Blessings from the River
Taguig celebrates the annual Taguig River Festival in week-long festivities.
ZEAN VILLONGCO // 7 MIN READ
Published July 29, 2018
The church bells pealed at four o’clock, resounding clamorously in the darkness of the early morning hours. The cramped quarters of Barangay Santa Ana were just starting to stir, with a few street vendors setting up their makeshift stalls along the periphery of the church grounds. Down under the Bambang Bridge, the satellite office of the Taguig City Government’s Lake and River Management Office was likewise rousing. Nearby, parked along the banks of the waterway, were several barges colorfully ornamented with buntings and tickertapes and all sorts of frills. Soon enough, even before the day’s first light, the riverside quay was already flurrying with avid commotion for the day’s upcoming activities.
It was the feast day of St. Anne, and every July 26, the townsfolk of Santa Ana, as well as the general cityhood of Taguig, pay homage to their holy patroness with the Santa Anang Banak River Festival, also known as Taguig River Festival. Considered to be the city’s most historic and important festival, the celebration stems from the religious beliefs and folk myths of the original settlers of Taguig. It is a grand, lavish, and enjoyably uproarious fluvial parade which courses along a stretch of the Taguig River and which accordingly retraces the city’s roots to when the waterway was the arterial lifeblood of what was then a settlement of farmers and fishermen thriving along the lakeshore of the nearby Laguna de Bay.
As stories go, hardship would befall the community when farmers lost their harvest to seasonal floods. Faith then tells that it was the patroness St. Anne who would gather large swells of river mullet, locally known as banak, along the riverbanks near her church, providing fishermen with magnificent bounty. In thanksgiving, the fishermen would throw portions of their catch to the people along the bank, while the latter would throw, in return, fruits and dried goods. The gesture, traditionally referred to as pasubo, eventually became an integral part of the merry festivities of the town fiesta.
Life still flows and ebbs along the waters of the Taguig River. Boats still run the river’s length, transporting goods and ferrying people to and from neighboring towns. Fishermen still earn their living along stretches upstream near the lake. Children still play in its water and would sometimes dive into it from off the bridge.
The day’s celebration started off at six o’clock with a river regatta. Meant to depict how fishermen in the past competed with each other to catch the biggest banak, the boat race pitted several teams of local boatmen paddling their bangkang lunday (native boat) for trophies and cash prizes. This was then followed by the Pagandahan ng Bangkang Lunday, a boat pageant where the mundane riverboats were elaborately decorated.
In between, while waiting for the grand fluvial parade to be held in the early afternoon, throngs of the town’s laity descended upon the church to hear mass. Built in 1587 by Augustinian friars and declared in 1987 as a historic site and cultural property by the National Historic Commission of the Philippines, the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Anne stood at the heart of the day’s festivities, its entrances choked by the large flood of people who came to offer their devotion to their patroness. Within the church grounds, meals of fish, chicken and rice were served to anyone who made it to the line. Food stalls of suman, puto, kalamay, and other traditional Filipino delicacies littered the streets outside, while marching bands and street performers played for the people’s entertainment. Barangay Sta. Ana was alive and reeling with merriment.
Around one o’clock, the church ground was cleared for the transport of the image of the holy patroness from its shrine to the river. The statue of St. Anne was brought out with much ceremony and reverence, ushered with traditional Filipino folk dances and escorted to its barge by the local clergy and by city officials. With the holy image settled on its barge, the Pagodahan, the grand fluvial procession, was at last under way.
Winding its way from the small wharf next to the church, up to the nearby mouth of Laguna de Bay and then back, the procession was greeted by a rambunctious melee of various goods and food items thrown both from the riverbanks and from the river, a reenactment of the traditional pasubo. More boats decked in themed adornments and carrying revelers and images of other saints joined in throughout the duration of the parade. It was an enormously fun and riotous spectacle to witness as people from the banks and from the boats hurled at each other fruits such as oranges, apples, mangoes, and even candies.
Some people came prepared with umbrellas and helmets to shield themselves from the incessant hail of flung items. The fervent merrymakers and the hapless spectators were all caught in the crossfire. Music and an intoxicating dance rhythm of drums and percussion played out from the floating procession. It was a carnival on the water, a zesty celebration of history and faith observed by a people once referred to as taga-giik, the term meaning “rice thresher” and from which the name Taguig originated.
As the revelry, upon return from the river, transitioned to the pandangguhan, whereby the holy image of the town’s patroness was paraded through the town streets, I took stock of the side of a city that I never knew existed, a side that was still steeped in tradition and historical, religious fervor. In the pandangguhan, devotees in native attire lead the land procession with candles in hand and with dancing to the music of the pandanggo or the wasiwas, the display being a depiction of how women in the olden days lighted the riverbanks to guide their fishermen home.
As the procession weaved its way through town, people caught more gifts and pasubo tossed by homeowners along the route. Other than the near miss from a flying orange during the festivity along the river, I have never caught any pasubo during the entire fiesta, save maybe for the day’s charming revelation. Having known Taguig based solely on the glitzy sheen and heady façade of its bustling and fashionable commercial business district, I never realized that deep within the city’s inner boroughs pulsed a different vitality, one that is visceral, gritty and enthrallingly more authentic.
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