Monday, June 20, 2011


STRUMMING MY PAIN WITH MY FINGERS. The ubiquitous musical instrument of Kapampangan festivities--the guitar--is toted and played by many Kapampangan music lovers--mamulosa, manarana, mang-gosu. Pampanga's guitar-making industry was started by the Bacanis and then the Lumanogs of Guagua, Pampanga. Ca. 1908.

I learned how to play the guitar when I was about 11 or 12. My elder brother taught me a few chords, using my sister’s beat-up guitar that has seen better days. With just 3 chords (A-E-D), I learned to play the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. Over the next few years, I picked a few more complex chord patterns and learned plucking styles—thanks mainly to Jingle Magazine, the chordbook bible of our 70s teen years. In time, we became a guitar-strumming family—every one of us eight siblings learned to play the instrument in varying degrees of proficiency, making my piano-playing father the odd man out.

The guitar had always been a major part of our musical tradition, starting with the Spanish conquest. There were local stringed predecessors of the guitar: there is the ‘kudyapi’, a 4-stringed instrument used by southern ethnic tribes. In the 1900 Kapampangan zarzuela “Ing Managpe” (The Patcher), author Mariano Proceso Pabalan Byron described an early musical instrument similar to a guitar, called ‘kalaskas’.

The ‘gitara’ became the favored main instrument when one performed ‘harana’, a form of courtship through a musical serenade. Guitar-strumming swains sang to their objects of affection underneath their windows at night, aided by a coterie of instrumentalists. The ‘kundiman’ -- love ballads with musical structures formalized by Francisco Santiago and Nicanor Abelardo (both part-Kapampangans, by the way)-- were sang to the perfect accompaniment of guitars at the turn of the 20th century.

The organization of rondallas (musical bands) made the guitar even more popular with Filipinos. From 1905-13, native string bands like Comparsa Joaquin, Rondalla Apolo and Comparsa Cecilia worked the entertainment circuit, delighting audiences aboard posh American liners with their rousing marches, waltzes, opera pieces as well as kundimans. Even in Bacolor, Orquestra Palma and the David family of musicians--always in demand for social functions and community events--had skilled guitarists in their group.

It is no surprise then that a burgeoning guitar-making industry was started a century ago, in Guagua, along Tramo St. in barangay San Anton. A certain Matuang Bacani is credited for making the first commercially-sold guitars in the area. A local story goes that the old Bacani found an old Spanish guitar discarded in the river near Tramo. He dismantled the unit, studied the parts and reconstructed his own version using available wood and local milk-based glue. Pleased with the result, he replicated more acoustic guitar pieces and were then peddled successfully in Macabebe, Bacolor and San Fernando.

Angel Lumanog, a son-in-law of the old Bacani, took over the fledgling industry , growing the business through the coming decades. The six-string Lumanogs were all the rage in the 70s and 80s and today, the name “Lumanog” and “Bacani” are synonymous to quality Pampanga guitars, holding their own against Gibsons, Yamahas and Fenders. Lumanog Guitar Shops have branches in Pampanga and Manila, while most established music shops carry the Lumanog guitar brand in their inventory.

Proof that guitar-making was an established industry in the province since the early 20th century is the existence of Kapampangan terms for guitar parts. The head which contains the pegs (durutan) is called ‘cabesa’. The frets are called ‘tarasti’, the neck ‘manggu’, held in place by a heel-like wood support called ‘arung-arung’. The ‘caja’ (body) , attached to the ‘dalig’ (rib), is reinforced by ‘pileti’ (lining). On the soundboard, one can find the ‘puenti’ (bridge for the strings) as well as the ‘roseta’ (guitar hole).

Standard guitars are made from hardwoods like apitong and tanguili, but cheaper ones are also made from palo de tsina. The guitar has been modified, innovated on and deconstructed to suit the changing times. The bajo de uñas is a 4-stringed bass guitar of Filipino design spun-off from the basic guitar. The multi-stringed octavina has the distinct shape of the guitar, and so is the smaller ukulele. Bandurias, mandolinas, laud, mandolas—all these are stringed instruments that resonate with the same acoustic feel as the gitara. More contempary are acoustic guitars outfitted with ‘pick-ups’ that can be hooked to sound systems as well as electric guitars for rock ‘n rollers.

The comeback of Kapampangan folksingers and their acoustic music has assured the continuance of the guitar music tradition in the province. Not even high-tech videoke/karaoke can match the thrill of spontaneous sing-along with just “a gitara, a barkada and Ginebra”. Modern-day minstrels like Totoy Bato, Bong Manalo to folk legend Ysagani Ybarra and new campus discoveries Jesileo, are jamming and strumming their guitars to the beat of their song-stories, reminiscent of the pulosadors and manaranas of old, who could literally pull heartstrings with, what else-- guitar strings!

(Many thanks to Joel Pabustan Mallari for information on our local guitar industry. His feature about our Kapampangan guitar tradition appears on Singsing Magazine)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

*253. Pampanga Towns: STA. RITA

MUNICIPIO DE STA. RITA. Carved from Porac, this small Pampanga town is noted for its delectable sweets; now it's creating a reputation as the province's premier artistic center with its world-renown ArtiSta. Rita. Ca. mid 1920s.

Like all Kapampangan towns, Sta. Rita started as a small clearing in a place known as Gasak, now part of Barrio San Isidro. The erection of the church in 1726 formalized the founding of the settlement. Eighteenth century documents indicate that Sta. Rita was an adjunct of Porac as baptismal records were joinly registered in the libros canonicos under these two places. In 1770 or 1771, however, Sta. Rita became independent from Porac, taking its well-deserved place as one of Pampanga’s proud towns.

The town was named after Sta. Rita de Casia, a woman with two sons who had plotted revenge on the killers of their father. But before they could commit a grievous sin, Sta. Rita prayed that they be taken away from her. Her sons fell ill and died. Now alone, she applied to a monastery to be a nun, but her acceptance to the was fraught with much obstacles. Because of her life’s trials, she is invoked by women with troubled marriages and people with desperate problems.

Life in Sta. Rita, however, is anything but troubled or desperate. It is strategically close to Bacolor, the “Athens of Pampanga”, the province’s art and cultural center. In fact, Sta. Rita was long known as “Sta. Rita de Baculud” or “Sta. Rita de Lele” (neighboring Sta. Rita), as Bacolor was where Sta. Rita folks often went for their marketing, accessed via Sta. Barbara. To date, Sta. Rita consists of just ten barangays: Becuran, Dila-Dila, San Agustin, San Basilio, San Isidro, San Jose, San Juan, San Matias, Sta, Monica and San Vicente.

Early in it history, the town enjoyed a flourishing farming industry. Sta. Rita gained repute for pioneering the use of the native plow. The practice of deep furrowing—credited with producing more bountiful harvests-- was introduced by local farmer Simon Vergara, a technique that calls for planting sugar cane sticks to a depth of 12 inches or more. This practice, now known as “simberga” was named after him.

Out of the town’s abundant sugar produce were created delicious confections that has put Sta. Rita in the Philippine culinary map. The town is the undisputed source of the most delectable ‘sans rival’ in the province, a kind of butter torte, strewn with cashew bits in between creamy layers. Then there are the ‘turrones de casuy de Sta. Rita”, honeyed cashew brittle bits wrapped in melt-in-the mouth, paper-thin wafer, made in the same way as a Communion host. The homegrown industry—led by the Ocampo family—continues to thrive and enjoy a loyal following among sweet-toothed foodies who care very little about calories.

Then there is the much sought after green duman-- processed rice from from 'lacatan malutu' variety, planted extensively in the barrios of Sta. Monica and San Agustin. Harvested once a year every November, the red-husked rice is then pounded, roasted and cleaned, to become duman. Prized for its fragrant scent and taste, duman becomes a special treat especially when soaked in hot carabao milk or hot chocolate. Others prefer it toasted, sprinkled with sugar or baked into rice cakes. Pounding duman grains is always a community affair, but the long hours are made light by all the bonding and merrymaking that goes on. This has given rise to the annual Duman Festival, now a popular tourist event of the town.

Indeed, Riteños were among the first to embrace the renaissance of Kapampangan arts and culture that began in the new millenium. After all, the old town had always been famous for its rich, artistic traditions and love for celebrations through the years. In 1946, Sta. Rita held a post-war fiesta that was unsurpassed in grandness and talked about for years, highlighted by marching bands, firework displays, zarzuelas, sports fests, processions, parades and a beauty search for Miss Victory, Miss Peace and Miss Progress.

The town also popularized the “Serenata”, a musical joust of endurance, in which its very own Sta. Rita band reigned supreme. A variant of the pabasa, the Serenata is conducted with two sets of bands who try to outplay each other in a musical “sagutan” that lasts from 8 pm. to the wee hours of the morning of Holy Thursday or Good Friday. The lively tradition continues in Sta. Rita to this day.

The old-world Sta. Rita Church, with its current cura, Msgr. Gene Reyes, is also at the forefront of cultural and heritage preservation. Amung Gene has started a modest sacred arts museum with contributions from the town visitas, from antique santos to household heirlooms. The giant campana was recently automated while the smaller, cracked bells from the belfry were brought down purely for display.

Then there’s the Arti Sta. Rita, the world-class repertory founded by Alejandro “Andy” Alviz, a native of the town. Himself an accomplished artist (he was a choreographer for the Mcintosh musical “Miss Saigon” that catapulted Lea Salonga to stardom). The group of singers, actors and dancers has performed the world over, charming audiences with their repertoire of new and traditional Kapampangan melodies, also recorded in their bestselling CDs. Alviz also organized stagestruck mothers into the group “Ima”, which has staged musicals like “Beauty Parlor”.

Santa Rita may be small by physical standards—it has a population of just under 40,000 people-- but it is a big-hearted town that is proud of its glorious past, imbued with a vibrance of spirit as it takes a leap of faith into the future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


FONDNESS BEGETS FONDOS. A grand matriarch stands between two Kapampangan priests, possibly beneficiaries of her philanthropic deeds. This photo postcard was sent by Fr. Nicanor Banzali of Arayat, the priest on the right, sent on 20 October 1918. Author's Collection.

Capellanias or chaplaincies are testaments to the generous spirit of the Filipino faithful. Pioneering Kapampangan founders led the way in setting up perpetual pious trust funds (obras pias) –often generated by incomes from their farm and commercial lands—to support an ordained priest or chaplain (capellan) who said Masses for their intentions, in return. Capellanias can also be offered to a parish, a religious order , or more commonly, to a diocese.

The first capellania founders came from Bacolor. In 1592, Don Diego Guinto donated a capellania to the Augustinian Order, followed by Don Felipe Balagtas and Andres Sungcay. They were even ahead of the Spaniards, who founded theirs in 1601. Not far behind were the first Kapampangan church financiers-- Dñas. Maria Dugua (Guagua), Catalina Bara (Bacolor) and Martha Payoan (Guagua), who started their capellanias in 1605.

The practice of founding capellanias continued through the twentieth century in Pampanga. The documented case of one pious woman from Mabalacat illustrates the extent of her boundless generosity, detachment from material wealth and personal sacrifice to help the Church and its priests. Cecilia Samson came from the prominent Sanson family, early settlers of Dau who owned extensive agricultural lands in the town. A “soltera” (spinster), she was well-known for her ardent devotion to the titular patron of the town, Our Lady of Grace.

On 5 November 1930, Cecilia outlined a donation scheme to the Catholic Church in a written request that designated town cura Fr. Maximino Manuguid as her capellan. Her “Fondos Cecilia Sanson” was jumpstarted with an initial P150 donation, an amount to be given annually, for use in the celebration of the feast of Ntra. Sñra. de Gracia. It was stated that the amount be used to defray expenses for “misa cantada con sermon, triduo or novena, vispera cantada” and “procesionales del pueblo” (town processions).

Further details of her donation were included in a later document, “Escritura de Donacion Intervivos” (Deed of Donation). In this duly notarized writ, Cecilia expressed her wish to donate an image of “La Virgen Ntra. Sñra. de Gracia” and a matching “caro de metal blanco”, a processional carriage of white metal. The amount of Three Thousand Pesos was to be deposited at the Monte de Piedad in Manila under the name “Fondos Cecilia Samson”. In the event of her death, she named the parish priest as her administrator, who would have a say in the disposal of the funds.

In 1932, however, Cecilia found out that her donation of Php 3,000 had not yet been entered in the books of “Obras Pias”, so she decided to revoke her donation in apparent annoyance at the slow action of the Church. She wrote of her intention in a letter to the Archbishop of Manila, Michael O’Doherty, explaining that she needed the amount to help in the construction of a barrio church—most probably for Dau. She must have been placated as in 1934, the “Capellania Parroquial Ntra. Sñra. de Gracia, Fundado por Dña. Cecilia Samson” was doing very well, earning interest while being put to good use.

A 1934 accounting of the expenses incurred during the fiesta of the town patron reported a total spending of PhP 134.34. Twelve pesos went to the decoration of the carro, Php 4.50 to the sacristans, while Php 25.00 was paid to the predicador (paid preacher). Processional candles cost a whopping Php 20.54 while electrical cost was only Php 6.00.

For her magnanimous act, the generous Cecilia enjoyed well-deserved privileges. For instance, Masses were permitted to be officiated at her residence when she fell ill. All petitions for such special requests by the local cura were almost always approved by the Arzobispado. Eventually too, Cecilia would realize her dream to have a church built in Dau with the erection of “Our Lady of Victory” parish in 1953, on a piece of land she, herself, donated. Its first cura who also supervised the construction was Fr. Fernando Franco.

Institutionalized capellanias are rarely heard of these days; many farmlands from where income is derived to fund these chaplaincies have been converted into more lucrative subdivisions and commercial spaces. Old Kapampangan families, steeped in tradition, continue to lend support by way of philanthropic deeds, educational scholarships to seminarians and donations to church projects ( e.g. fiesta activities, renovations) in the hope that, somehow, their material gifts will translate into spiritual rewards.