Traditional Fiesta in The Archipelagic Province of Batanes: Pistang Chavayan (Part 2 of 2)

In the morning, everyone is awakened by loud music of drums and violins. Musicians locally known as musikos roam around the street to signal the start of the festivity. The loud music also signals the arrival of the parish priest whose kumbento (residential parish) is 45-minute ride away from the Chavayan. By 7:30 am, the prusisyon (procession) commences. Carried by the sacristans (Knights of the Blessed Sacrament) from Chavayan and decorated with local flowers and plants, the karo (wagon) of Santa Rosa de Lima is the highlight of the procession. When the karo reaches the kapilya, the priest celebrates the mass of thanksgiving.

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Chavayan Theater (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

After the holy mass, the image of Santa Rosa de Lima is transferred to a small performance area: Chavayan Theater where a program venerating the saint is performed. On the other hand, townspeople go back to their homes.

The whole village is an “open” village. Tourists are invited in. When some people pass by a house, each visitor is greeted by “kaun tayo” (let’s eat!). Tricycles continuously bring in tourists and locals to the small barangay.

At the Chavayan Theater, the program begins as soon as all performers are settled in. Directed by Josephine Habana, a high-scholl teacher and a cultural worker, the program is a presentation of six traditional performances following texts written for and about Santa Rosa de Lima authored by an unknown writer in Spanish and Portuguese: panyinyiwang, gozos, sagala, invivayvatan, inyispanyol, and mamahemahes.

Except for panyinyiwang, all presentations are combination of song, dance and narrative poetry narrating the life, works and martyrdom of the town’s patron. According to Habana, the text is almost 150 years old. Many Chavayan people believe that a Spanish friar wrote the original text sometime in the early 1800s during the height of Christian conversion in the Batanes. The old manuscript is believed to be in the archives of the main parish in Malakdang. A version of the entire text was transcribed by Habana’s cousin in 1960s. A typewritten version by her niece is now currently used by the performers.

The panyiyiwang is similar to the loa of the Tagalog communities, particularly those in Taal, Batangas where an orator opens the program by delivering a lengthy poem. The poem is divided into three parts. The first part is a series of declamatory affirmations of the different people who contributed to the success of the year’s fiesta. The second part is a prayer-like poem referring to the martyrdom and miracles of Santa Rosa de Lima. The final part is an invitation to everyone to proceed to the barangay theater in order to witness the benerasyon (veneration) to their patroness. The orator then thanks those who are already present in the barangay theater and acknowledges Habana for taking care of the program for several years.

After the panyiyiwang, the curtain closes giving way to the first presentation of gozos, a song and dance composed of an all-boys ensemble. In the gozos, the boys sing a narrative referring to how Santa Rosa de Lima saved the islands of Batanes from piratas (pirates). The leader of the boys called the kapitan wears an amerikana (navy blue suit) and a pilot’s hat with the Philippine flag hanging on top of it. The kapitan leads the singing and occasionally perform a different choreography – directed to the patroness stationed on the rightmost part of the stage.

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The Sagala (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Sagala, invivayvatan, inyispanyol, and mamahemahes are songs and dances performed by female individuals. The sagala, literally translated as a muse by the Ivatans, is a performance by young girls. The song has the same melody as the gozos except that the lyrics are pertaining to how Santa Rosa de Lima is an exemplar to girls. Like the gozos, the sagala has a leader called the kapitana. Like the kapitan in the gozos, she has a different choreography. Each chorus of the song, she faces the image of Santa Rosa de Lima waves her hand and points her finger to the heavens.

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Mamahemahes Performance (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
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Kainang bayan after the performances (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

The invivayvatan is performed next by a group of mothers dressed in traditional Filipino grab popularly known as terno. In this performance, the life story of Santa Rosa de Lima is narrated. Notable in the performance are the castanets played by the performers, which adds to the celebratory atmosphere of the performance. The inyispanyol, is the teenage-version of the invivaytan. Most of the performers are the teenage daughters of the performers in the invivayvatan. Performers of this number are wearing the same dresses as the performers in the invivayvatan and are playing castanets during the performance. The performance is a narration of how Jesus Christ and Santa Rosa de Lima may be related as sibling. Finally, the mamahemahes is a joint performance of the performers from the gozos and the sagala. The song in this performance is a mash-up of the gozo and the sagala.

According to Habana, a fiesta program such as theirs is not peculiar to Chavayan. All barangays in Sabtang stage their own presentations in honor of their patrons. The only difference is the text or the narrative told before their respective audience members. According to Habana, almost the same movements and the same song melodies are performed annually in various barangays celebrating their respective fiestas. Most of the time, physical education and music teachers in local public schools are in charge of the presentations.

Because of similarities in the melodies of the songs performed during barangay fiestas, it has been easy for barangays to share musicians (violinists) among each other. This is especially conducted if musicians of celebrating barangays are not available. In the case of Chavayan, the main musical director was Jose Habana. Jose Habana passed away a month before the Chavayan fiesta in 2016. His mentees are very young and have not yet mastered some songs. For the 2016 fiesta, Barangay Chavayan requested the help of a nearby barangay to play the music of the presentation at the barangay theater.

The morning presentations usually end half past eleven in the morning. After the final bow of the performers of mamahemahes, the musicians leave the stage and lead a parade going to the barangay entrance where the kainang bayan takes place. The arrival of the musikos signals the start of the kainang bayan. The chair of the fiesta committee starts the festive sharing by saying a small prayer and afterwards commencing the sharing of the prepared meals covered in a special leaf.

Tourists and other visitors line up to get a share of the kaining bayan. Some visitors may eat the prepared packed meal on the long table located at the barangay entrance. However, many visitors (tourists) bring the packed meal with them as they visit one house and another. As a common custom in many Filipino communities celebrating fiestas, all houses are opened – no one is treated as a stranger.

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A folk dance performance during the afternoon program (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
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The palo-palo performance during the afternoon event (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

In the afternoon, the fiesta celebrations continue beginning with a palaro (basketball) at 12:30 pm. Followed shortly after the palaro is a series of cultural presentations hosted by the day-care center of the barangay where modern dances and folk dances are performed. The highlight of this program is the performance of the palo-palo (see entry on palo-palo later) closing the afternoon cultural program.

In the evening, a drama performance about the life of Santa Rosa de Lima is staged, also directed by Josephine Habana.

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Ruins at  Savidug (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
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A Stone House in Savidug (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Surely, Batanes is a picturesque province – a valuable reason to visit its islands. But its cultural performances are also valuable reasons to make your stay in the archipelagic province truly memorable.

To read the first part, please click here.

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Until the next time, Barangay Chavayan (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

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