The Barrio Fiesta in the Philippines

The one unifying element amongst the geographical, historical and cultural diversity of the Philippines is the fiesta. Described as the most beloved institution in the country, fiesta is the embodiment of everything held dear by the Filipino people – pageantry, drama, humour, friendship, religious piety and earthy revelry.

The roots of the fiesta reach back to the early years of Spanish rule, when the friars coaxed their converts within hearing distance of the church bells with the pomp and ceremony of organized celebrations.  The Christian aspects of fiesta thinly veil ancient beliefs pagan celebration were altered rather than outlawed, the dances and rituals offered to saints, instead of heathen gods.  The three days frenzy of Ati-Atihan in Kalibo on the island of Panay and the extreme of flagellation and crucifixion endured by penitents at Holy Week in Manila, San Fernando and Antipolo, are among the more exotic and famous of the fiestas. Passion plays are enacted around Holy Week  – the tale of the beheading of the Roman centurion Longinus is one of the most popular.

There are festivals to invoke fertility, celebrate St John the Baptist Day, honour Filipino heroes, commemorate famous battles, signal the beginning of the kiteflying season and tribute to tribal customs.  There are street dances, boat procession, parades, and ecstatic crowds throwing themselves into the rapture of celebrations. Blessed and it often seems, condemned by nature, the Philippines is a dramatic tapestry of awe-inspiring landscape and an irrepressible people with an unrivalled zest for life.