Chapter 42: Fiesta in Enrile

Every town celebrates its own fiesta. Each area, whether a barrio or the centro, has its own saint to honor at its fiesta, so the date depends on the birthday of that saint. The patron saint of the Centro of Enrile was Our Lady of Snows. The fiesta in Enrile was on August 5th, but the “Despira,” or the night before the fiesta, was when they had the big celebration at Rizal Park, the park in front of the municipal building in Enrile Centro. It was to be our first fiesta in Enrile, and it seemed as though the whole town was celebrating my birthday, because the date was the fourth of August, and August 4th ismy birthday. Friends from other barrios of Enrile as well as from other towns came to visit, and they went from house to house, visiting with their friends and enjoying feasting on all the goodies served. This was an occasion much like our Thanksgiving Day in the States when everyone who can, returns home to be with their family to celebrate it together. The people all join in preparing their best so that all who come will be served royally.

Everyone serves the meat of the pig at fiesta time, and they serve every part of it in one dish or another—even the blood. The day before, from time to time, we could hear the squealing of pigs from the houses around us. It was interesting to see how they prepared their pig prior to cooking. First, they had to butcher it. The first step in preparing to butcher a pig is to tie its legs together to keep it from running away and to give an extra handle by which to lift it. The pig doesn’t like that at all, and there’s a little extra terror in his squeals. He seems to sense that it’s the end of the trail for him—that he is destined to be ‘front and center’ when the food is served at the fiesta.

Butchering a pig (and/or cow or water buffalo, if the number of guests and family resources warrant it) is a family project, mostly for the men and older boys. The pig is laid on the table, and many hands hold it steady while a knife is plunged into its throat. The blood is caught in a pan and used in one of the favorite dishes, ‘zinagan’ (zee NAH gone). Boiling water is then poured over the pig, a section at a time, and bolos and pieces of old tin cans are used to scrape off the hair. When most of it is gone, old razor blades, tied to sticks of bamboo, are used to shave the pig clean. When the skin is clean, the head is removed, the internal organs, and then the carcass is cut in half, preparatory to being cooked. It’s obvious from the way the people work that they know what they are doing.

Butchering the pig is the men’s job while preparing bibingka, a delicious kind of rice candy, is the women’s job. It takes all day to prepare bibingka. It is an outside job done over an open fire using charcoal as the fuel. It is made of coconut milk and special sticky rice, as well as other ingredients that require several hours of work to get just right. When I wanted to have bibingka made for a celebration we had one time, I had Itay and Ensing, our two neighbors to the south, prepare it for us which they knew exactly how to do. For a fiesta, they also prepare such dishes as leche flan, a delicious custard dish, and other rice candies. They serve these rice dishes with a very strong chocolate drink called sukalate, which is served in a tiny demitasse cup after everyone has finished their meal and is sitting around talking.

One of the features of this fiesta was a beauty contest to raise money to build a gymnasium. Before the fiesta, each contestant sold votes, and the one who sold the most was the winner and became king or queen. There were two divisions: young adult and primary. The winners were crowned at a program on the eve of the fiesta, and it was a night that was looked forward to by all Enrilenos.

We attended the coronation, which was held in Rizal Park. The floor of the park was concrete, and chairs filled most of the area. At the front of the park was a large stage which was decorated beautifully and had large colorful letters on a backdrop drapery proclaiming the presence of the main speaker and greeting the royal kings and queens. The officials of the town were present and beautifully dressed in their fashionable clothing, and some were rushing around taking care of last minute details while others sat in their seats on the stage, waiting for the night’s events to take place.

We had hoped we could observe from an obscure place in the background, but we had been there long enough to know better than to think that would happen. As soon as we arrived, we were immediately escorted to front row seats. Among other things, we were introduced to the guest of honor, Brig. General Ramon L. Cannu, commanding general of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, who is from Enrile. He was invited to speak and to crown the queens. We just sat in our seats during the program and enjoyed the whole thing. First, they had the runner-ups for the primary coronation and then the primary king and queen, and then the adult runner-ups, and the adult king and queen came for their coronations. It was very colorful.

When the coronation of the kings and queens was over, the best was yet to come. Brig. General Cannu had brought his band for the occasion and it was time for them to play. The chairs were moved out of the center of the area and placed in a circle around it to make room for those who wished to dance. We had excellent seats so we could enjoy the music and watch the activities with friends. The band was quite good and we were reminded of Glen Miller in the forties because they played a lot of Glen Miller’s old songs, which were our favorites. Listening to the music we had not dreamed of ever hearing in this little town of Enrile, was lovely. I was really pleased at the charming party they were having for me. With the night so balmy, the moon so lovely, and the music so delightful, could it have been any nicer?

The next day was the actual fiesta, and everyone was busy taking care of the guests that came to their homes. Many folks went to mass first to honor their town saint. Then they went to visit the homes of their friends. We did not go to mass, but since we were relatively new in town, we joined the throngs as they went around. After visiting with one family for a while, we moved on to visit another, enjoying the brotherly love and affection that was manifested on every hand as well as the good food that was so plentiful everywhere we went. When we were quite full of the good food, fellowship and blessings, we finally said our goodbyes and went home to bask in the good feelings we had experienced that day. This had been an extremely successful day no matter how you looked at it. We had strengthened our ties to our Itawes family, friends and their friends. We had been able to converse with folks in Itawes and make ourselves understood. We had participated in a custom that we could identify with very well. The Lord was with us.

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