Friday, February 10, 2006

Dancing with the Saints

I went with my mom and my brother to the feast of San Guillermo Parish in Buting, Pasig, where my mom grew up. I've not been there in a while and I've never been there during the feast day of San Guillermo. Our trip to Buting was not a planned one. Mom just sent me a text message early this morning, while I was in school, telling me we were going there to see Tito Vic's wife, Tita Tess who was visiting from the States. Quite frankly, I was reluctant to go. I was never, or at least never perceived myself to be, loud nor vulgar and environments that were like that made me uncomfortable. There's just a certain roughness to the place that didn't sit well with me.

I felt so oddly out of place in a world I sometimes call home.

As we drove through the streets of San Guillermo parish, I noticed how packed the place was. I know that "packed" is such a strange word to use in this case because I *am* talking about a section of a town and not some closed room or car, but I can't think of a better word. Left and right, there were people, random stray animals, parked motorbikes and tricycles, and boxes made of odds and ends that are lovingly called home by its residents. The moment we entered this world, I found myself losing my normal concept of space, because in this world, there is so little of it.

Everyone was outside celebrating and waiting for the procession to arrive.

When we got to my aunt and uncle's home, at the house my aunt used to share with my grandfather, mother, and the rest of her siblings, we were immediately welcomed by my uncle and cousin. My mom and I went into the house while my brother parked our car. We were both anxious to get inside, my mom to see her sister and myself to get away from the general environment of the outside that was suffocating me. The inside of the house was little different from the outside. It was cluttered and every corner seemed to be brimming with odds and ends (I wonder if it's some kind of Filipino thing to be afraid of empty space), but at least the people there were familiar to me.

I kissed my aunt, uncle, Tita Tess, Tita Tess' sister, and nodded hello to my cousin. With the greetings done, we were immediately led to the table, which was, like the rest of the place, completely void of empty space. My uncle went all out on account of his birthday coming up. It was a luxurious spread with crispy pata, inihaw na pusit, kare kare, and lumpiang sariwa. There were a few other dishes I didn't recognize, but everything tasted great. My uncle is a great cook, after all.

Crispy Pata and Kare kare! Yummy! Strangely enough, I don't like the skin of the Crispy Pata and I don't use bagoong on my Kare kare.
Pictures are from and

Now, I remember my mom telling me at one time or another about how she and her sisters used to dance in the procession of San Guillermo. My memory of the stories, until earlier tonight, was rather vague. When dinner ended, we talked for a while, catching up on family news. It didn't take long before we were called out to see the procession. I was in the restroom when the procession first passed the house. When I got out, the San Guillermo image was rather far away. My mom said the image would be brought back.

"Isasayaw nila si San Guillermo." I was told.

When I was called out the second time, I noticed that the streets were lined with people. Actually, the people on the street formed two lines. They were swaying at some beat that a leader was chanting.

"Left, right, left, right..."

A few moments later, I heard the band playing music. A loud whistle was sounded every fourteen or thirteen lines of the song that was being played. My mom's aunt, Lola Ason, told us that the image of San Guillermo that was being paraded is not the original San Guillermo. The original San Guillermo was taken to Talisay, Batangas by two elders during the Japanese occupation. This was done to protect the San Guillermo from the invading troops. When the time came to return the saint to its home in Buting, the elder in Talisay would not give it back.

Just then, it got too noisy to talk. Well, it got too noisy for me to talk, Lola Ason and her daughter, Tita Ethel kept talking. My mom told me that Tita Ethel took care of me when I was two or three years old. Anyway, the band was getting closer and the music was getting louder. I noticed that the people lined up were lined up in groups: children (elementary school children who were given the day off to participate in the procession), teenagers, young women, and older women were the first to come up. The saint was being carried by young men who, like everyone else, were swaying to the beat of the band's song. The saint itself, because of the movement of those carrying his platform, was swaying. Sinasayaw nila si San Guillermo.

The pace of the procession was slow because of the dance. The rest of the procession followed: old women, gay men, older men, the band, gangs of boys... they all stepped to the beat of the dance. Every now and then, they would have to take a few steps back to give the people ahead a little more space. Every now and then, a person would break into the line to join in the fun. Every now and then, I would find myself moving to the beat of the marching band's drum. It took about a good ten minutes for the saint to move five meters away from where I was standing. In front of me, a man tried to pluck flowers from the decorations that surrounded the base of the saint's platform. The entire pot holding the flowers almost fell on the people carrying the platform.I noticed how heavy the saint was at that point.

Almost half an hour later, the Madonna and Child image came into view. It was a lighter image and was more easily made to "dance".

"Kalahating kalsada ang indayog nung Birhen o," my cousin pointed out.

The music near the Madonna and Child was different from the music near San Guillermo. My mom recognized the song as the one she and her sisters danced to when they were much younger. The song was Paruparong Bukid. When the Virgin passed us, I noticed that the men bearing the Virgin were much younger than the men bearing the saint. One of them handed me a flower from the decorations of the Madonna. My cousins and nieces teased me about it for a few moments. I kept the flower and it is currently being pressed between the pages of my World History book.

Brianna mums, this was the type of flower given to me.
Picture from

Once the Virgin had passed, the procession ended and my mom, brother and I readied ourselves for the trip home. I realized as I reentered the house that I wasn't suffocated anymore. As my body moved to the beat of the music, my spirit was moved by the people and the enthusiasm of the place.

I learned later on, after much research, that San Guillermo is Saint William of Maleval. I only recognized him because of the cross staff he was holding. There were no pictures of represenations of San Guillermo. San Guillermo is the patron of armorers. This is a picture of a cross staff, the saint's image was holding one of these.

picture is from

Several times during the entire affair, my heart overflow with a strange joy that in some small corner of the universe, some people still follow old traditions and believe in its meaning. I didn't expect that small corner to be in a place where the loud and the vulgar lived. Perhaps, God does dwell with the most unsavory of company.

1 comment:

Anna dela Torre said...

San Guillermo Parish Rocks !!!
ang parish ng kabataan !!!

ang ganda magsimba sa SGP, ang ganda kasi ng homily !

-----Anna Pink-----