It is now the tenth of November, the eve of the fiesta. Emerging from its habitual monotony, the town has given itself over to unwonted activity in house, church, cockpit, and field. Windows are covered with banners and many-hued draperies. All space is filled with noise and music, and the air is saturated with rejoicings.
On little tables with embroidered covers the dalagas arrange in bright-hued glass dishes different kinds of sweetmeats made from native fruits. In the yard the hens cackle, the cocks crow, and the hogs grunt, all terrified by this merriment of man. Servants move in and out carrying fancy dishes and silver cutlery. Here there is a quarrel over a broken plate, there they laugh at the simple country girl. Everywhere there is ordering, whispering, shouting. Comments and conjectures are made, one hurries the other,—all is commotion, noise, and confusion. All this effort and all this toil are for the stranger as well as the acquaintance, to entertain every one, whether he has been seen before or not, or whether he is expected to be seen again, in order that the casual visitor, the foreigner, friend, enemy, Filipino, Spaniard, the poor and the rich, may go away happy and contented. No gratitude is even asked of them nor is it expected that they do no damage to the hospitable family either during or after digestion! The rich, those who have ever been to Manila and have seen a little more than their neighbors, have bought beer, champagne, liqueurs, wines, and food-stuffs from Europe, of which they will hardly taste a bite or drink a drop.
Their tables are luxuriously furnished. In the center is a well-modeled artificial pineapple in which are arranged toothpicks elaborately carved by convicts in their rest-hours. Here they have designed a fan, there a bouquet of flowers, a bird, a rose, a palm leaf, or a chain, all wrought from a single piece of wood, the artisan being a forced laborer, the tool a dull knife, and the taskmaster’s voice the inspiration. Around this toothpick-holder are placed glass fruit-trays from which rise pyramids of oranges, lansons, ates, chicos, and even mangos in spite of the fact that it is November. On wide platters upon bright-hued sheets of perforated paper are to be seen hams from Europe and China, stuffed turkeys, and a big pastry in the shape of an Agnus Dei or a dove, the Holy Ghost perhaps. Among all these are jars of appetizing acharas with fanciful decorations made from the flowers of the areca palm and other fruits and vegetables, all tastefully cut and fastened with sirup to the sides of the flasks.
Glass lamp globes that have been handed down from father to son are cleaned, the copper ornaments polished, the kerosene lamps taken out of the red wrappings which have protected them from the flies and mosquitoes during the year and which have made them unserviceable; the prismatic glass pendants shake to and fro, they clink together harmoniously in song, and even seem to take part in the fiesta as they flash back and break up the rays of light, reflecting them on the white walls in all the colors of the rainbow. The children play about amusing themselves by chasing the colors, they stumble and break the globes, but this does not interfere with the general merriment, although at other times in the year the tears in their round eyes would be taken account of in a different way.
Along with these venerated lamps there also come forth from their hiding-places the work of the girls: crocheted scarfs, rugs, artificial flowers. There appear old glass trays, on the bottoms of which are sketched miniature lakes with little fishes, caymans, shell-fish, seaweeds, coral, and glassy stones of brilliant hues. These are heaped with cigars, cigarettes, and diminutive buyos prepared by the delicate fingers of the maidens. The floor of the house shines like a mirror, curtains of piña and husi festoon the doorways, from the windows hang lanterns covered with glass or with paper, pink, blue, green, or red. The house itself is filled with plants and flower-pots on stands of Chinese porcelain. Even the saints bedeck themselves, the images and relics put on a festive air, the dust is brushed from them and on the freshly-washed glass of their cases are hung flowery garlands.
In the streets are raised at intervals fanciful bamboo arches, known as sinkában, constructed in various ways and adorned with kaluskús, the curling bunches of shavings scraped on their sides, at the sight of which alone the hearts of the children rejoice. About the front of the church, where the procession is to pass, is a large and costly canopy upheld on bamboo posts. Beneath this the children run and play, climbing, jumping, and tearing the new camisas in which they should shine on the principal day of the fiesta.
There on the plaza a platform has been erected, the scenery being of bamboo, nipa, and wood; there the Tondo comedians will perform wonders and compete with the gods in improbable miracles, there will sing and dance Marianito, Chananay, Balbino, Ratia, Carvajal, Yeyeng, Liceria, etc. The Filipino enjoys the theater and is a deeply interested spectator of dramatic representations, but he listens in silence to the song, he gazes delighted at the dancing and mimicry, he never hisses or applauds.
If the show is not to his liking, he chews his buyo or withdraws without disturbing the others who perhaps find pleasure in it. Only at times the commoner sort will howl when the actors embrace or kiss the actresses, but they never go beyond that. Formerly, dramas only were played; the local poet composed a piece in which there must necessarily be a fight every second minute, a clown, and terrifying transformations. But since the Tondo artist have begun to fight every fifteen seconds, with two clowns, and even greater marvels than before, they have put to rout their provincial compeers. The gobernadorcillo was very fond of this sort of thing, so, with the approval of the curate, he chose a spectacle with magic and fireworks, entitled, “The Prince Villardo or the Captives Rescued from the Infamous Cave.”1
From time to time the bells chime out merrily, those same bells that ten days ago were tolling so mournfully. Pin-wheels and mortars rend the air, for the Filipino pyrotechnist, who learned the art from no known instructor, displays his ability by preparing fire bulls, castles of Bengal lights, paper balloons inflated with hot air, bombs, rockets, and the like.
Now distant strains of music are heard and the small boys rush headlong toward the outskirts of the town to meet the bands of music, five of which have been engaged, as well as three orchestras. The band of Pagsanhan belonging to the escribano must not be lacking nor that of San Pedro de Tunasan, at that time famous because it was directed by the maestro Austria, the vagabond “Corporal Mariano” who, according to report, carried fame and harmony in the tip of his baton. Musicians praise his funeral march, “El Sauce,”2 and deplore his lack of musical education, since with his genius he might have brought glory to his country. The bands enter the town playing lively airs, followed by ragged or half-naked urchins, one in the camisa of his brother, another in his father’s pantaloons. As soon as the band ceases, the boys know the piece by heart, they hum and whistle it with rare skill, they pronounce their judgment upon it.
Meanwhile, there are arriving in conveyances of all kinds relatives, friends, strangers, the gamblers with their best game-cocks and their bags of gold, ready to risk their fortune on the green cloth or within the arena of the cockpit.
“The alferez has fifty pesos for each night,” murmurs a small, chubby individual into the ears of the latest arrivals. “Capitan Tiago’s coming and will set up a bank; Capitan Joaquin’s bringing eighteen thousand. There’ll be liam-pó: Carlos the Chinaman will set it up with ten thousand. Big stakes are coming from Tanawan, Lipa, and Batangas, as well as from Santa Cruz.3 It’s going to be on a big scale, yes, sir, on a grand scale! But have some chocolate! This year Capitan Tiago won’t break us as he did last, since he’s paid for only three thanksgiving masses and I’ve got a cacao mutyâ. And how’s your family?”
“Well, thank you,” the visitors respond, “and Padre Damaso?”
“Padre Damaso will preach in the morning and sit in with us at night.”
“Good enough! Then there’s no danger.”
“Sure, we’re sure! Carlos the Chinaman will loosen up also.” Here the chubby individual works his fingers as though counting out pieces of money.
Outside the town the hill-folk, the kasamá, are putting on their best clothes to carry to the houses of their landlords well-fattened chickens, wild pigs, deer, and birds. Some load firewood on the heavy carts, others fruits, ferns, and orchids, the rarest that grow in the forests, others bring broad-leafed caladiums and flame-colored tikas-tikas blossoms to decorate the doors of the houses.
But the place where the greatest activity reigns, where it is converted into a tumult, is there on a little plot of raised ground, a few steps from Ibarra’s house. Pulleys screech and yells are heard amid the metallic sound of iron striking upon stone, hammers upon nails, of axes chopping out posts. A crowd of laborers is digging in the earth to open a wide, deep trench, while others place in line the stones taken from the town quarries. Carts are unloaded, piles of sand are heaped up, windlasses and derricks are set in place.
“Hey, you there! Hurry up!” cries a little old man with lively and intelligent features, who has for a cane a copper-bound rule around which is wound the cord of a plumb-bob. This is the foreman of the work, Ñor Juan, architect, mason, carpenter, painter, locksmith, stonecutter, and, on occasions, sculptor. “It must be finished right now! Tomorrow there’ll be no work and the day after tomorrow is the ceremony. Hurry!”
“Cut that hole so that this cylinder will fit it exactly,” he says to some masons who are shaping a large square block of stone. “Within that our names will be preserved.”
He repeats to every newcomer who approaches the place what he has already said a thousand times: “You know what we’re going to build? Well, it’s a schoolhouse, a model of its kind, like those in Germany, and even better. A great architect has drawn the plans, and I—I am bossing the job! Yes, sir, look at it, it’s going to be a palace with two wings, one for the boys and the other for the girls. Here in the middle a big garden with three fountains, there on the sides shaded walks with little plots for the children to sow and cultivate plants in during their recess-time, that they may improve the hours and not waste them. Look how deep the foundations are, three meters and seventy-five centimeters! This building is going to have storerooms, cellars, and for those who are not diligent students dungeons near the playgrounds so that the culprits may hear how the studious children are enjoying themselves. Do you see that big space? That will be a lawn for running and exercising in the open air. The little girls will have a garden with benches, swings, walks where they can jump the rope, fountains, bird-cages, and so on. It’s going to be magnificent!”
Then Ñor Juan would rub his hands together as he thought of the fame that he was going to acquire. Strangers would come to see it and would ask, “Who was the great artisan that built this?” and all would answer, “Don’t you know? Can it be that you’ve never heard of Ñor Juan? Undoubtedly you’ve come from a great distance!” With these thoughts he moved from one part to the other, examining and reexamining everything.
“It seems to me that there’s too much timber for one derrick,” he remarked to a yellowish man who was overseeing some laborers. “I should have enough with three large beams for the tripod and three more for the braces.”
“Never mind!” answered the yellowish man, smiling in a peculiar way. “The more apparatus we use in the work, so much the greater effect we’ll get. The whole thing will look better and of more importance, so they’ll say, ‘How hard they’ve worked!’ You’ll see, you’ll see what a derrick I’ll put up! Then I’ll decorate it with banners, and garlands of leaves and flowers. You’ll say afterwards that you were right in hiring me as one of your laborers, and Señor Ibarra couldn’t ask for more!” As he said this the man laughed and smiled. Ñor Juan also smiled, but shook his head.
Some distance away were seen two kiosks united by a kind of arbor covered with banana leaves. The schoolmaster and some thirty boys were weaving crowns and fastening banners upon the frail bamboo posts, which were wrapped in white cloth.
“Take care that the letters are well written,” he admonished the boys who were preparing inscriptions. “The alcalde is coming, many curates will be present, perhaps even the Captain-General, who is now in the province. If they see that you draw well, maybe they’ll praise you.”
“And give us a blackboard?”
“Perhaps, but Señor Ibarra has already ordered one from Manila. Tomorrow some things will come to be distributed among you as prizes. Leave those flowers in the water and tomorrow we’ll make the bouquets. Bring more flowers, for it’s necessary that the table be covered with them—flowers please the eye.”
“My father will bring some water-lilies and a basket of sampaguitas tomorrow.”
“Mine has brought three cartloads of sand without pay.”
“My uncle has promised to pay a teacher,” added a nephew of Capitan Basilio.
Truly, the project was receiving help from all. The curate had asked to stand sponsor for it and himself bless the laying of the corner-stone, a ceremony to take place on the last day of the fiesta as one of its greatest solemnities. The very coadjutor had timidly approached Ibarra with an offer of all the fees for masses that the devout would pay until the building was finished. Even more, the rich and economical Sister Rufa had declared that if money should be lacking she would canvass other towns and beg for alms, with the mere condition that she be paid her expenses for travel and subsistence. Ibarra thanked them all, as he answered, “We aren’t going to have anything very great, since I am not rich and this building is not a church. Besides, I didn’t undertake to erect it at the expense of others.”
The younger men, students from Manila, who had come to take part in the fiesta, gazed at him in admiration and took him for a model; but, as it nearly always happens, when we wish to imitate great men, that we copy only their foibles and even their defects, since we are capable of nothing else, so many of these admirers took note of the way in which he tied his cravat, others of the style of his collar, and not a few of the number of buttons on his coat and vest.
The funereal presentiments of old Tasio seemed to have been dissipated forever. So Ibarra observed to him one day, but the old pessimist answered: “Remember what Baltazar says:
Kung ang isalúbong sa iyong pagdating
Ay masayang maukha’t may pakitang giliw,
Lalong pag-iñgata’t kaaway na lihim4—
Baltazar was no less a thinker than a poet.”
Thus in the gathering shadows before the setting of the sun events were shaping themselves.
1 These spectacular performances, known as “Moro-Moro,” often continued for several days, consisting principally of noisy combats between Moros and Christians, in which the latter were, of course, invariably victorious. Typical sketches of them may be found in Foreman’s The Philippine Islands, Chap. XXIII, and Stuntz’s The Philippines and the Far East, Chap. III.—TR.
2 “The Willow.”
3 The capital of Laguna Province, not to be confused with the Santa Cruz mentioned before, which is a populous and important district in the city of Manila. Tanawan, Lipa, and Batangas are towns in Batangas Province, the latter being its capital.—TR.
4 “If on your return you are met with a smile, beware! for it means that you have a secret enemy.”—From the Florante, being the advice given to the hero by his old teacher when he set out to return to his home.
Francisco Baltazar was a Tagalog poet, native of the province of Bulacan, born about 1788, and died in 1862. The greater part of his life was spent in Manila,—in Tondo and in Pandakan, a quaint little village on the south bank of the Pasig, now included in the city, where he appears to have shared the fate largely of poets of other lands, from suffering “the pangs of disprized love” and persecution by the religious authorities, to seeing himself considered by the people about him as a crack-brained dreamer. He was educated in the Dominican school of San Juan de Letran, one of his teachers being Fray Mariano Pilapil, about whose services to humanity there may be some difference of opinion on the part of those who have ever resided in Philippine towns, since he was the author of the “Passion Song” which enlivens the Lenten evenings. This “Passion Song,” however, seems to have furnished the model for Baltazar’s Florante, with the pupil surpassing the master, for while it has the subject and characters of a medieval European romance, the spirit and settings are entirely Malay. It is written in the peculiar Tagalog verse, in the form of a corrido or metrical romance, and has been declared by Fray Toribio Menguella, Rizal himself, and others familiar with Tagalog, to be a work of no mean order, by far the finest and most characteristic composition in that, the richest of the Malay dialects.—TR.