Sunday, 8 December 2013

FEATURE: The ‘pastores a belen’ of old Parang

The Pastores of Bicol dressed in colorful festive costumes dancing and singing to welcome the birth of Jesus.


THERE was a time in my youth when I nearly joined a group of dancers who made rounds of our village during Christmas, singing and dancing in front of houses, and often in public, for some coins – they were called the pastores a belen.
The Pastores is the Bicolanos’ musical re-enactment of the age-old story of Nativity, a beautiful commemoration of Christmas in Bicol, with the pastores, or dancers, singing the first Christmas carols, honoring both Baby Jesus and the biblical shepherds who were among the first to see Him in the manger.
The pastores of Bicol predates the Christmas trees and Santa Clause -- an invention from the Western civilization.
Pastores came from the Spanish word pastoras, which means shepherds, and applies to both male and female. 
We should not forget that when the Spaniards came to what is now known as Filipinas in 1521, many of them came to the Bicol Peninsula, including Legazpi and Paracale.
Now, my bid to become one of the dancers was, however, spoiled by my mother’s refusal to buy me the needed paraphernalia, such as the hand-tailored pair of red trousers, a pair of white rubber shoes and a long-sleeved shirt, which was also in red. Not to forget that buri hat, which was adorned with red flowers and ruffles made from “papel de japon” and wreath paper.
So, it came to pass that I would just remain a spectator to their dancing and singing, envious of my three elder cousins who were the regular members of the 12-man pastores a belen team, one of the few in our village that would launched their dancing-and-singing act every Christmas.
I was in the grade school, and so were my three girl-cousins Ate Fe, Ate Heleng and Emilia, who were my seniors.
They were the usual members of the pastores because the one who formed this seasonal group was no-one but their very own father – Tata Nito – who provided the group’s music to dance on by playing his violin, backed up by another musikero who played the guitar and two women cantores who sung the pastores songs in Spanish.My late Tata Nito, by the way, was the husband of Nana Ising – my father’s elder sister and only sibling.
Every weekend towards December, their group would practice the dance and song repertoire for at least two to three hours and of course I would be around to watch them.
I remember them singing at least five Spanish songs, one of which was titled Pastores a Belen.
But I knew that none of the dancers, including Tata Nito himself, understood what those songs were all about. 
Nevertheless, just like them, I came to know Pastores a Belen by heart, mouthing every Spanish word it had the way it sounded phonetically.
But it was only yesterday when I was browsing the websites that I came across the lyrics of Pastores a Belen, which actually meant “Shepherds to the Manger”.
Indeed, it was a pleasant surprise to know that this song was composed by no less than our National Hero Dr Jose Rizal, as his tribute to the young Jesus in the manger.
The song tells of the first shepherds who come to visit and paid their respects to the young Jesus who was born a few hours earlier in a manger at a farm shed in a grazing farm outside Bethlehem.
My cousins’ pastores would normally start their public performance – or shall I say house to house presentation -- at the start of the long school Christmas break. 
And on occasions, I would follow them around the village up to the poblacion, unmindful of my mother’s admonition that I should not waste my time for this, help her instead do a lot of house chores, including chasing our free-range chicken and duck flocks back to their coop under our house.
The group was composed of six pairs of boys and girls. The girls wore red ruffled dress and the boys were in red pairs of trousers and white long sleeved shirts. 
All the members wore a buri hat adorned with red ruffles, with the girls’ hats embellished with white-and-red paper flowers.
Each carried a flower-decked bamboo arch which became a main feature in their song-and-dance acts, whose choreography was also the brainchild of Tata Nito, which they practiced hard enough for perfection.
Theirs was an amusing performance – their singing and dancing always energetic and engaging despite the blistering sun, thus drawing a big crowd in every stop made around the village. 
It goes without saying that the bigger crowd there was, the more they would earn from coins and notes that individuals would drop into the coin box sitting on a stool in front of the dancers.
After saturating Parang and the poblacion, my cousins’ pastores would travel to the neighboring towns of Paracale, Labo and the last stop – Daet, which is the provincial capital. They would be home just before dark to divide the money earned during the day.
So as Christmas Day approached, more and more pastores groups would converge in our village, and obviously they had already made rounds in the poblacion before coming to our place.
Soon enough, we came to know that most of those pastores whom we were seeing for the first time in Parang actually came from the other parts of the province. 
They were attired too differently from my cousins’ group’s and singing their own repertoire of Spanish songs, which also included the popular Pastores a Belen.
On the night of Christmas Eve, when everyone in the Christendom was high in anticipation of the coming of Baby Jesus, all pastores groups that were in Jose Panganiban – both the local ones and the dayo (visitors) from far places -- would converge at the church to relive once more the experience of the shepherds who first came to visit the Holy Baby at the Belen.
There, you would see them huddled among themselves in excitement, each group made distinct by the color of their “pastores” attires and get up, but one in spirits and desire to come to the altar and pay their tribute to Baby Jesus.
Long time ago in Bethlehem, shepherds from far and near trekked the long and winding paths across the vast grazing land leading to the humble farm shed where our Savior was born. 
They did not know each other but each one was aware that a miracle was unfolding right before their very eyes – one that drew them together to a common faith.
At the church, the pastores a belen were experiencing together that same miracle of yore, the very same message that Pastores a Belen, the song they were mouthing as they danced under the blistering sun without really understanding a word of it, was trying to reveal to the world.
Here’s the song Pastores a Belen composed by Dr Rizal, along with the line by line, direct Spanish-to-English translation from

Pastores a Belen

Pastores a Belén vamos con alegría,
que ha nacido ya el hijo de María.
Allí, allí, nos espera Jesús.
Allí, allí, nos espera Jesús.
Llevemos pues turrones y miel para ofrecerle al niño Manuel.
Llevemos pues turrones y miel para ofrecerle al niño Manuel.
Vamos, vamos, vamos a ver, vamos a ver al recién nacido,
Vamos a ver al niño Manuel.

Oh niño celestial, bendice a los pastores,
que corren al portal cantando tus loores.
Corred, volad, sus glorias a alcanzar.
Corred, volad, sus glorias a alcanzar.
Ofrece a mil amor y virtud, traed, zagal, al niño Jesús.
Ofrece a mil amor y virtud, traed, zagal, al niño Jesús.
Vamos, vamos, vamos a ver, vamos a ver al recién nacido,
Vamos a ver al niño Manuel.

Direct English translation

Shepherds to Bethlehem are going with joy,
That Maria's son has already been born. 2x
There, there, Jesus waits for us 2x
Let's take nougats and honey to offer to the child Manuel. 2x
We go, go, we are going to see, are going to see the newborn baby 2x
We are going to see the child Manuel.

Oh heavenly child, bless the shepherds,
Who run to the portal singing your praises.
Run, fly, their glories to reach. 2x
Offer a thousand love and virtue, bring, Zagal* (lad), the child Jesus.
We are going, we are going, we're going to see, we're going to see the newborn,
We are going to see the child Manuel.
•  Young shepherds

email the writer: and

No comments:

Post a Comment