The Other Side of Taguig City People Don’t Know About – The Santa Anna River Festival of 2015

TAGUIG CITY, Metro Manila – The city was in a festive mood. Drums, trumpets, and lyre played island beats for hours, only taking a pause to switch musicians.This scene is way off the presumed grid patterned concrete blocks of the Bonifacio Global City. We were on the side of Taguig City that people barely know about. Both banks of the river where highlighted with bamboo poles, flagged with red or pink colors. Boats of all shapes, sizes and worthiness gathered at the foot of the Santa Anna bridge connecting Barangays Bambang and Sta Ana. This was the staging point for the pagoda. The procession starts from the more than 400 year old Church of Santa Anna then proceeds east towards the mouth of the river adjacent to Laguna de Bay; then back tracks as far as until the boats could no longer pass due to the mud, garbage, and low water line. Hundreds of people every year, especially for the parishioners of St. Anne celebrate the river festival or fiesta on July 26.

The Pagoda of Give and Take

All geared up for the Santol Battle ahead.

Like other fiestas in the archipelago, this river festival was supposedly adapted from indigenous religious beliefs of the ancient Tagalogs (Taga Ilog or People of the River). I couldn’t find any verifiable source as to the origin of this belief. But if I could imagine as to how the ancients invented this celebration it would probably be based on the the tale of a long extinct fish that used to dominate the river called the Banak. It was said that the ancestors believed the abundance of their fish catch depended on the generosity and benevolence of the river spirits and gods. Gaining favor from these supernatural beings required offerings of fruit or other valuable goods by throwing them into the water. This probably preceded the modern day version of throwing or passing fruit, chocolates, bottled drinks, slippers, and other edible goods to revelers between boats and onshore. Sometimes it looked like a bronze age naval battle when dozens of Santol (the favorite choice for throwing) flies pass your head from all sides. One needs to be alert and swift to evade or catch these flying fists or else get a black eye or get splashed with polluted water in your face. Veteran participants of the fiesta are well prepared for these eventualities by wearing a hat, long sleeved shirt, face cover and a baseball glove or net. This was also a good day to practice your arm swing by testing the limits of your power and accuracy in throwing Santol. One could do this by throwing a Santol to someone standing on a balcony of his house at three floors high, 50 meters out. There were no written rules, only the essence of reciprocity. When someone gives you something, it is only becoming of a good neighbor to give something back in return. But most of the time, the people were more in a giving mood than in a taking one.

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