The 'Pastores a Belen dancers. -- Photo by LUALHATI PEREZ
THE NATIVITY or birth of Jesus Christ is reenacted during Christmas time in many rural areas in the Philippines, which usually involves dancing and singing.
It goes by different names in various provinces, but is practiced more widely in the Bicol region as Pastores as an annual music festival.
One of the country’s century-old Christmas tradition, Pastores Bikol depicts the shepherds’ jubilation on the birth of the Christ Child.
It features musical groups interpreting Pastores A Belen (Shepherds to Bethlehem), a Spanish poem composed by national hero Dr Jose Rizal while on exile in Dapitan in the 1890s.
It is performed by gaily dressed young boys and girls in colorfully decorated hats and arches, and accompanied by musicians.
Introduced by Spanish priests in the late 1800s, Pastores has spread throughout Bicol and has become a part of the Yuletide observance in the region.
Albay, one of Bicolandia’s centers of history and culture, has become the home of the Pastores because it is popularly practiced here.
Nearly all towns, from the capital city of Legazpi to the remote municipalities, have their own version of this age-old tradition.
There are variations in the Pastores Bikol across the region because of diverse influences, indigenous traditions and ethno-linguistic differences.
In some renditions, carols sung in the vernacular are integrated, thus providing a fusion of Spanish and Bicol motifs.
The late National Artist Ramon Obusan, founder of the famed Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group and a native of CamNorte, put choreography to the song to represent the Bicolanos’ jovial nature.
In the 1970s, Legazpi City-based radio station People’s Broadcasting Network (PBN-DZGB) revived the tradition by launching a contest among students and youths.
Its role has become pivotal because it has made a dying tradition a household tune once more by saturating the airwaves with the Christmas melody.
Later on, the Department of Tourism-Region V, the Provincial Government of Albay and the City Government of Legazpi joined the efforts to preserve the tradition, thus making it a much sought-after event come Yuletide.
Albay governor Joey Salceda is optimistic that with the people’s participation, this age-old tradition will be passed on to succeeding generations and the province will continue to be the cradle and steward of this Christmas celebration. – Bicol Mail