmarks. There were the narrow paths that lead to parallel streets where high school cliques and sweetheats would usually rendezvous. These walkways seemed generally diminished in size from what I remember, and that’s considering I didn’t grow much vertically anymore after high school. I was surpised to see the old, dilapidated sign of Mitchie-Wally’s, a popular eatery back in my day. Some of the old houses were still standing, but from what I’ve seen so far, only about 30% of my past Obando -or more specifically, what I remember of it- remained.

Gladly, the standard perya tents were very few as I approached the church. We used to have amusement rides before as well, but seeing how the patio has changed, you can’t place those here anymore. Food stalls abound at the part across my old school, which for my older-self, is a lot more practical than the cheap plastic toy stores we’re used to.

The mass was ending, and it didn’t take more than a minute for me to decide to exit the church the instant I got in. As this was the hottest summer in memory, one can just imagine the amount of humidity inside. Attendance was still manageable, and surprisingly so. I expected a feastgoer populace not so far from Nazareno Feast proportions, as that day was supposedly the peak of the fiesta.

Some marching bands were now around the patio, along with the townsfolk in the familiar procession garb. The first photographers I saw were, lo and behold, using film SLR’s. Eventually I did see a literal handful of people with the standard DSLR’s, and I even got to talk to one old-timer who noted that though Obando’s fiesta was not as popular, say, to Lucban’s, foreigners are more fascinated with the story behind it:

The ancient Filipinos once held a ritual known as the Kasilonawan headed by a katalonan or high priestess. The ritual normally lasts for nine days and usually involves feasting, drinking, singing and dancing, and is normally held at the home of a datu or barangay chieftain. This ritual became important to early Filipinos because they value fertility that could also mean wealth or abundance of every individual person. A barren woman was once considered as a member of the lowest class in Philippine society and suffered stigma and mockery. Because of this reason, it became important to perform the fertility rites so that the women could become productive. The god known as Linga, a force of nature, became the center of the Kasilonawan ritual.

The community would congregate to perform the ritual usually in a clearing of some kind in the middle of a dense forest with some sort of earth-oriented and artistic phallic symbol displayed in the center of the clearing. The lights of strategically placed, ritualistic fires would shine on this structure and it was thought that the sun, giver of all life embodied in the fires, was giving its blessing of fertility to all who participated in the ritual.

Upon the arrival of the Franciscan missionaries to the Philippines, they built churches to propagate Christianity and introduced Catholic saints. In Obando, Bulacan, the Spanish Franciscans introduced a trio or a triangle of saints, namely St. Clare, St. Paschal and the Our Lady of Salambao in order to replace the traditional pagan gods.

Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obando_Fertility_Rites

To summarize on which patron saint to ask favors from: you ask for for good weather form Santa Clara, fertility and wealth from San Pascual, and a fish-centric good harvest from Our Lady of Salambao.

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That day’s procession route didn’t include the part of Obando where my family settled; it will just go in a circle, passing by the palengke, the church again, and up to the town border near Valenzuela, and back to the church.

Oddly, I think I took my better shots when the parade was just about to start, or when they had their constant stops, as it doesn’t look like things were coordinated very well. Most of the parts where the dancers were, were too far from the bands, hence they didn’t have music to dance to. Onlookers noticed this as well.

As any local would know, the procession’s peak was to be held inside the church, though its not exactly the same as I remember it. The karo’s of the patron saints would be cheered on by people from the procession, and to those who opted to stay inside, climaxing with the entrance of Our Lady of Salambao. I am familiar with the part where the crowd would do a collective dance in front of the altar, but not the patron’s pagsayaw, where the karo would be in a constant push-pull by the revellers. I hesitate to make the comparison, but yes, it was like a semi-moshpit.

When the morning’s festivities ended, I did take that 10 peso sidecar ride to where the jeepneys are, as my feet were by then aching, my shirt sweat-drenched, and a dire need to eat lunch in an airconditioned area. Yes, I was invited to have lunch somewhere, and I can also just visit relatives to partake in some of the local, and much-missed food, but then, I had work the same night.

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One girl from high school recognized me, told me about the planned high school reunion; I remember her as the girl who told me she’d like me if I wasn’t as fat. Spotted Jess Santiago, folk music hero, who did an album entitled Obando back in the 90s, with the unmistakable salt-and-pepper long hair. Lastly, I live-Tweeted the event, but Globe was uncooperative and despite successful tweet responses back, not one message came through.

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