Carabaos are stars, too, in festivals

The Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) continues to move forward with its effort to upgrade the genetic potential of the Philippine swamp buffalo, which is the type commonly used for draft power, for better productivity in terms of producing milk and meat. In all these, however, PCC is also cognizant of the other facet of the carabao: a “star” in the Filipinos’ cultural heritage.

Annually, every 15th of May, for instance, local residents and tourists are regaled in different festivals by the presence of the mighty beast, which is presented as the center of attention and attraction.

Outside of this date, many other places in the country are also holding in honor of the carabao.
May 15, in the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar, is the feast day of San Isidro de Labrador (Saint Isidore the Laborer), who is considered as the patron saint of farmers.

In celebration of San Isidro de Labrador’s feast day, the farmers see to it that their major products as well as other agricultural by-products, distinctively or commonly produced in the host town, are showcased either in a parade and exhibits. Cottage industry products, too, are flaunted.

Many places in the country also showcase the carabao during their annual religious festivals, including Pulilan, Bulacan; Angono, Rizal; and Lucban, Quezon.

In Pulilan, “The Kneeling Carabao Festival” never fails to draw an influx of tourists due to the dramatic display of the carabao’s “talents”. This popular festival is a “show of religiosity” of the townsfolk which they apparently passed on to their carabaos. With the signal from their caretakers, the animals genuflect right in front of the church.

On the other hand, the San Isidro Festival in Angono is uniquely its own. Aside from a parade of
carabaos, pulling carts loaded with various farm products as their caretakers ride their backs, a showcase of the animal is done in an artful fashion—a parade of carabao’s replica in colorful paper-mâché
Another show of the arts is “Lucban San Isidro Pahiyas Festival”, perhaps the most prestigious and the grandest of all San Isidro de Labrador festivals in the country, where the carabao is the main star of the event.

The colorful parade, which is usually dominated by pastel and bright colors, is interspersed with a tint of a different color—jet black or sometimes dark brown and albino. That “other color” is provided by a convoy of the best carabaos in town. Harnessed artistically to embellished carts loaded with farm products, the carabaos are ushered by their respective caretakers though the parade course.

At some anticipated moments in the long procession, some of the carabaos flaunt their talent in genuflecting, an act that never fails to stir further the already excited crowd.

Other carabao festivals on other dates, simply put the animal in the limelight of their localities’ annual fiestas as a tribute to and in recognition of the animal’s remarkable reliability as the farmer’s work buddy in the farm.

In central Philippines, such occasions can be witnessed in the “Torugpo Festival” in Carigara, Leyte; “Carabao-Carroza Festival” in Pavia, Iloilo; and “Katigbawan Festival” in Catigbian, Bohol. In the northern part of mainland Luzon, there’s the “Viva Vigan Festival of Arts” in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

The “Turogpo Festival”, another crowd-pleaser, is held every Black Saturday of the Lenten Season. It is a well-attended bull fighting event whose beginnings can be traced back to the 1600s as an entertaining way of protesting against the Spanish rule in the country.

Pavianhons in Iloilo, on the other hand, give the carabao a “day’s break” with their “Carabao-Carroza Festival”, which is now approaching its fourth decade of celebration. The event is a showcase of the Pavianhon’s ingenuity as they make use of local materials to decorate a carroza or sled harnessed to an equally dressed-up carabao.

Bohol province also prides itself as a premiere tourist destination. In Catigbian town, the annual
“Katigbawan Festival” has become a must-see event among local tourists. In this festivity, the
carabaos are hailed as “kings and queens”. They are dressed up with human garments and adorned with the most creative ornaments imaginable before they are paraded through the town. Some designers even opt to provide the animal a few props, like sunglasses and handbag, to complete the animal’s fabulous look.

Another artistic way of utilizing the carabao to illustrate the Filipinos’ deep love for their cultural heritage is the “Viva Vigan Festival of Arts” in Ilocos Sur. In this festival, the carabao’s whole body becomes a canvas for Ilocandia’s finest artists where they demonstrate their exceptional talent and impressive creativity in a competition. The results are masterpieces created out of genuine artistry.

The evolution of the simple thanksgiving festivals to big town events—with the carabao as a main feature–mirrors the very soul of the townspeople. They are a culture passed through generations that the residents want to perpetuate and which tourists, both local and foreign, are always raring to see.