Sunday, October 14, 2007

Traslacion Musings

Last month, I went back to Naga for the Peñafrancia Fiesta, its opening festivities, to be precise. The Peñafrancia Fiesta starts with the Traslacion, the procession where the miraculous images of Our Lady of Peñafrancia and the Divino Rostro (the image of the suffering Jesus on the Widow Veronica's cloth) are brought from the Basilica Minore where She is enshrined to the more accessible Naga Metropolitan Cathedral downtown. This practice started out back in the Spanish colonial past where walking is the main method of land transportation, the basilica no more than a nipa-roofed shrine located in the scarcely populated city outskirts, and the cathedral was located right in the place to be, at the heart of the city.

I'd prefer going to the Traslacion rather than the main event nine days later--the Fluvial Procession, where the Image is returned to the basilica via a river barge (called the Pagoda). Perhaps it's just my aversion to crowds. Actually, the number of people in the city does shoot up during Traslacion, but there's about twice more people during the Fluvial Procession. And speaking of large crowds, fiestas not only attract devotees, tourists and merchants (some aren't even selling Bicol merchandise, for crying out loud), but also shady characters who think of large crowds as both unwitting prey and convenient hiding place, just as what fellow blogger Sidney recently experienced (he too went to Naga last month, but for the Fluvial Procession).

It had been six years since I had last watched or participated in the Traslacion. I guess it's a Bicolano thing to have this itch to participate. It also helped that every school in Naga and its neighboring towns sends a delegation, so from elementary to high school I had been marching, rain or shine, in the Traslacion. My plan was to wiggle my way, by affiliation with my former teachers, into the delegation of my high school alma mater. I was thinking it would also be a good opportunity to brush up with the latest in the school and in the city, hitting two birds with one stone. So there I was walking at high noon towards the usual staging point of my high school, which was a quarter of the way down from the starting point of the procession. (They are still schoolchildren, so it would be enough for them to walk for about a kilometer while the grown-up devotees take on the full route, which is about a couple hundred of meters longer. Yeah, we're tough like that.) I was wearing only a T-shirt, but the heat was getting into me, which is not a good sign. Back then I wore two layers of formal "gala" uniform, but I took the heat in stride. I discovered that recently, the staging area was moved, which meant students now walked about 30 more meters for the procession, no biggie actually.

Finally, I saw the delegation of my high school, but was disappointed. I've been supportive of its recent major changes like a move to a new campus located at the city outskirts (I meant the new city outskirts, kilometers farther than the Basilica Minore) and, of course, co-education, but, as a school that prides itself as a Bicolano, Catholic and Jesuit institution, I hope they retain this small tradition during the fiesta. What I stumbled upon in the delegation was a sound mobile followed by the crucifix, school standards and candles held by the altar servers, followed by senior high school students and teachers then finally some students from the college. I didn't even find the old teachers whom I personally know. This was a token delegation, no different from any other school in the procession. I risk sounding like an old fogey, but during my time, the delegation came in full force, which made it unique among the other schools in the Traslacion. At front was not just the crucifix, candles and school standards but a platoon of altar servers. Then there was a brass band from college (although its recent absence was due to the fact that the school bands were now positioned at locations along the route rather than march with their respective schools). Following the band was a platoon of CAT officers, who will compete a week later in the annual Military Parade. After them were all high school students escorted by all their teachers. Among the students were members of the mysterious religious organization Days with the Lord holding up banners with Marian slogans.

Dejected, I walked away. A few blocks away though, I saw a new delegation that was, in some ways, "unique" and amusing enough to elicit raised eyebrows from me. At its heart, Naga is a conservative city, where values like modesty, apparent if not internalized, are still regarded highly. For instance, the uniforms in its schools are of the long skirt variety (as exemplified by the seifuku in the anime Maria-sama ga Miteru, which, incidentally, is set in a Catholic school for girls, see pic at left), and this fits well with the religious procession the students are participating. But times do change and Naga is not exempted. Recently, the city had welcomed an international school, Brentwood if I'm not mistaken, and they were also marching in the Traslacion. The thing is, international schools sport a uniform of more worldly standards (and the Brentwood uniform in particular uncannily resembles the seifuku of Ghost Hunt with its sailor bow, long sleeves, short skirts and knee-high socks, see pic at right). After the initial startled reaction, the first question that came to mind was why was this not present during our time (Why?!). Then I thought, quoting somebody, "that's hot"--literally speaking--but I guess like any other Bicol resident, the Brentwood students could cope with the scorching weather. As to the question whether there were anime-cute students worthy of their anime-like uniform, it's probable but I could not ascertain since the fiery sun was beating down upon me and I had to move on.

In the end, I had to content myself with merely watching the Traslacion by the roadside together with childhood friends, something which I last did more than a decade ago anyway. At first I noticed that clouds were gathering above the approximate location of the basilica. She has started her voyage, I thought to myself. Slowly, like the pace of the procession, the clouds crept towards our location downtown. I wouldn't be surprised if it brought rain along with it since water was more than welcome in the midst of the voyadores, the tumultuous sea of men bearing the Image of Our Lady (think rush-hour MRT, only with a lot more pushing and shoving and drunkenness and body odor). Either way, there were volunteer fire trucks and civic-minded homeowners along the route willing to hose some relief onto the men. A similar sign of weather cooperating with the festivities happens during the Fluvial Procession where rains would raise the water level in the Naga River so that the barge could float along more smoothly, a feat replicated, just in case, using flood control structures.

The image of the Divino Rostro passed by, and, a couple of hours later, that of Our Lady. Together with the waved handkerchiefs and falling confetti, were raised cameras and cellphones. In the age of 3G and blogs, this centuries-old tradition continues among the Bicolanos will continue to do so for ages to come.

Traslacion photo stolen from Chy.

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6 honked their horn

Anonymous tutubi said...

i've been to Naga but not yet during the penafrancia or other festivals. sana makarating ako dun

Tuesday, 16 October, 2007  
Blogger Amadeo said...

Accounts like this can’t help but draw out the reader’s own nostalgia of times and events past. Especially for people like us, we can also dig into a rich past that is quite different from our present realities.

Quite ironic you included the item of schoolchildren’s uniform or manner of dressing. It is almost a whole world of difference compared to where we are now, where young children are so sexualized at very young tender ages even while still attending school. Sexualized not only in manner of dressing but with most other stuff in society. Last week, a school board here addressed and decided in favor of allowing children as young as 11 access to contraceptives in school, without their parents’ knowledge or consent. All in the name of avoiding unwanted pregnancies.

Monday, 22 October, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

c it!

Saturday, 27 October, 2007  
Blogger dave (",) said...

tito b: sana nga! well, naga does have other attractions aside from the fiesta. check it out at this naga at random entry. i'd be posting a follow up.

amadeo: well, i can't help but notice the contrast of brentwood uniform to the conservative atmosphere. children are growing up a lot earlier now, but give them credit for their savvy. i am confident they can handle the world they are now in just as we managed to handle ours back then. i should know, i'm young enough to remember. hopefully i won't forget.

anonymous: ¡hola el chico de la costa rica! i'm waiting for the re-launch of your blog.

Tuesday, 30 October, 2007  
Blogger Sidney said...

I will try to return next year... without wallet ! ;-)

I still think it is an event you have to experience once in your life!

Monday, 26 November, 2007  
Blogger dave (",) said...

good to hear that from you, sidney :) i'll be waiting for the photos.

Wednesday, 12 December, 2007  

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