The month of May is the fiesta season in Bohol. The Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) implemented to fight against COVID-19 is scheduled to end on April 30, 2020 a minute before midnight.
In effect the fiesta of Tagbilaran City on May 1, 2020 will be no longer covered by the ECQ. Many Boholanos are worried that the visitors to Bohol will cause a spike of COVID-19 positive cases. Gov. Art Yap has advised that those who will celebrate fiesta will be only the members of the household and no visitors or outsiders will be allowed.
On 5 December 2007 I delivered a lecture regarding fiestas in Bohol during the Oral History National Conference organized by the National Historical Institute. It was held in Silliman University, Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental.
The lecture was only for one (1) hour but the research was extensive to prepare myself for the open forum. What is important is to know why Boholanos will celebrate fiestas no matter what happens.
Reasons for fiesta
The underlying reasons why Boholanos will celebrate fiesta are 1.) Panáad (vow; promise) and 2.)Pasalamat(give thanks). Some Boholanos will combine the two concepts as Panaad and Pasalamat especially to a sál-ong or in modern concept introduced by the Spaniards, is the devotion to a particular saint. (Note: The pre-Spanish “sal-ong” was a personal god.)
In September of 1998 we had an archeological excavation at a cave located in Cabisi, Ubujan, Tagbilaran. The archeological site can be dated as active in 700 A.D. It was very clear that the place was a ritual site for a kind of religious offering.
The name of the place is Cabisi. The old Bisayan word Cabis means to do or perform the act that was promised in order to extinguish the debt. The suffix “…i” in Cabisi indicates an order or command.
In olden times when a Boholano will travel to other places, he will always promise or vow to come home. If he will happen to die in foreign places his companions will bring parts of his body like, teeth, fingers, heart, etc. back to Bohol and offered at the burial site in Cabisi in order to extinguish the debt or accomplish the promise. This only indicates how important it is for a Boholano to perform his vow or promise.
On May 1599 Fr. Alonso Humanes, S.J. passed by Panglao, Bohol on his way from Cebu to Loboc, Bohol. A boy, who was a son of the local chieftain, was sick. Fr. Humanes treated and cured the boy of his sickness. As a way of giving thanks, the local chief held a fiesta, complete with dances and entertainments, to give thanks for the recovery of the boy.
It is very clear that fiestas were already held in Bohol before the coming of the Spanarids. What was introduced by the Spaniards was to whom the thanks was given. Instead of the native sal-ong, it was redirected to a Patron Saint.
When the Boholanos became Roman Catholic Christians the celebration of the fiesta was continued but the fiesta was dedicated to the Patron Saint or the saint of personal devotion of an individual.
Before the coming of the Spaniards there was already an organized religion in Bohol. The earliest native religious leader in Bohol that was recorded by the Spanish Jesuits was named Caryapa. The next over-all native religious leader recorded by the Spaniards was Tamblot.
Caryapa prophesied that the Bo-ol Kingdom will be destroyed because the people converted to another religion.
In 1563 the Bo-ol Kingdom was destroyed by Portuguese and Ternatean invaders. The Bool Kingdom was already proselytized by a Muslim missionary name Sarip Para.
When Spanish General Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Bohol on March 1565, the Bool Kingdom was already destroyed.
The pre-Spanish native religion, the Islamic religion and the Spanish religion all celebrated fiestas in their own way. The native concept of celebrating fiesta as a panáad (vow, promise) and pasalamat (give thanks) have always been carried all throughout the years.
The Bisayanlanguage spoken in Bohol have many Arabic words that are not found in Cebu. For example the Boholano word “jámò” means “totally” in Arabic. Therefore our “Dakôjamò” would translate into English as “Totally big”.
We have a native game known as “Jim-jim” in Bohol and also known as “Tubig-tubig” in other places. The Arabic word “Jim” of the Islamic religion refers to the situation when Hagar, the secondary wife of Abraham was searching for water in the desert, when Hagar and her son Ismael were banished by the Prophet Abraham through the intercession of Sarah.
Jim-jim orTubig-tubig was supposed to be a fiesta celebration in Bohol during the Islamic era but jim-jim was transformed into a children’s game during the Spanish era and until now.
The manner the Boholanos celebrate their fiestas is very unique. The feasting is an open-house. Everybody and anybody is welcomed to partake of the food and drinks. In other places in the Philippines, only those who are invited will participate in the feast, and in Mindanao they only offer the noon meal or lunch. In Bohol you can start eating from the bisperas(day before), the kahúlgan (designated day), and líwas (day after).
Now there is a proposal of Gov. Art Yap that the fiesta will be celebrated only by the household in order to follow the rule of ECQ and SD. There are also many Boholanos who expressed their opinions similar to Governor Yap.
I have done an intensive research about fiesta in Bohol. Those who celebrate fiesta with the concept of pasalamat (give thanks) can be placated with the suggestion that they give food to their neighbors as a way of thanksgiving.
The Boholanos who celebrate fiestas with the concept of panáad (vow; promise) cannot be placated. They will celebrate their fiesta the usual way, come hell or high water. Their psychology is very different. They must accomplish what they promised to God or the Saint.
It is the old concept of “Cabisi”, or perform what you promised in order to extinguish the obligation. In my research, this frame of mind is very strong in folk-catholicism and there are still many in Bohol. They exist in Bohol from the highly educated professionals to the uneducated folks in the hinterlands.
I have once attended a fiesta celebration in the hinterlands in Sierra Bullones, Bohol and the ceremonies included “dancing over fire”. These are the kind of people that you could not threaten with imprisonment. They would even prefer to die than to violate their vow or promise.