And with those three beautiful words my two colleagues, my best friend and I packed our bags and drove all the way to Quezon for the Pahiyas Festival. We had less than a week to plan it, but by a stroke of good luck (that came in the form of Dijo’s dad and his hospitable friends), we were able to find a place to stay and were even given a tour around Tayabas by the mayor himself.
On the days leading up to May 15, residents of Lucban have a grand time dressing up their houses with Kiping (the vibrant, edible leaves made from ground rice flour) and agricultural produce as a way to celebrate a bountiful harvest and to honor San Isidro de Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. We roamed the streets admiring the variegated facade of houses as their inhabitants looked on from colorfully decked doorways, windows and balconies. You could see others adding final touches to the decors – several more pieces of kiping here, a couple more leaves there – with the concentration of an artist flourishing his masterpiece with a couple of strokes. I loved how some residents really took this whole decorating thing seriously. The results were truly impressive.
In the nearby town of Tayabas, the festivities were just beginning. We met up with long-time Mayor Dondi Silang, who told us all about the Mayohan Festival, which started during his earlier days as mayor. From the way he talked, it was obvious how much he cared about his town. He saw the festival as a way to bring different people together, no matter what they do or where they come from. He was particularly passionate about keeping traditions and customs alive in Tayabas. He told us that Lambanog (wine made from coconut) was originally produced in their town and how there were rituals when it came to drinking it. “The Tradition of Tagay (shot or to chug),” he called it, and it called for a meeting and the closing of a deal through drinking: Umpukan at Tagayan.
“I didn’t use to drink alcohol,” Mayor Dondi said. But he explained that after a couple of months he learned the importance of drinking in a group and how it was a way to seal transactions. And unlike in the movies, where Pinoys were usually depicted as unruly and crass when drinking, the tradition of tagay called for courteous language and gestures.
It goes something like this: One person will be in charge of pouring the lambanog in a single glass (Tagayan) that will be shared and passed around the group. Before drinking, one says “Na’i” which is a way to tell everyone “Let’s drink!” In response, the rest of the group says “Pakinabangan” which is a way to acknowledge the drinker and wish him well. If one does not wish to drink, he should say “Titimtiman ko nalang po.” Custom requires that he raise the glass to his lips, allowing the wine to touch it for a moment. Then someone willing to drink in his stead will call out “Sasakupin na ho kita,” and the glass is passed to him. He needs to find the lip mark of the person and make sure that he drinks from the same place. Afterwards, he compliments that person by saying “Napaka-tamis ng alak mo” and hands him the glass to give back to the pourer.
The hagisan is a symbolic gesture for sharing prosperity. Suman (Filipino rice cake) is the traditional item used but in recent times, people have taken to throwing other local farm produce as well like bananas, mangoes, buko, and – by far the weirdest, according to Mayor Dondi – pineapples. After the mass at the parish church, there was a grand parade that passed through the town. Mayor Dondi brought us to the town hall where piles of suman were waiting on the balcony ledge. Lively and upbeat music blasted from giant speakers as a parade of people filled the plaza. We awaited the go signal from the mayor, who stood smiling and waving at the crowd.
As soon as the suman started flying through the air, people jostled each other, jumping and grabbing at the ones that came in their direction. It was fascinating to watch and at the same time, scary. However, Mayor Dondi had assured us earlier that there was nothing to worry about since people rarely fought over the suman. As soon as someone catches one, it was understood that it was his and nobody could take it away from him. “Walang damutan dito (There is no greediness here),” he said.
It was such a joy to be a part of the festivities. I only wish we had stayed longer to witness the other activities for the Mayohan Festival – Mayor Dondi told us that they had planned more fun games this year. We told him we would come back next year and it made him happy to hear that. He told us to bring more people so they could see everything the town of Tayabas has to offer.
It’s crazy sometimes how things can magically fall into place. We got a spectacular view of the mystical Mt. Banahaw, ate pancit hab-hab drizzled with vinegar straight from a banana leaf (no forks!), bit into the meaty goodness of Lucban longganisa, walked through streets lined with beautifully decorated homes, met Mayor Dondi, and witnessed hundreds of suman flying through the air. I can’t wait for the next festival. 🙂