Last week, after a warm invitation from a friend, Maz, I went to the Gubang fiesta in Leyte, an island in central Philippines that is known for growing sugar cane, rice and various other crops as well as brewing up the renowned local booze ‘Tuba’ (Too-ba).
This fiesta was, for me, a blend of two things; new experiences and Filipino hospitality.
We arrived on the 3rd of April and after an introduction to many members of the family (there were loads in attendance; aunts, uncles and cousins) there was a tasty dinner and lots of alcohol, two things that would constantly reoccur throughout the fiesta.
The event was a sandwich of two pretty big party days with an even bigger one in the middle. On the first day I experienced three new things. So maybe its best we start here;
After breakfast I headed to ‘Lola’s’ house (Lola is the grandmother and head of the family) where I watched two pigs get butchered. These were killed in order to feed all us folks at the fiesta and it was the first time in my life (the first time in 23 years!) that I saw a sizeable animal butchered. Considering the amount of meat I have eaten in my life that is a worrying thing and says a lot about our way of life. I found it pretty intense to watch, it makes a lot of noise and there is much blood. Seeing the transition from pig to meat on the plate is strange. Within half an hour the pig is no longer recognisable and there is char-grilled liver, tongue, instestine and meat in front of us. It is all so tasty and fresh.
Now, although I really enjoyed eating it (especially the tongue!), the experience has reinforced my belief in vegetarianism. Before, I didn’t eat meat for environmental reasons; it is just so carbon intensive, but now I think that there is a second good reason; as a way to lessen the suffering of animals. The pigs I saw butchered were super happy animals, running and playing around just 5 minutes before they died, but hearing it squeal and watching it suffer was hard and I think if that can be avoided then it should be. This is to take nothing away from the respect and manner in which the pig was killed and eaten at the fiesta. We have a lot to learn back home about respect for our meat.
As something to bring my laughter levels up again I immediately jumped on a Caribao, and this was my second new experience; A Caribao ride. The Caribao is a water buffalo used in ploughing the rice fields and occasionally for eating. They are gentle creatures and you can only love them. Jerben, a cousin of Maz`s and a wonderful person, did me the honour of being my guide and off we wandered to the local cemetery and back. They are surprisingly hard to ride even though they only move slowly.
The third new experience I had that day was watching cock fighting. It is big sport and gambling in the Philippines, and although not something I endorse it is part of the culture here and I went along to watch. Fortunately for me it was so busy I could see very little but it is a riotous affair with the crowd, mostly men, shouting and urging on their favoured chicken. The bookies take bets and memorise who of their punters has bet what as the fight progresses. Blades are attached to the legs of the chicken to increase the chance of a kill and often these fights are to the death.
In between all these activities the tuba flowed vociferously, as did the San Miguel beer. We saw the local High School Graduation in the afternoon as well and in the evening the talent show was held with the winner being a transvestite singer from a nearby baranguy (village).
The following day was the main fiesta day. Motorbikes and
scooters lined the village as people came from all around to party the day and night away and the atmosphere was super upbeat and positive. The lechon (spît roast pig) was tender and was washed down with hearty swigs of San Miguel. The main event came in the form of a disco in the evening which was preceded by several small acts in front of an audience of a couple of hundred. One of these acts happened to be Melissa, Maz’s sister singing a song. Now, Melissa is a professional singer but she’d need someone to accompany her on the guitar and would I do it? Well, I was asked this before we arrived in the village and was assured there would only be a small audience. I assumed this meant perhaps a few members of the family, how wrong I was. Nevertheless, the rendition went off with no problems, I’d even go so far as to say our version of ‘Stand By Me’ was ‘not too bad’.The disco followed with a massive 15 Kw rig pumping out the music and all of the village was out, some later than others, dancing the night away.
I was awoken at 11am the following day with a strange question from Maz, “Harry, the horse fighting is beginning, do you want to come watch?”
Five minutes later and Marlon, a member of the family, is ushering me to a point where we can get the best view. They have a mare in the centre of the ring who gets the two stallions appropriately aroused. They then run the two stallions at each other and they collide and begin fighting. To see two great creatures fighting thus is undoubtedly exciting, but the reality for me was that, like cock fighting, it is a sport that is not too cool. Sometimes the fights can go on for half an hour and having seen a fortuitously short fight I returned to more serene activities; drinking tuba, eating lechon and playing cards. Later that evening, and keep this to yourself dear reader, I had a go at karaoke. With just a couple of Maz’s uncles watching I belted out a superb, possibly the best ever, rendition of ‘Jonny B Good’ to the tumultuous applause of three or four people. The Filipinos love their karaoke but the scary thing is I enjoyed it. When in Rome eh…
Having spent just three days in Gubang I was so sorry to leave, but it was time to move on. I had only known these people for 70 odd hours but, coupled with the new experiences I had partaken in, their kindness and warmth flowed through me and made me feel totally at home. I am happy to admit that I almost shed tears as I parted with Linda, Lola and the rest of Maz’s family. When fiesta comes around the incredible hospitality of the Filipino people is even more pronounced and it is a humbling experience to be on the receiving end. Sharing and community become the centre of life.