Water splashed on both sides of our jeepney as it crashed through the water-logged streets of Obando. The day was overcast but it wasn’t raining. The streets we passed are permanently below water due to its proximity to the flooded plains near Manila Bay. The passengers off to visit the annual Obando Fertility Festival were undaunted by the water however as our jeep continued its slow pilgrimage to Obando’s San Pacual de Baylon Church.
A mass was being celebrated as I entered the crowded front court of the church. The mood was festive and the plaza was loaded with people readying for the festival’s second day. A traditional band was waiting in line with ladies dressed in traditional colorful Filipiniana garbs.
Obando’s Fertility Rites has its roots from the pre-Hispanic times. The townsfolk of Obando used to practice the Kasilonawan ritual, a nine-day ceremony to bless barren individuals for a child, before Spanish friars introduced Christianity. St. Clare was placed in lieu of the pagan god Linga and the Fandango for their dance ritual.
Surrounding the 18th century cathedral were vendors having a field day selling all sorts of stuff; religious amulets, balloons, fragrant sampaguitas, colorful hats, toys for the kids, traditional kakanins, variations of sumans and regular Filipino streetfares like cold gulaman, isaws, fishballs and the wildly popular tuknenengs.
The assortment of wares being peddled was extraordinary, I even saw a guy selling painted mini clay pot toys, something I haven’t seen since I was a kid.
The parade started as the mass ended. It was the second day of the festival and it was St. Clare’s turn to circle the streets of Obando.
Most people associate the festival with St. Clare but I found that there are actually three patrons of the fiesta, the other two being St. Paschal and Our Lady of Salambao. It’s the festival’s second day however that draw the most crowd to this normally sleepy Bulacan town.
The sacristans dressed in immaculate whites started to move and the band belted out their tune. The traditional Santa Clara song emanated from the crowd and the people began to dance. The parade slowly chugged along the narrow streets of Obando.
Santa Clarang pinong-pino, ako po ay bigyan mo, ng asawang labintatlo, sa gastos 'di magreklamo!
Santa Clarang pinong-pino , ang pangako ko ay ganito, pagdating ko sa Obando, sasayaw ako ng pandanggo.
Most people flock to Obando to receive the blessings of a child. There’s even a story going around of a couple in the nearby town of Hagonoy who were told to go to Obando by a crab vendor to dance at the festival for them to conceive a child. Upon arriving at the fiesta, they saw the face of St. Paschal, one of the town’s patron and realized that it looked exactly like that of the crab vendor.
The procession proceeded on and I’m glad that the band is playing true to tradition. I read that in previous years, the band has been using pop music during the parade which in my opinion degrades the integrity of the festival. For this year, I heard nothing but the traditional Santa Clara tune being beautifully played throughout.
It is disheartening however to see that more than half of the participants in the procession were wearing nothing but their everyday clothes. I can only see the traditional Filipiniana dresses being worn by the older generation and they were a minority to the multitudes. I can’t help but think that Obando’s Fertility Rites Festival has only a few more years to go before it disappears into the blur of modernity.
The sky darkened a fourth into the procession and rain poured madly. It however did not stop the procession; the band continued playing and the people drenched in rain still danced, sang and moved forward. The heavens eventually cleared a few minutes after; the townsfolk of Obando must’ve offered the requisite egg to Sta. Clara, as the procession led back to the church for the parade’s finale.
Sta. Clara’s float entered the church and pandemonium broke loose. The church was seriously packed with the faithfuls that I cannot move an inch from my position. It was hot and extremely humid as the sea of people started to sway back and forth to dance the Fandango as Sta. Clara inched slowly through the center aisle. The band was belting out the festival’s tune as the priest egged the people with questions as to who wants to be blessed with children, husbands and good fortunes.
The crowd was roaring with religious fervor with every question while unceasingly dancing to the music. The floor was literally wet with sweat as the frenzy continued to build, my shirt was totally drenched. Sta. Clara eventually reached the church apex and was danced along with the people. I have never witnessed anything like it except on a rock concert; the church became a mosh pit of religious zeal.
I exited from the church spent and stunned, Sta. Clara’s song still reverberating through my brain.
I never expected anything close to what I experienced. I thought Obando’s festival is as docile as a Sunday mass coupled with some traditional dances. Boy was I wrong; the faith of the festival’s followers can really be seen thru the intensity of longing for the blessings promised by the patrons of Obando’s Fertility Rites in the final minutes of the celebration. It was quite an experience to witness it all firsthand.
Obando’s Fertility Rites Dance Festival
Every 17th, 18th and 19th of May
GPS Coordinates: 14.710227,120.936663 | Click to view location on Google Maps