I can hear the Holy Mass starting again at the old Lucban Church as we finished our silog breakfast at the Sucre et Sel Café. The pavement was wet and muddy as we emerged from the ancestral house-turned-eatery and walked with the throngs of tourists visiting Lucban for this year’s Pahiyas Festival.
Every 15th of May, the town of Lucban in Quezon celebrates the feast of San Isidro Labrador, the patron of farmers. The tradition started way before the Spaniards conquered the Philippines.
According to www.pahiyasfestival.com, in olden times the people of Lucban would offer food and crops to the anitos or the local gods after a good harvest to ensure a healthy yield for the coming year. The tradition was continued even as the Spaniards arrived; whereas they would store their offerings on a small hall before, this time Lucban Church became the place where they would bring their bounties and the priest would in turn bless them.
As the community grew, so did their harvest; and in time the church’s space was not enough for the town’s bounty. The parish thus decided that instead of the people bringing in their produce, the priest would be the one to visit them at their homes along with the image of San Isidro and bless their crops which were then displayed on their yard. The annual fiesta was originally named after the patron saint, it was only during the mid-70’s that the term Pahiyas was coined by Fernando Nañawa, then the president of the Art Club of Lucban. The moniker came from the local term Payas, which meant to decorate.
Only the houses where the image of San Isidro would be paraded upon are decorated during the festival and since it takes a fortune to decorate each house, the routes are rotated annually to those that haven’t experienced coloring their houses yet. And since I’m visiting Lucban for the first time, I really have no idea where to start.
My point of reference was the Lucban Church, I was pretty sure that the festival would just be around its perimeter somewhere, and I wasn’t wrong in my assumption. Just a few minutes walk and we found a house filled with kipings and rice grains. A marching band soon emerged from a street corner and started blasting hornfuls of fiesta favorites.
The local band was trying to liven up the somber grey skies above but failed miserably as drizzle rained on their parade. Rain was not enough to dampen the festivities of the day though; umbrellas were up in no time and the Pahiyas Festival continued.
The last time I saw anything so colorful was at the Aliwan Fiesta in Manila; but that pales in comparison to the scale of the Pahiyas Festival; we’re not talking of colorful people in costumes here but whole houses! The amount of time preparing each and every detail of each house is astounding.
Think of any color and you’ll see it on display on the streets of Lucban. The hues of the rainbow are all well represented in vibrant and shocking hues through all kinds of farm produce and Lucban’s traditional kipings; the wonder product which was brought to the country by Juan Suarez during the Galleon Trade Era from Acapulco.
It was said that its inspiration came from Mexican Tacos. Back in Lucban, Suarez tried to incorporate local products in creating his own version of tacos. The end product was kiping which was made from rice galapong. The term was derived from word kipi or kinipi which describes the process of drying the liquefied rice by pressing it against something heavy.
These kipings are what makes the festival in Lucban very unique; any other towns can decorate their homes with colorful tapestries but without kipings, it would be just another fiesta in an unknown town.
The atmosphere started to get more and more festive as we turned each street corner, finding more elaborate house designs besides the traditional kiping flower icon. Some homes used colored coconut shells, rice stalks, straw mats, colorful hats and fans, strings of ginger, bamboos, anahaw leaves, eggshells and real live grasses. One house even have moving life-size figures, reminiscent of the 80’s Christmas mannequin shows in C.O.D. Cubao.
The clouds eventually cleared and blue skies arrived. The heat was blinding but people flooded the streets of Lucban like there was no sun above.
The Pahiyas Festival is clearly for people who like to have their photos taken. Most houses offer niches where one can pose for the camera and some even allow tourists to go up to their second floor and pose on their windows while a friend waits below to take their photos. I admire the hospitality and generosity of the Lucban people for allowing complete strangers into their own homes.
It takes quite a while to circle the Pahiyas route and it can definitely take toll on one’s stomach. But never fear, the rumbling in your tummy is something you never have to worry about while in Lucban, there is food everywhere! From the modesty-dropping pancit habhab (Php10.00), fried Lucban longanisa’s in sticks (Php20.00), unending variations of Batangas kakanins, leaf-wrapped kesong putis and most surprisingly, deep fried or barbecued colorful kipings (Php10.00)! Even the street fares at Pahiyas Festival are colorful!
My feet were protesting as we rounded one more street corner and saw that we had already circled this year’s Pahiyas route. It took us more than four hours exploring every colorful house in Lucban but it didn’t felt like it took that long; only our aching feet and sweat-drenched shirts indicated the time it took to go around the loop.
Even though I’m really not hungry yet, after gobbling leaf-fulls of pancit habhab and other what-nots along the way, who would be? But since my feet were already giving out, I guess lunch would not be such a bad idea. We again ate at a local hole-in-the-wall; a second serving of longanisang Lucban for me. I’m so glad there are no Jolibee’s and McDonalds in Lucban.
With my feet rested and my tummy well compensated; I brought out my cameras, donned my hat again and prepared to circle the Pahiyas loop once more. My travel buddy incredulously asked if I was serious; the sun was blazing down unforgivingly at the once wet morning pavement. With the number of houses we passed earlier, I am pretty sure I missed not a few details that can only be seen on second passing, indeed I was serious.
And so, I again entered the colorful streets of Lucban; immersing and losing myself for a second round of the organic swirling rainbow colors of the Pahiyas Festival.
Lucban Pahiyas Festival
Every 15th of May
GPS Coordinates: 14.114919,121.5537 | Click to view location on Google Maps
How to commute to Lucban, Quezon:
Board an HM Bus bound for Sta. Cruz, Laguna in Cubao (Php149.50.00), ask the driver to drop you off at the
jeepney terminal going to Lucban. Take the big jeepneys with the Sta. Cruz - Lucban signboard (Php49.00),
you can topload if you want but the road is zigzagging and the drivers are pretty fast so extreme care must
be taken. Alight at the jeepney terminal and hop on a tricycle to town (Php10.00 per person)
PART OF A THREE-PART LUCBAN PAHIYAS FESTIVAL SERIES
LUCBAN CHURCH – SAN LUIS OBISPO PARISH | SUCRE ET SEL CAFÉ | PAHIYAS FESTIVAL