Obando fertility rites recreated in Vallejo

By Rudy M. Viernes

VALLEJO –  The Obando Fertility Rites is a colorful Filipino dance ritual held annually in Obando, Bulacan, in the Philippines.  This was recreated May 17 at this city’s Blue Rocks Springs Park by the Obandenian Association of Northern California.  It was preceded by nine consecutive Saturday novenas which started on March 15.  The affair began with a mass presided by Fr. Jess Soriano, pastor of St. Catherine Church in Vallejo

A big crowd of celebrants, members of OANC and their friends, sashayed with replicas of Obando’s trio of patron saints of childless couples — San Pascual Baylon, Santa Clara and Nuestra Senora de Salambao, while they sang Santa Clara Pinong Pino accompanied by musical instruments made of bamboo.

The traditional festivities is a three-day fair in Obando, Bulacan, north of Manila, each day with its quaint anecdote:  May 17 for St. Pascual, the patron saint of fertility, wealth and abundance.  St. Pascual’s surname, Baylon, was taken to mean “one who likes dancing” because the Spanish word bailar is the verb form of dance.

May 18 for Santa Clara (St. Clare of Assisi), who became the first patron saint of Obando, then of good weather because her Spanish name, which means claro, was translated as the brightening of the skies after a long season of bad weather which later became the reason why Obandenians believe in offering eggs to Saint Clare to pray for good weather.  This belief has been replicated in many towns and cities in the Philippines by those asking for fine weather when they stage special outside celebrations.

May 19 is for Our Lady of Salambao, also known as Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. Local legend narrates of a miraculous discovery of an image of the Virgin Mary in the net, called salambaw, of three fishermen.  When the fishermen thought of bringing the image to neighboring Navotas town their raft suddenly became immovable.  When they decided to bring the image to Obando their boat quickly lightened and easily paddled. This was taken to mean that the Virgin wanted her image enshrined at the Obando Church where she eventually became the patroness of fishermen and of good harvest.

Many stories abound about childless couples, many come from out-of-town, go to Obando during the three day festivities in mid-May to join in the lively street jamboree with one wish-list — to grant a spirit of life into the wombs of their barren wives.  And lo and behold, after nine months, they got what they wanted: a child!  The Fertility and Dance monument in front of the Obando church in Bulacan is a testimony to this magic and mystery of the town.

A few years after WWII, then Archbishop of Manila and the Obando parish priest at that time forbade the practice of the ritual because of its pagan origin. There was an outcry.  Who can deny the testimonies of many grateful childless couples who soon bear a child after joining the ritual?  So, in 1972 Rev. Fr. Rome R. Fernandez and the Commission on Culture of Obando discarded the ban and revived its practice.  The local tourism industry welcomed it, so with businesses.

With all the discussion about the controversial RH Bill pending in the Philippine Congress we intend to forget the thousands of childless couples in the country who are in perpetual prayer for a child.

The funny lyrics of the song sung by the revelers during the procession in the tune of a fandango are: Santa Clarang Pinong Pino/Ako po ay bigyan nyo/ Ng asawang labintatlo/Sa gastos ‘di magreklamo.

The OANC was founded in 1981.  Its current officers  are: Edgardo San Diego, president; Thelma Sy, vice president;  Josephine Sanchez, secretary; Nelia Oblea, treasurer; Elpideo dela Cruz, auditor; Sam Regis and Francisco Sto.Tomas, sgt-at-arms.