The excesses of Ibajay: religious festivals as protest

I identify with a religion that doesn’t have festivals, although as I understand it, the modern fiesta is more pagan in origin than Catholic. If you look at the history of the most famous festivals in honor of the child Christ, for example, the street dancing evolved into its current form when “natives” celebrated their conversion into the Catholic faith by carrying an image of the Sto. Niño as they happily marched towards the altar. This was certainly an important occasion, which naturally required intoxicating liquids and inspired trance-induced movements that are meant to please the deities.

It isn’t so different now, although the clash between what the Catholic religion teaches and how merry-makers express themselves is evident to the point that it looks like protest.

In Ibajay, the faithful march around town in small tribes that tow their own drum and xylophone brigade. This is called the sadsad, and I have been coming here to this town 45 minutes north of Kalibo in an effort to avoid more popular festivals that have been consumed by corporate sponsorship.

Being an outsider, I notice that “sins” and deviant behavior are often brazenly displayed during the parades. I make no judgment of the participants, only observations. I do not know much about the Catholic faith, but it seems it is the Catholics themselves who playfully disobey the teachings of their religion by extolling non-virtues.

But what strikes me as the unifying element in this religious festival is this: you may be different, you may be walking in sin, but the doors to the church are wide open, and you are welcome to express your individuality and uniqueness, and still come in to touch the image of the child Christ. If your beliefs convince you that these actions make you a better Catholic, then it does not matter that the words from the pulpit describe you as a sinner. All religions, after all, preach tolerance and acceptance.

Ibajay’s Ati-ati cannot be compared to the Ati-atihan of Kalibo in terms of pomp and pageantry. It’s so much smaller in scale. The festivals are held only a week apart, with Ibajay’s taking place later. But it is the intimacy of this small town’s week-long street party that is its main attraction. In Ibajay, no one is an outsider, not many are left to observe; everyone is a participant. And as the revelers say: Viva!



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