The beat was inviting and, at one point, had us dancing to the rhythm that has spanned decades of prayers and celebration. The long procession had us walking under the sun while enjoying the smiles and the hospitality of locals and pilgrims who came to enjoy the festivities and, with some, seeking to be blessed with a child. This is Obando’s Fertility Dance – a celebration of life in Obando and a prayerful dance for life.
Bordered by Valenzuela, Malabon, Navotas, Bulacan, and Manila Bay, Obando was first recognized as an independent town of Bulacan in 1907. The area was once an enclosed body of water that through the years accumulated sand forming land masses that later on will be converted into commercial and residential districts.
Saliw ng Ritmo
What started out as a fiesta lunch out turned into a festive celebration with a flick of a finger. We found ourselves in the middle of a long procession and sandwiched by a brass band playing out the tune "Santa Clara Pinung Pino" behind us and a group of devotees dancing to the tune with so much energy. The rhythm and the simple steps were intoxicating that we found ourselves springing into the dance every now and then.
The "Fertility Dance of Obando" takes its roots from a pagan celebration that was later on adapted by the Catholic faith honoring Santa Clara, San Pascual, and the Nuestra Senyora de Salambao. The celebration kicks off on the 17th of May and runs until the 19th. Each day honors one of the patron saints with a mass followed by a procession filled with music and dancing.
The dance celebration is one of the popular festivities often mentioned in our history and culture classes. In fact, the celebration was even mentioned in the book, Noli Me Tangere, penned by our own National Hero Jose Rizal.
Sayaw ng Pasasalamat
Despite its popularity, the "Fertility Dance of Obando" stands for its own down to earth street dancing, steering away from the usual grand fiesta presentations with lavish costumes and, for some, even backdrops. It is an honest-to-goodness dancing on the street where locals and guests can comfortably join in, amidst the smiles of Obando residents.
The merrymaking is a mix of both the old and the new. There are families and groups who dress up in the usual fandango attire and straw hats as they dance to the beat of the brass band. And there are the younger generation who dance with their regular daily attire. There is no competition on who dances better or who has the better costumes. It is simply everyone dancing during the procession.
Interestingly, the fiesta is a venue for Obando to profess their faith and thanksgiving to their patron saints. It is not just mere merrymaking by the community, it is a dance of thanksgiving for a good year and a prayer seeking for better years ahead. It is an opportunity for families from Obando to gather in their hometown and share their stories and blessings. And mind you, there is a lot to share that it overflows to the streets in the form of drinks and light snacks that anyone can partake during the procession.
Padyak ng Panalangin
Beyond the festivities and merrymaking, the "Sayaw sa Obando" holds a culturally significant and historical belief among Filipinos. It is believed that couples who are having a hard time having a baby are encouraged to join the procession and the dancing to honor the patron saints. Local customs in Obando state that in doing so the couple will be granted the gift of life in the form of a newborn baby. In fact some of the devotees who join the procession, dance with babies in their arms saying that their dancing is no longer for seeking a blessing but a dance of thanksgiving for a granted prayer.
At the heart of the celebration is the Obando Church where the celebration starts and ends. The first church was established in 1754 and was destroyed during World War 2. It was rebuilt in 1947 and it was only in 1972 when the "Sayaw sa Obando" celebration was revived.
The simple facade of the church stands in complete contrast to the colorful fiesta decorations around it. Throngs of people flock to the church as the last group of dancers enters the church grounds. The inside of the church is filled to the brim with devotees that I found it hard to appreciate the church's interiors.
As we took a break from the street dancing, we found ourselves wandering inside the small plaza of Obando. It had monuments installed within its ground honoring the brave Filipinos who fought for our independence.
It was great to see that in a small town like Obando, locals put value, not only on our heritage, but also with the heroism of the Filipinos who came before us in their own little way.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
The music and the rythm of Obando's Fertility Dance was inviting. It was hard to resist the tempo. But unlike the grander streetdance celebrations that has been popularized mainstream, Obando has kept their celebration focused at its core - devotion and thanksgiving. It has managed to keep their street dancing a mirror of the simple and yet fun life of a small Philippine town. The festivity is the old-fashioned way of a Philippine fiesta where anyone is welcomed in the community with open arms.
The colorful fiesta celebrations of the Philippines is not only confined to the lavish and grand festivities that we are familiar with. There are the small town celebrations that are equally fun and interesting. The "Fertility Dance of Obando" is one celebration that highlights the rich heritage of our Filipino tradition. It is great to see that they have managed to keep it simple and appealing despite the temptation to make it "eye-catching". One cannot deny that "Sayaw sa Obando" is a thanksgiving celebration and prayer to life and for life.
Getting There: One can take a bus or the MRT/LRT to Monumento. You can then take a jeep (Jeep station is behind Victory Mall) with the signboard “Paco”. You can ask the driver to drop you off at the Obando Church. The “Fertility Dance of Obando is celebrated every 17th to the 19th of May.
For more of my travel stories, follow me on our social media accounts:
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.