Obando Fertility Rites
The Obando Fertility Rites is a Filipino dance ritual. Every year during the month of May, to the tune of musical instruments made out of bamboo materials, the men, women and children of Obando, Bulacan, Philippines wear traditional dance costumes to dance on the streets followed by the images of their patron saints San Pascual Baylon (St. Paschal), Santa Clara (St. Clare) and Nuestra Señora de Salambao (Our Lady of Salambao), while singing the song Santa Clara Pinung-Pino.
Among the fiesta participants in the fertility dance are outsiders from other towns in the Philippines; most are asking the patron saints for a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife or good fortune. They dance on the streets as a form of a religious procession primarily in order for the spirit of life to enter into the wombs of women. This is the magic and mystery of Obando, Bulacan.
The feast days are held for three consecutive days with dancing: May 17 for St. Paschal, May 18 for St. Clare and May 19 for the Our Lady of Salambao.
The Feast usually starts in the morning of May 17, with the mass of the current Parish Priest. Afterwards, the procession of the three Saints will follow, followed by the dancing of the devotees and the musical band. This continues for the duration of the festival, with the image of the particular Patron Saint of the day leading the procession.
The patron saints
St. Clare is the oldest patron saint of Obando, Bulacan. She was the first saint to be enshrined at the chapel built by the Franciscan missionaries in Catanghalan, the old name of Obando Town.
St. Clare was a nun in Assisi, Italy, during the 13th century, who founded a congregation known as the Poor Clares based on the devotional teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Clare has been considered the patron saint of good weather because her Spanish name meant the brightening of the skies after a season of storms, which later became the basis why the residents of Obando, Bulacan, believed in offering eggs at the base of the altar of St. Clare to pray for good weather. Eggs are offered to St. Clare because her name also means claro (albumen) in Spanish.
The introduction of St. Clare by the Spanish Franciscan missionaries as a replacement for the pagan gods of the ancient Filipinos resulted in the transformation of the old Kasilonawan ritual into the offering of the fandango or dance for St. Clare to prevent women from becoming barren. This transformation from pagan rituals to Christian ceremonies enhanced the conversion of Filipinos to Catholicism.
Eventually, St. Clare became the pilgrim's patron saint of an individual who would like to request for a mate and to bear children, female babies in particular.
Lyrics of the song or novena to St. Clare
- "Santa Clarang pinong-pino / Ako po ay bigyan mo / Ng asawang labintatlo / Sa gastos 'di magreklamo!"
- (English translation: "Saint Clare, most refined / Upon me please bestow / Spouses thirteen in all / As for the expense, I won't complain!")
- A variation: "Santa Clarang pinong-pino / Ang pangako ko ay ganito / Pagdating ko sa Obando / Sasayaw ako ng pandanggo."
- (English translation: "Saint Clare, most refined / My promise is as such / When I arrive at Obando / I shall dance the fandango.")
During the 18th century, after the founding of Obando, Bulacan, as a Spanish municipality, the Franciscan missionaries built a church. At that time St. Paschal, or San Pascual Baylon, was introduced to Obando, Bulacan. Like St. Clare, he also became the patron saint of fertility, wealth and abundance. St. Paschal's surname, Baylon, was taken to mean "one who likes dancing", ultimately derived from the Spanish word bailar, the verb form of "dance".
There is an anecdote about a miracle St. Paschal worked that tells of a childless couple from the neighbouring town of Hagonoy, Bulacan. They encountered a crab vendor who recommended that the couple to go to Obando to participate in the mid-May dance ritual in order to ameliorate their condition. Upon arrival at the Obando Church, the couple was stunned when they discovered that the face of the image of St. Paschal inside the church looked exactly like the face of the crab vendor they had met earlier. This story forms the basis for St. Paschal's patronage of childless couples who wish to have children, particularly male babies.
Our Lady of Salambao
On June 19, 1763, the image of Our Lady of Salambao, also known by the long title "Our Lady of Immaculate Conception of Salambao", was also introduced to Obando, Bulacan. Local legend narrates the miraculous discovery of the Virgin Mary's image when three fishermen named Juan, Julian, and Diego dela Cruz caught it with their salambaw, a fishing net supported with bamboo crosspieces and mounted on a raft. At the time they were fishing at a place known as Hulingduong, Binwangan, at the town of Tambobong or Malabon. When the fishermen decided to bring the image of the Virgin Mary to the neighbouring town of Navotas, their fishing boat suddenly became heavy and immobile. When they eventually decided to bring the image to Obando, their fishing boat quickly lightened and became easy to paddle. Thus, the image of the Our Lady of Salambao was added to the high altar of the Obando church. Our Lady of Salambao eventually became the patron saint of fishermen and of good harvest.
Ban and revival after World War II
During World War II, the church and a large portion of Obando were ravaged by fire and included among the damaged properties were the images of the three patron saints. A few years after the war, the Archbishop of Manila and the Obando parish priest forbade the practise of the fertility dance because of its pagan origin. During this prohibition, normal religious processions were still conducted but without the lively street dancing.
In 1972, the new parish priest Rev. Fr. Rome R. Fernandez and the Komisyon ng Kalinangan (Commission on Culture of Obando) helped in removing the ban on the ancient tradition and revived its practise which still continues to this day.
- Obando, Bulacan
- Obando Church
- Colegio de San Pascual Baylon
- San Lorenzo Ruiz
- Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo
- Jeronima de la Asuncion
- Religious of the Virgin Mary
- Pontificio Collegio Filippino
- The First Filipino Nun
- Sexuality in the Philippines
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