The province of Bulacan is a melting pot of cultural heritage and historical landmarks in the North. Blessed with breathtaking and scenic views of nature, Bulacan also prides itself in its various festivals and deep-seated traditions celebrated throughout the year. This is also one of the main reasons why Bulacan is a magnet for tourists. People, locally and internationally, flock to the province to witness firsthand its colorful festivals and to also blend with the friendly locals as well.
One of the popular festivals in Bulacan is the Obando Fertility Rites Festival celebrated every May in Obando, Bulacan. It is particularly known for couples and married partners who are having a hard time conceiving a child because it is believed that dancing in this festival will help trying couples bear a child. A procession that lasts for two to three hours is also held to honor the patron saints of Obando.
The Origin of Obando Festival
The Obando festival is said to be the ‘Christianized version’ of the municipality’s fertility dance celebration called ‘kasilonawan.’ In this ritual local priests called babaylans dance as a way to appease their gods and dieties. However, during the Spanish colonial period, these dieties were replaced by Christian saints.
For the record, there is no official origin of the obando festival, however, it is believed to be influenced by Franciscan missionaries and discovery of the Virgin Mary’s image in nearby waters.
The Three Patron Saints of Obando
Obando has been long regarded as the town of three saints and the festival is the locals’ way to honor them. It is believed that these saints have the power to grant fertility to childless couples, and so the festival has become a venue for devotees to seek their intercession for their desire to have children.
May 17: St. Paschal Baylon
The first day is dedicated to St. Paschal, the patron saint of fertility, abundance, and wealth. An anecdote that has been passed down generation after generation says that there was a childless couple living in Hagonoy. There, they met a man selling crabs who advised them to visit Obando and join the dance ritual rites in order to conceive a child. They heeded the man’s advice and were in full shock upon entering the Oband Church. There, they saw that the image of St. Paschal was the same as the young crab vendor.
Childless couples and devotees wanting to have a male child can pray and lay offerings to the saint at the San Pascual Baylon Church.
May 18: Santa Clara
“Santa Clarang pinung-pino
Ang hiling ko po ay tupdin niyo
Pagdating ko po sa Obando
Magsasayaw ako ng pandanggo”
These lyrics are embedded in Bulacan’s history and culture. It is one of the traditional songs in province depicting a promise that the person will dance Pandanggo the moment he or she visits Obando. It is also the song played during the Sayaw sa Obando.
Saint Clare or Santa Clara is the patroness of good weather. The name ‘Clara’ means ‘the clear sky after the storm’. Locals and devotees were offering chicken eggs to ensure great weather coming their way. Aside from local food and religious souvenirs, feast goers can also buy beautifully colored and decorated chicken eggs also sold outside the church.
Devotees who want female child can ask for the blessing of Santa Clara.
May 18: Our Lady of Salambáo
Nuestra Señora de Salambáo is the patroness of fishermen and the third saint honored in the festival. According to tales, three fishermen (Juan, Julian, and Diego) found the image of the Virgin Mary accidentally entangled in their salambaw (fishing net). They fished the image out of the water and headed to Navotas to take the image. However, their boat became heavy and difficult to manuever. When they turned their boat around and headed back to Obando, the boat suddenly became lightweight. They took it as a sign that the image was meant to stay in the blessed town where it is still enshrined in the Obando Church up to this day.
The Sayaw sa Obando
During the three-day celebration, women dancers in colorful costumes perform the traditional “fertility dance” in the streets, accompanied by the lively beat of drums and music. Couples who wish to conceive also participate in the dance, offering prayers and petitions to the patron saints for their blessings. The festival has become a unique blend of Catholicism and pre-colonial beliefs, and it continues to draw thousands of visitors from all over the Philippines and even from other countries.
The dance choreography is pretty simple and is divded into five steps, each recited with a prayer. Devotees can also recite their own prayers.
Step 1: Devotees clasp their hands with their thumbs pointed upward towards the heart while waltzing and chanting, “Lord, we believe that You will give us a child.”
Step 2: The women dancers’ arms and hands move as if pushing their abdomen upwards. Men places theirs arms and hand in their backs. Both will chant “Lord, please heal me.”
Step 3: After that, women dancers rotate their palms clockwise, appearing to massage their abdomen while men continue to dance with their arms and hands in the back. Both will point to the heavens praying, “Lord, please give us a child.”
Step 4: The next step shows unity between the couple and their desire to have a chiled as they linked hands together.
Step 5: Couples waltz in unison while swaying their arms from left to right as a way to give thanks to the patron saints.
Bulacan is a province in the Philippines that boasts a rich cultural heritage and a deep-seated tradition of celebrating various festivals throughout the year. With its vibrant communities and diverse religious and cultural practices, Bulacan is known for its wide collection of festivals that showcase the province’s unique history, customs, and beliefs.
From the Obando Fertility Rites to the Singkaban Festival, Bulacan’s festivals reflect the province’s deep connection to its past while also celebrating the present. These festivals are not only colorful and entertaining, but they also provide an opportunity for locals and visitors to experience Bulacan’s rich cultural diversity, and to witness firsthand the province’s traditions and customs. The festivals of Bulacan have become an important part of the province’s identity, attracting tourists from all over the world who come to witness and participate in these unique celebrations.
So, if you happen to visit the lovely province of Bulacan, don’t forget to drop by at Obando and witness its colorful festivals that reflects the municipality’s deep-seated heritage and culture.