The island that loves elephants!
by Ronnie Hoyle

EVERY town and village on Bohol has its’ special Feast and Fiesta Day, and quite a few have more than one each year to mark the occasion. Often, fiestas take more than one day to complete as well, so a feast day that is due to start tomorrow might start tonight and go on until the day after it is officially ended!

Never mind: this is the island of feasts and fiestas in the Philippines, so when it happens, it has to be done properly!

So how many feasts and fiestas’ does Bohol have each year? Would you believe 48? Sorry…you better think again: that’s just the number of major towns and villages on the island, and they all have their feasts to celebrate their particular saint.

Since some towns have two saints, there are over 60 main celebration days. And what you are also forgetting is that each town is split up into minor barrios or barangays – sort of like a village within a rural township – and that every barangay in the municipality is a self-contained unit, and it jealously guards its’ own feast or fiesta day.

In total, then, there are 1,109 barrios or barangays with feast and fiesta days each year for a population of less than 1.5 million, which means one fiesta for about every 90 people each year, or a booze-up somewhere on the island almost every day of the year, on average.

Since there are not enough days to go around each year to complete the required number of celebrations, some barangays have to double up, so you could find two or three places celebrating on the same date, even if they are kilometres apart.

Take a “for instance” just with towns: Albuquerque has two feast days each year. Its’ second one is on August 28 for San Agustin. Panglao town also celebrates San Agustin on the same day as its’ second saint, the same as Anda, which also classifies San Agustin as second-class.

Sagbayan, on the other hand, thinks he is a first-class saint, and that is the town’s only feast day – again on August 28. Panglao, however, thinks it is worth taking at least a week off to celebrate, so there are parties, celebrations and fun-type events for their second saint somewhere in the town area every day for nine days: if you are going to celebrate, you might as well make it big time seems to be the message!

Ubay and Valencia think the feast day of Santo Nino should be on the third Saturday in January, but Panglao, again, celebrates it on May 3 as its’ first feast day of the year, although it is not as important to townspeople as San Agustin on August 28 – nevertheless, they will still take three days off to celebrate, with most of them willing to close down their businesses.

And since May 1 is feast day in nearby Tagbilaran, only 18 kms away (and, anyway, everyone in Panglao has relatives of some sort who live or work in Tagbilaran), and it is also Labor Day, which happens to be a national day off for everyone else in the Philippines, preparations have to begin for the party on the night of April 30, so it is unlikely that you will see many people actually at work for the next few days, especially if they are going on to the fiesta at Panglao!

Since the city of Cebu on Cebu Island is only some 40 kms and one-and-a-half hours away by fast boat, and celebrates Santa Nino in January with the great Sinulog Festival – and everyone on Bohol knows there is a member of his extended family who is working somewhere in Cebu as well, and out of family loyalty you have to help them celebrate the Sinulog! – it is hardly surprising that many local people think it is hardly worth returning to Bohol Island between the end of January and the end of April.

This just so happens to coincide with the peak tourist season in the Philippines when there are more jobs available especially in Cebu…unless you have to come back to help someone else celebrate their own local fiesta on Bohol itself.

It is fondly said – and probably perfectly true – that you can travel to every town on Bohol for a complete year without ever going hungry for more than a day or two, since you are bound to bump into a feast or fiesta somewhere along the way.

Even perfect strangers would never get turned away from the door during fiesta time: that would prove that you are inhospitable and unwelcoming…and no true Boholanon would ever do that on the “Island of Friends,” where the island’s major – and only – city calls itself the Friendship City.

This particularly applies to the month of May when there are at least sixteen celebrations on the go somewhere on the island, while January only sports eight feast days in the same month. If you are a party person, it seems pretty obvious when to take your holidays!
But you do have to watch out what time of year you come. You might arrive slim and sylph–like, but the intention of Boholanons is not to send you home the same way: their objective is to send you home the size of an elephant and with good reason...they never forget so they come back time and again!