A cat fight has a feline pitted against a fighting cock. A man walks about dressed in a cotton duster looking like a a pregnant woman.
Men hold aloft a wooden phallic symbol. Another man carries a tray selling carabao feces disguised as snacks.
In all the merriment by the sea the figurine of the island’s patron saint, San Vicente Ferrer, is loaded on a motor banca for a procession.
This mix of the bizarre and the religious came together in yesterday’s annual “Baliw-Baliw” Festival in Sta. Rosa, Olango island off Mactan.
The festival has been celebrated through several generations, evolving over time from pagan rites and later a fluvial procession.
Benedicto Sagarino, fiesta president, said he remembers watching the event as a young boy with his father.
“Gani bisan wala pa ko natawo naa na jud ni siya. Karon, hapit na gud ko mag-60 anyos. Mapasa pa jud ni sa sunod henerasyon (I wasn’t born yet, this celebration was already being held. I’m almost 60 years old now. This will pass on to the next generation),” Sagarino said.
Catholic priests have tried to discourage the festival but Sta. Rosa residents persisted even if the clergy wouldn’t bless the May time activities.
Island residents say the festival is even older than the Fiesta Señor that honors the Santo Niño de Cebu every January.
Sagarino said the island festival was originally called “Sakay-Sakay” because it consisted of taking the patron saint from the wharf and transporting it to the chapel via pumpboat.
In renaming the festival “Baliw-Baliw”, Sagarino said the participants act out the collective and personal tragedies that befell them and offer sacrifices and rituals in a plea for help to their patron saint.
Some of the rituals include staging a cat fight, instead of a traditional cockfight.
Cats placed in a fishnet recall an epidemic that once hit the island which resulted in the presence of dead animals in the sea.
Men hold aloft a wooden replica of a male sex organ, an echo of old fertility rites or, as some residents explain it, a remembrance of those who were cured of prostate cancer who vowed to perform acts of thanksgiving to the patron saint.
Another reenactment has a woman — or a man dressed as a woman — giving birth to two children in a pumpboat.
Sagarino said this is part of the community’s memory of sudden adversity and their gratitude for the survival of their children.
Yet another ritual has a person climbing a coconut tree planted at sea, as a petition for abundant crops all year round.
Rev. Fr. Jun Palacio said the “Baliw-Baliw” festival symbolizes the confusion of the faithful, who chose to illustrate their struggles in life through rituals learned from their pagan ancestors.
“People are showing the things we want to remember and don’t want to happen. Some are unexplainable experiences (that they deal with) in terms of their beliefs (in hopes of) establishing ties with their saint. It is also one way of reminiscing God’s wrath,” Palacio said.
He said the Catholic church plans to “amend” the festival in accordance with Christian teaching without offending the cultural traditions of the island community.