Obando Fertility Rites are an interesting set of events that take place in the Philippines. These events are reflective of Catholicism in the country.
For a country that is predominantly Catholic, some festivals in the country are an eye-opener into the beliefs and practices that the locals hold dear. This particular festival is laced with ancient pagan practices which have, over time, become infused with religious values.
The dance ritual is celebrated annually, usually sometime in the month of May. One of the highlights of this ritualistic festival is the dancing of couples with no children. These couples will take part in an old dance believed to enhance reproduction and childbearing, hence the name of the festival.
Other than the fertility dance ritual, this festival is characterized by traditional costumes, street dancers and music everywhere. It’s a joyous event with something beautiful and sacred at its center – bringing new life into this world. And just like any such event in the Philippines, it is cause for celebration out in the open.
But the festival is not just about fertility rites; in fact, it is equally important to honor the three patron saints of Obando – San Pascual, Santa Clara and Nuestra Señora de Salambáo.
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The Obando Fertility Rites Festival is a three-day celebration to honor the three saints; Santa Clara, San Pascual de Baylon, and Nuestra Señora de Salambáo. Each day begins with a mass in the morning followed by a procession. Most members of the dancing procession are couples; couples that are either praying to conceive a child or couples that express gratitude for their children that they believe were conceived through the intercession of the fertility dance. • May 18 & 19, 2019 • Saturday and Sunday • [2/3] • #Nikon #NikonD3200 #Photography #ObandoFertilityDance #Festival
Because of her name, Santa Clara is the patroness of good weather. ‘Clara’ refers to clear sky after the storm, and that was actually the basis of another Filipino tradition – offering chicken eggs to Santa Clara, in order to ensure great weather. To us Westerners it might seem like a slightly weird tradition, but at least you’ll be prepared and not surprised if you see loads of chicken eggs in the streets.
San Pascual is the patron saint of fertility, abundance and wealth. And there’s an old anecdote surrounding him; legend has it that there was once a young, childless couple in the town of Hagonoy. They met a young men selling crabs, and he told them that they should visit Obando and take part in the Rites, so that their childless condition would improve. According to the tale, when they entered Obando Church, they were shocked to see that San Pascual’s image had the exact same face as the young crab vendor.
Nuestra Señora de Salambáo – Our Lady of Salambáo – is the patron saint of fishing and abundant harvests. And she has a legend surrounding her as well; according to folk tales, there were once three fishermen (Juan, Julián, and Diego dela Cruz), who accidentally caught the image of Virgin Mary in their salambáw (fishing net).
They decided to take the image to the neighbouring town of Navotas, but their boats wouldn’t comply – they became too heavy and immobile. But, once they decided to take the image to Obando, the boats suddenly became lightweight and easy to maneuver. They understood this as a sign that they were meant to take the Virgin to Obando Church, where she is still enshrined to this day.
During Obando Fertility Rites, hundreds of childless couples come out to the streets in a long procession, all the while steering carts carrying statues of the saints. This is also accompanied by a palpable excitement. The procession comes to a stop at the church where the participants proceed with the vibrant dancing to the aisle.
What is interesting about this particular festival is that the dance is performed with the participants gyrating in line with the rhythm. While the fertility rites are carried out primarily for childless couples, the festival does attract hordes of tourists, some of whom have no specific need, but that is the thrill of being in the ‘land of festivals’.
Consequently, the procession usually includes grateful parents, curious tourists, local fishermen and just about anyone who is enthralled by traditional practices such as these. The swelling population of the Philippines could just be a direct result of Obando Fertility Rites, so whenever you are in the Philippines in the month of May, make a point of attending this festival.
Obando is about 20 kilometers away from Manila, so it’s best to book a flight that lands there. If you arrive at Cebu, you will need to get on a domestic flight to Manila. From there, you can either drive on your own, or get on a bus.
The depressing thing is that it’s going to take at least 35 minutes to cover those 18 kilometers – but only if there’s not a lot of traffic on the roads. And that’s mostly due to the low speed limits and the abundance of bikes. People in the Philippines actually drive bikes on the main roads, and so cars aren’t really able to go too fast. Plus, the roads usually lead through residential areas, and you will actually see a lot of homes and pedestrians on the side of the road.
And there aren’t any lanes, which just adds to the stress. If you’re uncomfortable at the thought of driving in such conditions, it’s best that you buy bus tickets or even pay for a taxi, and rely on someone else to get you there.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!