Fiesta Album 2 : Fiesta Devotions

Equestrian image of St. James the Greater can be seen at the Parish Church of Bulusan during the fiesta celebrations

Equestrian image of St. James the Greater at the Parish Church of Bulusan during the fiesta celebrations.

Saint James the Greater is the patron saint of Bulusan. It is in his honor that the fiesta is being celebrated annually for the last 380 plus years in Bulusan town. Bulusan is composed of 24 barangays/villages. Each barangay has its own patron saint. Even some sitios (smaller unit than a barangay) have their own patron saints too. For the town fiesta in Bulusan, the barangays of the poblacion are customarily the ones hosting the fiesta of the patron saint.

Traditionally a novena is held before the fiesta. The novenario is the 9-day novena before the feast day of the patron saint. It is during these novena days that the village santos are brought to the parish church.

The gathering of saints is an event in itself– a practice in our town that I always look forward to witness annually. This is the only way I can personally see in one day all the santos/santas from outlying villages. I am from the poblacion and visiting these villages even for a local like me will take some time to complete. Bulusan is composed of coastal and mountain villages. Some outlying villages can only be reached by banca or a long hike.

Saint James the Greater, the Apostle image during the novenario procession in Bulusan.

Saint James the Greater, the Apostle image during the novenario procession in Bulusan.

The religious processions with the saints very much mirror Bulusan’s local village culture. Each individual saint carries a touch of the village and its people.

In sharp contrast with the DLC fiesta morning events and the nighttime revelries during the fiesta nights, these religious activities were sacred and solemn. Prayers and singing of hymns were done late in the afternoon processions after the holy mass for each novena day for nine days ending on the eve of the fiesta.

Afternoon procession after the novenario mass.

Afternoon procession after the novenario mass.

Each village have ancient hymns and prayers to their saint. Hymns vary. The lyrics are in the standard Bicol language. The melody too varies but most of the hymns are plaintive songs in the form of prayers to honor the specific saint.

In the recent fiesta processions, I learned that anyone is welcome in the singing and praying. There was no need to be perfect in the singing. You just follow. Imagine hearing hymns simultaneously rendered in one procession with some parishioners reciting the holy rosaries — the effect surprisingly was not a noisy one but a chant-like prayer. The loudest sound with a blaring speaker was at the end of the procession with the hymns for the patron saint drowning the sound of the other saint’s hymns. The refrain of the song became my mantra during the afternoon processions:

Patron Niamong Santiago,
Kami Ngani Sorogon mo…

Villagers from Capiricohan singing hymns to their saint.

Villagers from Capiricohan singing hymns to their saint.

Late afternoon procession passing along Dapdap road.

Late afternoon procession passing along Dapdap road.

A boy stares into my camera during the procession.

A boy stares into my camera during the procession.

A scene at the procession in Bulusan.

A scene at the procession in Bulusan.

Scene at the church grounds during the pre-fiesta procession.

Scene at the church grounds during the pre-fiesta procession.

Village saints lined the entrance of the parish church for the procession. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Village saints lined the entrance of the parish church for the procession. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Saint James the Greater will always be the major attraction of the Bulusan fiesta with the entourage of around 25 villages saints.
Two carosas for Saint James the Greater were seen in the religious processions: One image as an apostle and another image as a fierce warrior riding in a galloping white horse.

Saint James the Greater in his most identifiable image -- a galloping horse and a sword in the final procession of the fiesta. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Saint James the Greater in his most identifiable image — a galloping horse and a sword in the final procession of the fiesta. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

In Bulusan, there exists a persistent folk story that Saint James the Greater, our patron saint, has this miraculous power to deflect even the most powerful force of nature like typhoons and volcanic eruptions. Many versions from time to time update the story but the common gist is this : the patron saint is ever ready to protect and shield Bulusan town from danger of any kind.

patinti (vigil light) for St James the Greater during the feast day and the novena days inside Bulusan's parish church

Patinti (vigil light) for St James the Greater during the feast day and the novena days inside Bulusan’s parish church.

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines

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Fiesta album 1: ruffles and boots

Members of the drum and lyre corps after the parade take time for selfie pics. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Members of the drum and lyre corps take time for selfie pics after the morning fiesta parade. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Fiesta is intended to be celebrated to the fullest. It is a collective celebration of a community and there are no excuses. No work. All fun. And of course honoring the patron saint is foremost.

Aside from the preparation of fiesta food in every household for the fiesta ‘handa’ (roughly translates to banquet because the food feast largely depends on the individual household capability), Bulusan fiesta has generally two major community events —  The religious processions and the fun-filled parades that peak on the bisperas (day before) and the fiesta day — Saint James the Greater’s Feast Day. The drum and lyre corps (DLC) from the different local high schools and elementary schools annually provide the colorful side. And the devotees see to it that the religious aspect of the fiesta is not forgotten. A balance act since fiesta is in fact the death anniversary of the town’s patron saint.

Pretty silver ruffles for high school DLC members make a pretty tutu-like skirt

Pretty silver ruffles for high school DLC members make a stunning tutu-like skirt

My fiesta photos of the July 24 and 25 Bulusan fiesta have both the fun side and the solemn elements. Fiestas in Bulusan have always been like that but surprisingly the excitement never wears off. This I think is the appeal of fiestas not only in Bulusan but in all towns and provinces in the country. I still have to meet a local who does not relish fiesta events.

Elementary grade school participants for the drum and lyre event (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Elementary grade school participants for the drum and lyre event. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

“I feel young just by looking at these photos” says a friend. Well, maybe that is why we love fiestas in the Philippines. It evokes youth and fun for both the young and the old. Fiestas transcend age. It is ageless.

Silver and blue DLC uniforms for this local high school blend beautifully with the sunny day fiesta celebrations. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Silver and blue DLC uniforms for this local high school blend beautifully with the sunny day fiesta celebrations. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

DLC participants from a local high school take their boots off to relax before their DLC number. (Bulusan, July 2015)

DLC participants from a local high school take their boots off to relax before their DLC number. (Bulusan, July 2015)

Red, yellow and silvery white are the dominant colors of the day. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Red, yellow and silvery white are the dominant colors of the day. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

A DLC majorette and her proud mom with the crowd before the presentation. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

A DLC majorette and her proud mom with the crowd at the municipal auditorium before the presentation. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Colorful and shiny boots are part of the festive uniforms of the drum and lyre corps. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Colorful and shiny boots are part of the festive uniforms of the drum and lyre corps. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Fiesta in the age of instagram -- to each her/his own photo. (Bulusan, July 24, 2014)

Fiesta in the age of instagram — to each her/his own photo. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines

Benign and Beautiful

Business as usual for this local rice farmer on his way to work in sitio Baluarte, Bulusan on June 17, 2015.

Business as usual for this local rice farmer on his way to work in sitio Baluarte, Bulusan on June 17, 2015.

Minutes after the steam-driven Bulusan Volcano eruption of June 19, 2015, I headed to Baluarte in the outskirt of the poblacion where the view of the volcano is unblocked by residential houses. I spotted several farmers attending to their rice paddies as if nothing unusual happened. It was the onset of the rice planting season and the field is flooded with irrigation waters as preparation for rice planting. One farmer told me that had I arrived earlier the volcanic ash-cloud was still beautifully formed compared to what I was looking at that moment I arrived in the area. The wind easily dissipated the volcanic plumes.

I stayed awhile just in case a sudden eruption will follow. I waited. The volcano was silent.

As I waited, I busied myself taking some photos of the surrounding rice fields where farmers were doing their regular morning field chores. No eruption followed. I was about to get back home, when suddenly the quiet farmer from the nearest rice paddy next to the roadside where I was standing turned to me and requested in a serious tone : “Retratoha man ako (please take a photo of me, too),” spontaneously posing with his hoe in hand and beaming with a toothless grin.

Of course, I obliged happily. This for me was unexpected. For a moment I have forgotten my original intent which was to photograph the volcano in action. I grinned back and quickly pressed the shutter. How could I possibly presumed that a busy farmer would not want his photo taken by a shutterbug? I went home smiling with this thought.

“Please take a photo of me, too.” (Bulusan, June 19, 2015)

As of today, August 15, alert level 1 remains in effect for Bulusan Volcano.

Alert level 1 for Bulusan Volcano is described by Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology) as a kind of low-level volcanic unrest. Entry to the 4 kilometer permanent danger zone is strictly prohibited.

Luckily for Bulusan town, the volcano’s continuing low-level activity is mostly confined to the western side of the volcano that faces the towns of Irosin, Juban and Casiguran. Bulusan town is located in the eastern hemisphere of the volcano’s lower slopes. This is no reason though to be complacent especially for my townmates residing in mountain villages near the PDZ (permanent danger zone) where the smell of azupre (sulfur) pervades the surrounding mountain air in times like this — a reminder that we, Bulusanons live in the embrace of a living and beautiful volcano.

Bulusan Volcano at dusk viewed from the roadside of Baluarte still showing slight steam/ash emission on June 18, 2015.

Bulusan Volcano at dusk viewed from the roadside of Baluarte still showing slight steam/ash emission on June 18, 2015.

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines

My Bulusan Lake list

Bulusan Lake,  2015

Bulusan Lake, 2015

Bulusan Lake is undoubtedly the most photographed spot in Bulusan for obvious reason. The beauty commands awe. This however makes visitors to the nature park spend more time taking selfies with the lake rather than exploring the vicinity.

As a local the following activities are my suggestions to would be visitors of the lake :

1. Remember that the place is a nature park and it’s teeming with biodiversity. Make use of your camera whatever is at hand and snap away photos of the flora within your reach. For all you know there are species still waiting to be discovered – by you.

2. Hike the perimeter of the lake in a pace of your own liking. The greenery will make you stop once in a while so it is advisable to make the trek earlier preferably in the morning.

3. Watch the fog kiss the lake.

4. Observe the mesmerizing reflection of the water from the lake above the canopies of giant trees with the sun at high noon.

5. Ride a rustic boat instead of the colorful ones for a change and learn to row the one-sided outrigger banca (photo).

6. Cook your meals inside the lake vicinity. I suggest grilled tilapia from the lake, hot rice and kinilaw na pako (fern salad) from edible ferns picked along the forest trail.

7. Camp overnight and listen to the nature acoustic. Record the sound of the unseen rainforest’s creatures nearby.

8. Firefly gaze at night.

9. Butterfly watch in the morning

10. Bird watch. Early morning is best.

11. Snooze during siesta time with the sound of the forest as your lullaby.

Photo: Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines

Another Beginning for the Gifts of Solitude

Bulusan, July 2015

Bulusan, July 2015 (Photograph by Alma P. Gamil)

Solitude is my default mode. It is always by my side. And the more I stare at it in the face the more I discover that solitude is my most devoted friend. It is also a great teacher that encourages me to explore more of myself and how to profoundly see things around me.

Solitude has many gifts for me – like little seedlings sprouting in my head. These include impressions from real events, imaginings and daydreams that manifest naturally. The tropical clime of my hometown where I stay conspires perfectly.

‘These are worth sharing,’ my town mate told me.

So I decided to make a home for these gifts. A home that will give some form of permanence and coherence to the continuing flow of life’s surprises – if not physical at least a virtual one. This is also a way of continuing my silent conversation.

Anything goes.

My thoughts are messy now, full of the ordinary and the mundane with a twist of freshness…seeds and fragments of conversations to be told in the days ahead. And hoping I will do so with a joyful heart.

Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines