*By Kate Aubrey G. Hojilla*
When I was a whole lot younger, one of my early childhood fantasies was to become one of the beautiful young ladies dressed in Filipiniana costume parading along the streets of my hometown, Pavia. But what amazed me most was that, instead of the usual floats of muses, they were riding in beautifully-decorated carrozas that were pulled by carabaos.
My fantasy did come true. But there was more to it than what I’ve always imagined, I realized. Behind those graceful waving and the charming smiles of the muses and those pleasing line-up of carrozas pulled by carabaos lies a story of a humble community which started with limited resources but, equipped with artistic inclinations, came up with a splendid event. This event was eventually called The Carabao-Carroza Festival, now one of the biggest tourist attractions in the province of Iloilo.
The annual Carabao-Carroza Festival of Pavia, Iloilo is a brilliant collaboration of Pavia’s three main attractions namely the Carabao-Carroza Parade, the Carabao-Carroza Race, and the Search for the Festival Queen. These attractions are all celebrated on May 3 during the bisperas or the day before the annual town fiesta, which is May 4. The festival showcases the ingenuity and artistic inclinations of Pavianhons.
For the benefit of those who are not aware, a carabao is simply a domesticated water buffalo. This humble animal is popularly known all throughout the Philippines. Being the country’s national animal, its industrious nature has been very significant in aiding farmers in their not-so-easy job of cultivating and harvesting crops. On the other hand, a carroza, like the kalesa, is a carriage or a cart. Only that a carroza is pulled by a carabao while a kalesa is pulled by a horse and a carroza is used to carry the produce of the farmers while a kalesa is used for transportation of the people. What’s unique in our festival is that the carrozas serve as the floats for the muses.
What we see every time we witness an event is the result of long, grueling preparations. What we do not know are the stories behind its success. Now, what stories am I talking about? These are what I’ve experienced first-hand when I became a part of the festival by joining the Search for the Festival Queen.
The Carabao-Carroza Parade, for as long as I can remember, has never failed to meet the expectations of the crowd by showcasing the artistry of Pavianhons in coming up with the designs of the carrozas that vie for the title of the Most Well-decorated Carroza. The designs, believe it or not, are collections of indigenous materials that can only be found in any of the eighteen barangays that join the competition. Like for example, Brgy. Jibao-an is famous for its pottery works and is currently known as the pottery-making capital of Western Visayas. And since it’s famous for making fine pottery, you can very well expect a gigantic pot carried by the carroza. Sometimes, the muse is amusingly inside the pot.
The themes of the carrozas, which serve as floats, are deliberately planned so as to give you an idea about the contribution of a barangay in making Pavia the Regional Agro-Industrial Center (RAIC) of Western Visayas.
What add to the beauty of the parade are the costumes of the muses. Like every other year since I can remember, the Filipiniana costumes worn by the muses are designed by Mr. Cristituto Rogador, known as Sir Cris to many. Being a part of the pageant, it was completely different when I was already the one waiting to have my vital stats measured for the Filipiniana costume. Of course, it wasn’t so easy. There were actually a couple of adjustments before wearing the costume. But it was worth it at the end, and I realized that the smiles and the waves that muses give to the people were actually genuine. Maybe that was the reason why I fantasized being one of them, so that I can also share real smiles to all of my kasimanwa.
Moving on to the next event, the Carabao-Carroza Race has always been fun in a unique way. I mean, it’s not always that you can see carabaos racing. But they can be really fast, I tell you. Of course, it requires an expert rider in urging the carabao pulling the carroza (minus the muse of course) to run as fast as it can.
What adds to the fun of this race is the Filipinos’ customary tradition of betting called pusta or taya. Any race won’t be complete without this tradition. Even we, the muses, actually give our bets for our own carabaos. I lost five hundred pesos, but the anticipation and excitement in almost feeling the urge to race the carabao myself was worth it.
On the eve of May 3, The Search for the Festival Queen marks the end of the Festival. The search is a well-anticipated pageant and also a one-way ticket to Miss Western Visayas competing with other festival queens like Miss Dinagyang. I was second runner-up and Best in Interview. But what actually made it worth-remembering and worth-joining were the challenging rehearsals for our production numbers under Sir Cris, the make-up sessions with the artists & their magic wands(my make-up artist was Joel Delim), the fitting of gorgeous gowns made by the province’s sought-after designers, (my evening gown was by Lai Suel0), the healthy diets that should be maintained, the constant reminder of the organizers to uphold the pageant and the festival’s ideals, and of course, the friendship that I have started with my fellow muses.
Yes, my fantasy did come true. The pageant’s over and it’s now a piece of memory that I’ll keep for the rest of my life. What remains after the festival are the memories of friendship and camaraderie not only with my fellow candidates but also with the organizers of the festival and the people of the town where I lived for more than half of my life already.
I’ve proven that fantasies do come true and I feel so fortunate that I have enjoyed mine because I’ve always known in my heart, that from the very eve when the festival was over, I’ve grown into a better individual, better in finding and keeping new friends, better in respecting my town’s customs and traditions, and better in appreciating the art of my very own kasimanwas, the Pavianhons.
Kate was part of the Carabao-Carroza Festival last May 2007. Next month, its the Carabao-Carroza Festival once again and although Kate will no longer ride on a carroza, she will most likely be busy entertaining friends coming over for the fiesta. She is an incoming sophomore Communications & Media Studies major at UPVisayas.