Fridays are exciting.
But not in a town, Pilar (in the Province of Capiz, Panay island, Philippines), like mine.
Friends are either busy with their family or in some other parts of the world preparing for the family they plan to build.
At 8 in the evening, the streets are empty. Occasionally, silence is shattered by trucks carrying sugar cane (during milling season) and by those who pass by wobbling and shouting garbled and drunk sentences on the way home.
There are occasional dancing held in the barangay basketball court fenced with bamboos a day before. Those who want to dance under the colored lights in the middle of the court have to pay around twenty to fifty pesos at the gate.
On nights like this, domestic helpers are excited. They cook dinner few hours earlier.
Just around dinner time, a neighbor’s gardener or aide fetches the maid who shyly excuses herself from her boss. The boss’ wife bids her good luck and assures the maid she will take care of the dishes and all.
On nights like this, babies are accidentally made: in darkness under banana leaves between banana roots, under the pointing leaves and between rows of sugarcane plantation, between white tombs on the carpet of cemetery vines, on squeaking tables in the dark and unguarded class rooms, under the shrubbery and anywhere else where a man and a woman could lay undisturbed.
On nights like this also, the sand could turn to crimson.
Men would hack each other as butcher to a pig. One caught another glaring at him, or at his companion, or asked his partner for a dance, or a million other reasons that may not even justify the killing of an animal.
The police arrive; the dancing halts and the people go home.
A day or two after, people spade sand to cover the crimson sand. The fences are removed and every thing goes back to normal except for the family of the dead.
The coffin will be sponsored by the mayor and the necrological services by the local officials.
Neighbors and friends gather in the home of the bereaved family–to play poker, lucky 9, tong-its, and mahjong. Some of them, especially the children, literally live in the house even long after the body is burried. There, the meals are free.
The public market and the coffee shops open around four in the morning. If a man was punched last night at the dance, he is stabbed when the news leaves the market or the coffee shops. Or, when the victim is hospitalized, he is dead when the news enters the homes.
There are no newspapers. Few have radio frequency telephone although almost all have cell phones.
The construction of public buildings outlasts the full terms of the officials who initiate them. We have an unfinished market, a town hall with skeletons extending like flagpoles on top of the building; inside the old town plaza, a covered gym without walls and with a stage and a basketball court which serves also as the dump and fire trucks’ garage.
In Pilar, squatters are not only tolerated. They are welcomed. They constitute voters which mean money for the land owners during elections. As to the secrecy of votes? No secret remains forever. Tenants know this and they have two choices: to vote for the person the land lord compels them to or to gabot (uproot) the columns of their huts.
The landlords live in cities. Most of them have acquired vast tracts of land thru inheritance. The tenants do not pay rent. Occasionally though, the land lord demands for eggs, chicken, ducks, or a goat; a bunch or two of bananas, and other produce. And of course, their vote during elections.
Wednesday is the local market day. The road by the side of the market is close to vehicle traffic. Merchants from different parts of the province lay their wares along the road by the side of the market. From kitchen utensils and hair braids to any thing a person can imagine, including those that he cannot imagine, are there.
But the most popular among the goods are the garbage from other countries: clothes, curtains, bed sheets, rags, etc., that are sold to local folks in low prices that could be lowered still depending upon the buyer’s skill at haggling. These articles are laid in heaps. Then, like flies on a piece of cake, people feast upon them, flipping, digging under to find that piece perfect for the self, husband, son, daughter, bed, pillow, window, etc.
Around 10 in the morning, these articles are laid out. In observance of the unwritten “first come first serve” rule, government employees, around the same time, race to the market to get hold of the best.
Public school teachers, led by the school principal, are the most notorious among them.
Pilar celebrates it’s fiesta on the 8th Sunday after the Easter Sunday.
The highlight of the fiesta is the mass celebrated by the Bishop of the diocese of Capiz, the reenactments of the tagbuan before that mass and the battle of Balisong right after.
The town celebrates its annual feast along with the coming of the sacred Santisima Trinidad (The Holy Trinity), an early 18th century wooden figure from Mexico found by local fishermen in the shores of the town during the British invasion of the Philippines in 1762. The figurine was said to be brought over to the Pacific by a Galleon trading ship from the port of Acapulco, Mexico which was destroyed by British warships during its route in Luzon and was washed off to the coast of Pilar. It is now still visible at the altar of the town’s church, the Parish of the Most Holy Trinity (source).
Tagbuan is the reenactment of that “coming” but this time set on the water few kilometers away from the shore. The parish priest, his assistants, seminarians, and the faithful ride in the boats of the fishermen who participate in this event to win favor from God, or the god of the sea, to bring them abundant catch. This is also the time where artificial reef projects are blessed and sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
As to the Battle of Balisong: Long ago, locals refused to surrender to the Spanish (the Philippines was colonized by Spain for 300 years until the late part of the nineteenth century). They fought it out in the Battle of Balisong, a hill located between one of the caves and the sea. The rebels were on top of the hill. They were however armed only with bolos and few muskets and they were low in ammunition. When the Spaniards were about to overrun their camp, the rebels rolled trunk of trees larger and, in diameter, taller than their enemies. Like most of the Filipino-Spanish battles however, the rebels were defeated.
The highlight of the battle is the rolling of the trunks which is celebrated as the triumph of local ingenuity.
Come the first Saturday of each month, people from all around the island (Panay) gather on Agtalin Hill. On Agtalin Hill, about four kilometers from the town, stands the fifty foot concrete statue of the Virgin Mary with arms outstretched, palms open just over her legs. The statue was designed and molded by a non-catholic. The face looks like that of a woman I don’t want to be my mother’s, and the palms like that of a construction worker. Even if all her life a woman takes care of her children and do household chores, her palms would not be as thick and as wide as those on top of the hill.
To use the colony of ants may not be too much a methapor for the number of people present, and the number of the vehicles they leave by the high way forming a line that stretches for kilometers.
There are however those who visit the hill on first Saturdays for purposes other than to pray. The road leading to the top of the hill is almost closed to traffic like that road by the market on Wednesdays. But there are things one can find on the hill on Saturdays not found in the market on Wednesday. One of them is the line of tables each equipped with weighing scales, a bolo, a chopping board, and lechon (roasted pig) chopped for sale.
Summer and Christmas seasons relieve boredom. People get to see young and pretty girls on vacation walk the streets, dive beaches and visit their dead. In other times, there are only the mothers and the grandmothers.
There are young female teachers and students from public schools and a State University. It is however a different experience seeing the young and pretty girls on vacation.
I heard about three water falls in the mountains of Pilar. I regret not to have visited any of them yet. When my brother returns for a vacation from a technical job in Saudi Arabia, I will dive in those waters.
This is the town I grew up in.
This is Pilar, Capiz.