Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Almost all who came to welcome the Image of the Sto. Nino went into a frenzy of emotions as the image was carried out to the shouting costumed people calling out VIVA!!!
The cry of VIVA is about Life – it is thanksgiving and asking for good health, better living, fortune, asking for forgiveness or cleansing one's soul from the grime one has collected the past year. In my many years of celebrating the Ati-ati fiesta in Ibajay, Aklan, this has been my first time to try not to intoxicate my brain with alcohol in order to absorb the real meaning of the celebration. People tend to drink for it is a way to celebrate the "celebration" and because we had celebrated too much the real meaning of the feast has been obscured by the power of alcohol.
Let us go back four "ati-atihans" ago, when my concept of the fiesta was getting drunk and dancing along the people crowded streets together with the simply costumed dancers who were covered with black soot. The atmosphere was overflowing with life and it feels as if your spirit has been lifted to high heavens as every drum beats to high volume and intensity! Everything was what a festival could be – noisy, crowded, moving and joyous. When it was time for the procession (which starts at about 4 pm), we would prepare ourselves to bring the Image back to its altar, and then the moment of moments come as everyone would reach out to touch the Image and rub their handkerchiefs on the glass casing as the Image is returned to the altar. The deafening drums inside the church drown my consciousness and everything blurs with the shout and cries of the people and without knowing it, tears fall from my eyes without reason. Maybe it is pure joy that I have lived another Ati-atihan or maybe it was everything around me – the drums, the cries, the church, the booze. Everything seems to flash before my eyes like the good and flourishing business that I have, the winnings I gained and the loved ones who passed away who were not around anymore to praise me with pride. The feeling inside the church can never be felt anywhere else.
This year, when I decided not to drink in order to take very good pictures of the celebration and because of this, I came up with better pictures but most of them came out with questions I have never asked before.
I have long been amazed and sometimes taken aback with the devoutness of the Ibajaynons for they believe so much that I had to skip preparing pork on my 18th birthday because it was Good Friday and we had to stop playing for it was time for the rosary. Growing up with a mother and father who do not go to church except on weddings, funerals and baptisms, the concept of God for us was not attending the Sunday mass or celebrating Lent with fasting and praying but God according to my mother was our relationship with other people, our good doings, our dissension with success and anything else without stepping on other's lives. We were taught to pray not just before sleeping but also in our most quite time (funny that I found peace and pray time in the bathroom) and we must not pray to ASK but pray to THANK. The lessons that our parents have taught us have been brought until we have arrived at this age and the perception of celebrating the Sto. Nino in Ibajay became a chance for me to celebrate success, family and health and I promised Him to be there every year to thank Him and show him that I will be back next year with better insights and stronger commitment to goodness.
The January trips to Ibajay has become a routine for the past many years and it was all about reuniting with friends and cousins and drinking and finding new drinking friends and this year, I made a pact not to drink for the reason of photography and it was then that many questions have popped up from my conscious mind.
Here are some that I hope you could enlighten me with your answers:
Why are the Images of the Sto. Nino dressed in different attires? A Sto. Nino in a basketball uniform, or one bathed in black soot representing an ati, or one in a cop uniform? If we are too spiritual, how can we mock on the image of the Child Jesus?
Celebrating in the form of dance representing the aetas who converted to Christianity, the performers seemed to be dancing for the sake of dancing because I have noticed their barren expressions as they perform. If one is too serious with their belief, the reality and truth can beam in spite of the black paint of their faces. Why the bare emotions with the dancers and the ones who carry the Images?
The most distinctive images that took my notice were the live animals used in the parade, was it to astound us with the beautiful pet one owns to the extent of crucifying the poor bird or lizard for all to be flabbergasted. Cruelty to animals is not an example of a devout and true faithful individual; do you believe that nature will always take back what you take from it?
Maybe I have aged and outgrown the love for enjoying life through booze or maybe I just have to stop and look things in a different and clearer angle. I may have not shed a tear or let my life flash before me but this year I have learned to see myself in the people I watched as they danced, laughed, cried "VIVA", shared a glass of wine with another stranger. I have seen myself and it was not the past but the future with more questions than answers.
Maybe it is getting old or maybe Life has a deeper meaning already than it had before.

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