The Cultural Extravaganza Lives! Join the Celebration at the Annual Filipino Fiesta and Flores De Mayo
by Raymund Liongson, Ph.D.
After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the annual Filipino Fiesta & Flores de Mayo returns to Waipahu May 14 (Saturday) from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Filipino Community Center. Free and open to the public, the Filipino Fiesta is the largest FilCom Center event marked by food, dancing, games and traditions and attended by thousands of Filipinos and Oahu residents and visitors.
This year’s Fiesta is also FilCom Center’s 20th Anniversary, appropriately themed “Sama-samang Muli, Sari-saring Saya!” (Together again, loads of fun!).
“After a long absence due to the pandemic we are sending a strong message that Filipinos are resilient,” said Paul Alimbuyao, bank executive and co-chair of the Filipino Fiesta. “The event shows our ability to recover and move on and once again gather the community to have fun and be proud in showcasing the Filipino cultures and traditions, highlighting traditional Philippine songs and dances, food, games and cultural activities through different Philippine languages and artifacts.”
FilCom Fiesta Beginnings
“The Filipino Fiesta was not meant to replicate the fiesta as observed in Philippine towns, but to drive interest for folks to donate to what is now called the FilCom Center,” says Rose Churma, who served as the executive director and project manager of the FilCom Center during its inception. “That was thirty years ago. In some way, the effort succeeded because now we have a building, although the institution is still mired in debt.”
Oahu’s Fiesta started when L&L Hawaiian Barbecue founder and owner Eddie Flores and House of Finance, Inc. founder and CEO Roland Casamina started a capital campaign to support the construction of the Filipino Community Center. The fundraising effort evolved into an event to showcase the diverse cultures and traditions of the Filipino people. In 2012, the “Flores de Mayo” (Flowers of May) was conceived to align with the Fiesta’s annual occurrence in May.
“The communal meaning of the celebration of fiesta for Filipino Americans is about nostalgia and thanksgiving,” says Eva Washburn-Repollo, chair of this year’s celebration. “The memories of this event are seared into one’s memory because the whole town opened their doors to guests. All around it was colorful, lots of movement, dances and songs and we did it all over again every year. The most amazing thing about fiestas is it happens often as barrios, towns and cities celebrate their own fiestas and you can go to so many fiestas in a year!”
“The yearly Filipino fiesta brings all those memories back again in one long and festive day of togetherness. The yearly cycle of fiestas that people visit bond us to each other. We see many festivals in Hawaii from different ethnic groups but the fiesta we know has its own unique characteristics. The young FilAms are learning what fiesta means: we gather to be happy together as we share our blessings, our ways to support each other, our traditional foods, songs and dances,” recounts Washburn-Repollo.
“The fiesta is filled with the spirit of giving as we receive donations from businesses and Filipino entrepreneurs. These help us defray expenses and create a space for festivals. The sights, tastes, sounds and smells of Filipino culture wrap us all together in this giant embrace. We come home happy that we experience that we are here for each other, showing the young how to live love and laugh with goodness and generosity. The fiesta, though just once a year, allows us to remember that although we are in a place that was so foreign to many of our families who came here first, these values are still intact.”
Fiesta at FilCom
In the previous years, this annual event was held at the Kapiolani Park in Waikiki and the Kaka’ako Park by the UH Medical Center. As the Filipino Community Center marks its 20th anniversary this year, the Filipino Fiesta steering committee felt it appropriate to hold the event at the FilCom Center grounds.
“People will be able to see the transformation of the FilCom Center parking lot into a ‘Plaza’, influenced by the Spanish colonial era,” says Donnie Juan, FilCom Center executive director. “Through Filipino ingenuity and creativity, a chandelier made of imitation-Capiz shells will be built and displayed for participants to admire. One can take a selfie and share it on social media.”
Capiz comes from the shell of the Placuna placenta mollusk, which is native to the Philippine Sea. The shells are often reused for home décor, crafts and jewelry.
The Fiesta will showcase the cultures, traditions, foods and crafts from the Philippine’s three major islands – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Three tents will house the various ethnolinguistic groups in these major islands, highlighting Ilocano, Cordillera, Metro Manila, Bicol, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Davaoeños, Lumad, and other cultural groups.
Cultural booth participants include Alpha Phi Omega Alumni Association of Hawaii, University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Hawaii, BIBAK-Hawaii, Bicol Club, Kahirup Ilonggo, Chaminade University of Honolulu, Dabawenyos, and Doce Pares.
Among the cultural items that will be featured in the cultural booths are the jeepney, Cordillera gangsa, Mindanao kulintang, and Muslim weapons.
A cultural hour will feature performers demonstrating Philippine dances, songs and history of each region. Among the performances will be indigenous rituals, music, and dance from the Cordillera and Mindanao regions.
Children can check out the “Kabataang Barangay” booth and grab prizes from a popular fiesta game called pabitin. They may also try their hand at sungka, a game that pits opponents against one another in a calculation challenge that plays out on a block of wood or game-board called sungkahan. The children’s booth will also have coloring activities, storytelling and other traditional games.
“Due to liability constraints, many fun and daring children’s fiesta activities popular in the Philippines cannot be staged here,” observed Giovanni del Rosario of Kapolei. “For instance, we cannot have palo sebo without securing an insurance or assuming liabilities due to potential falls. Even palo banga or basagan ng palayok may be considered potentially harmful.”
Palo sebo features greasy poles, usually made up of bamboo, with a prize pinned on top of it. The aim is to climb the greasy pole and whoever gets the prize is the winner of the game. Palo banga or basagan ng palayok is similar to the Spanish piñata except that the container is a breakable earthen pot that can shatter into pieces in which the shreds can potentially fly into someone’s eyes or body and result in an injury.
To date, many details like parking and program are still being finalized. For the latest update, check out the FilCom website, filcom.org.
The Filipino Fiesta and Flores de Mayo FilCom Center is one of the four commemorative events celebrating the 20th anniversary of the FilCom Center. This will be followed by The Dream Musical (June), the Bayanihan Gala (July), and the traditional Filipino Pasko sa FilCom (December).
Fiesta in the Philippines is a critical part of the culture, bringing people together to celebrate a patron saint, a bountiful harvest, or friendship and family.
“Fiestas in the Philippines are held to celebrate the feast of a patron saint. The centuries of Spanish occupation have made the Philippines the only majority-Christian country in Southeast Asia and reverence toward saints and other religious figures have been integrated into the Filipino tradition,” says Jun Gappe, past president of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Hawaii.
According to travel writer Michael Aquino, the roots of Philippine fiestas go back even further than Spanish colonial rule. “Pre-Hispanic Filipinos made regular ritual offerings to placate the gods, and these offerings evolved into the fiestas we know today. A wonderful fiesta season means good luck for the rest of the year!”
“Fiestas may be an expression of thanksgiving, such as the celebration of a good harvest or an abundant catch. Such festivities are often manifested through dances, music, and of course, abundant food,” says Grace Vendiola of Kahuku. Pahiyas, Ibalong Festival, and Bangus Festival represent these types of celebrations.
Some Philippine festivals are secular or non-religious and are a celebration of a historical event. Kadaugan sa Mactan, for instance, is a reenactment of the victory of Mactan people during the famous “Battle of Mactan” in 1521. Sandugo Festival, on the other hand, is a month-long festivity honoring the Blood Compact between Rajah Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565.
Today, every town and city in the Philippines has a fiesta of its own honoring its patron saint, celebrating its cultural traditions, highlighting its natural resources, or glorifying its historical triumphs. From January to December, there is always a fiesta celebration somewhere.
For instance, in January, Ati-atihan, Sinulog, and Dinagyang are grand celebrations in the Visayas, all of these festivals in honor of the Sto. Niño (Holy Infant). The Panagbenga Flower Festival in Baguio and the Bamboo Organ Festival in Las Piñas, the latter held to celebrate the oldest bamboo pipe organ in the world, are the main festivities in February.
In March, the Alimango Festival highlights the abundance of crabs in Lala, Lanao del Norte and features crab/ocean themed grand street dancing parade, crab races, biggest crab contest and an agri-trade fair. If there is an Alimango Festival, there is also the Bangus Festival in Dagupan City, Pangasinan held in April.
Pahiyas is a delightful festival in May unique to Lucban, Quezon where houses are decorated with colorful fruits, vegetables, handicrafts and kiping, a decoration made from rice flour.
In June, the folks of Leyte bring back to life the indigenous Cebuano people who were called “Pintados” by the Spaniards because their bodies were heavily tattooed. Named after t’nalak, a colorful and intricately woven abaca fabric created and worn by T’boli women, the T’nalak Festival is celebrated in July in South Cotabato.
A festival that does not take its cue from the Roman Catholic tradition is the Kadayawan Festival, celebrated in the month of August in Davao. This festival originally offered thanksgiving to the gods Manama and Bulan. Today, it celebrates Davao’s bountiful harvest.
If Dagupan is the “bangus capital” in the Philippines, General Santos City claims the title of being the “tuna capital” in the country and celebrates their annual Tuna Festival in September.
Billing itself as the city of smiles, Bacolod City celebrates Maskara Festival every month of October. Instead of scary zoombies roaming the streets, giant colorful paper mâché effigies parade in Angono, Rizal in the month of November, celebrating the Higantes Festival.
And finally, featuring the iconic Christmas parol, San Fernando Pampanga’s Giant Lantern Festival is a crowd draw in December, and has been going on since 1931. And the foregoing festivals are just some of the many more fiesta celebrations in the Philippines.
Fiesta as a sociocultural and economic vehicle
Fiesta will remain to be an integral part of Philippine and Filipino culture – both at home and abroad. It serves as a collective expression of recognition and reverence toward hallowed figures (like saints) who serve as models of virtuous living.
Because festival preparations require collaborative effort among people, Filipino fiesta promotes that sense of bayanihan, or the spirit of cooperation, a core Filipino value. It provides a venue for a communal celebration and fellowship and an opportunity to appreciate the fruit of labor and savor the joy of triumphs and achievements.
Filipino festivals have drawn the creative and aesthetic gifts of Filipinos. In their music and dances, implements and decorations, Filipinos have demonstrated their amazing artistry. And each year they celebrate fiesta, it often comes out bigger and lovelier than the year before.
And, of course, fiesta has an economic value. It creates the need and demand for certain goods and services which consequently require manpower and the circulation of resources, thus helping invigorate the economy.
Like many other people, Filipinos value collective engagement, good food, and fun and fiesta celebrations offer these delights. For this, the fiesta will remain to be an indispensable ingredient of Filipino life both in the Philippines and abroad.
RAYMUND LLANES LIONGSON, PH.D. is a retired professor and coordinator of Philippine/Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Leeward and is a member of the 2022 Filipino Fiesta Steering Committee. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of the Philippines at Diliman.