On May 15, the small town of Lucban in Quezon province will celebrate the grandest and most colorful of Philippine fiestas —the Pahiyas.
The town, which was named after a variety of the citrus fruit, and its festival, both have interesting stories.
Lucban derived its name from the Tagalog term for pomelo. Legend has it that three hunters, named Marcos Tigla, Luis Gumba and Lucas Manawa, from the nearby town of Majayjay lost their way while hunting for wild animals on the foot of Mount Banahaw. Resting on a shade of a tree, the three hunters saw an uwak or a crow, and believing it was bad omen they moved to another place.
The new place on which they rested had a lucban tree where they saw a couple of salaksak or king-fisher chirping a beautiful song. The superstitious trio took this as a good sign and settled in the new place, which later took the name Lucban.
The offsprings of the three hunters who settled in Lucban started a ritual of sort to pay homage to the gods of Mount Banahaw for their bountiful harvests, and to request for another good harvest in the year ahead.
When the Spaniards arrived, they introduced San Isidro Labrador, the Spanish laborer who died in May 15, 1130 and was beatified in 1619, who was known for his goodness toward the poor and animals. San Isidro Labrador is the patron saint of farmers, so he was chosen patron saint for the rich farming parish of Lucban.
The people of Lucban originally bring their best harvest to the church, and hang the harvests on the windows, doors and the whole façade of the houses that are along the procession route.
The practice of rice farmers hanging the stalks of their harvests, however, changed when one of the local boys traveled to Mexico during the Galleon era and saw how tacos were made. He then made a local version made of ground rice, water, salt and natural dye called kiping, which the farmers would hang on their houses during the fiesta instead of the usual rice stalks.
The kiping soon became the symbol of the Pahiyas and has since evolved into a more colorful décor with colors ranging from green, yellow, orange and fuchsia. The present kiping is made by mixing ground rice and food colorings, and using the leaf of the kaba tree to give it patterns before drying. The dried kipings are then formed together to look like a chandelier or an aranya, which is a symbol of opulence during the Spanish era.
The name Pahiyas was coined during the 1960s to describe the evolution of the Feast of San Isidro Labrador, where the people of Lucban decorate the houses along the procession route.
How to get there
The usual way to go to Lucban is to drive south using the SLEX, exit to Sto. Tomas, turn right to Alaminos, pass by San Pablo, enter Quezon province via Tiaong, then proceed to Lucban via Sariaya and Tayabas. Visitors can park along the side of the road leading to Lucban, or at Kamay ni Jesus. This route takes about 4 hours, or even longer during Pahiyas.
The shorter and more scenic route is via Majayjay. Drive south using SLEX, exit to Calamba, turn left to the road going to Los Banos. Continue driving until the road forks at the Jollibee outlet at Pagsanjan. Turn right to Magdalena, then continue driving to Majayjay, where a backroad leads to Lucban. Parking is available at the Paaralang Elementarya ng Lucban (the whole school is painted in pink). This route takes about three hours.
What to see, what to do
The Pahiyas is a 24-hour long fiesta, and there are plenty of things to see and do. Arriving before dawn allows visitors to see the locals busy decorating their houses. The grand procession starts at 7 am and leads to the church where the Holy Mass in honor of San Isidro Labrador starts at 8 am.
By 2 pm, the grand parade starts. This is participated in by marching bands, farmers with their carts fully decorated with fruits, higantes or giant effigies, festival queens and so on. By 6 pm, the whole town is lighted in festival colors including LEDs, and by 8 pm, the festival winners are announced. Those who wish to stay longer during the fiesta will be treated to the non-stop drinking of lambanog and Emperador, or a mix of both.
Beyond the Pahiyas, travelers to Lucban can also visit other attractions such as the nearby Kamay ni Jesus. The site hosts the 50-foot statue of Christ the Redeemer.
On the back road going to Majayjay are the river resorts of Samil and Malamig, where visitors can cool down in the cold spring waters coming from Mount Banahaw. Not very far is the favorite destination of many backpackers—the refreshing Taytay Falls of Majayjay.
Where to stay, what to eat
Lucban’s premiere hotel, Patio Rizal, is always fully booked many months ahead of the Pahiyas. Visitors may also try getting a room the Batis Aramin Resort at Kamay ni Jesus, Nawawalang Paraiso or Natagpuang Paraiso, both in Tayabas. But for those who wish to enjoy nature at its best, they can camp out at the Taytay Falls.
Lucban also offers its own unique take on Filipino food.
The original longganisang Tagalog is the local adaptation of the Spanish chorizo. It is made of chopped pork and pork fat that are seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, and then fermented, cured and smoked inside dried pork intestine. It is also given a dose of oregano, achuete and vinegar to give it a unique taste and piggish aroma.
There is also the Hardinera, the local version of the meat loaf. Instead of ground meat, diced meat is used making it more like baked menudo, but it is steamed instead of being baked. But Hardinera is more like embotido, and it is cooked in an oval-shaped pan called llanera where the bottom is decorated with hard-boiled eggs, bell pepper and carved carrots shaped to form a flower garden or a hardinera. This dish is the most popular during the Pahiyas.
Then there’s the unique noodle dish called Pansit Habhab. Habhab means eating food without using a spoon or fork. But in Lucban, the noodle dish is not placed on a plate but on a banana leaf. Pansit Habhab is made from sautéed noodles that are locally made, vegetables and seasoning. A serving costs about P5 and is best with vinegar.
There are also various kakanins or local rice cakes that are sold in the public market, especially during Sunday, which is market day. Look out for the old lady who sells her own version of pilipit that she makes from squash or calabasa flour.
The panaderias or bakeries of Lucban are also known for making their own version of old Spanish favorites like broas, pianono, meringue, apas and galletas.
Yes, Pahiyas can thrill the five senses, especially the sense of sight and taste.