Mayohan sa Tayabas

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Tayabas-with the best panoramic view of Mt. Banahaw
- cabecera for 131 years of the  province of Tayabas,
later named Quezon.

Resurrecting the cabecera spirit
By Maria Lourdes B. Abulencia

ayabas is a special community, a living entity in search of its own destiny, an understanding of its inner being, meaning and history.

The municipality of Tayabas was established in 1578 by the Franciscan missionaries named Fray Juan de Placencia and Fray Diego de Oropesa.

From 1779 to 1910, Tayabas was the cabecera of the province that was also called Tayabas. Later the province was named Quezon. As the cabecera, Tayabas could be regarded as the mother of the provincial community. Tayabas was the navel, the womb, the center, the spirit life of the entire province. Tayabas nurtured the social processes of learning and change toward the whole province’s maturity.

Lucena, formerly a village of Tayabas, is now the capital of Quezon province. Lucena today is a fast growing city. But while the umbilical cord binding the child to the mother has been severed, the original navel still breathes. Tayabas remains the beginning and the mother. And her inner ties with all her children continue to flourish.

By knowing the mother and by understanding that she is the muse of the past and the future, one begins to see the entire Quezon province as one great whole awaiting its destiny.

Mayohan is a time for giving tribute to the mother, a season for remembering the mother’s sacrifice. There is blood in birthing as affirmed by history. Tayabas was the wonb desecrated by the Spaniards when they executed here 203 women and men who were members of the Cofradia de San Jose on November 4, 1841. Before the execution, the Cofradia members were asked, Why do you rebel? They answered, To pray. In his book Pasyon and Revolution, historian Reynaldo Clemeña Ileto said that the martyrs died serenely, with unusual greatness of spirit.

Among those 203 killed was Apolinario de la Cruz, the Lucban-born son of Tayabas province who founded the Cofradia de San Jose. The legendary de la Cruz, better known as Hermano Puli, was only 26 years old.

The cabecera spirit

Tayabas was the provincial capital for 131 years. The Spaniards must have chosen it as the cabecera because of its natural splendor. Of all the towns around Mount Banahaw, Tayabas has the best panoramic view of this vulcan de agua now regarded as the mystical mountain of the Philippines, which is host to at least half a million pilgrims during Holy Week.

"Jose Rizal himself must have visited the cabecera," said the late Dr. Juan Rosales, a philantropist, history enthusiast, and a Tabayense. Elias, the revolutionary character of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, was from Tayabas.

Art, comedia, threater dance, music and flourished here. Don Juan Alvarez y Guerra wrote De Manila a Tayabas in 1878 where he said, "Tayabas, como toda la provincia a que da nombre, es el centro de la pureza de la raza india y la buena diccion del tagalo…" (Tayabas is the wellspring of purity of the Tagalog race; the center of pristine, elegant native language.)

But despite its rich history and cultural heritage, most Tayabas folk have forgotten their glorious past. Necias Chaves Pataunia, a writer and sociologist who has been the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator for seven seven years, laments, "The Tayabasin have had many years of sleeping. For quite a time, hardly anyone knew our history. We have had our own dark ages."

Pataunia attributes this forgetfulness to the Second World War when the Americans heavily bombarded Tayabas. "According to our elders, the ancestral homes here in Tayabas were as beautiful as the ones in Vigan. The war ruined not just the Tayabasin economy but also its heart and soul." Keenly aware that knowing history means learning to own power and responsibility over one’s destiny, Patunia believes in the revival of the cabecera spirit as the roots of Tayabasin leadership.


Celebrating the center

Mayohan sa Tayabas is a program of the municipal government that aims to facilitate the process of conscious recollection among community members. Through a 10-day celebration, from May 6-15, the Tayabanse is guided to honor the glory and bless the wounds and sacrifices of the past.

Mayohan is a season for the Tayabanses to converge at the mother navel of Quezon province. Rural folk gather at the town proper; those who study and work in Manila and other places return home. They come to the center regardless of social status, religion or education, to attend family reunions, renew ties with friends and observe the thanksgiving for the bountiful blessings of mother earth.

It is an opportunity to relish the gaiety of summer when the earth is breathing out splendor in Tayabas; when the plants and trees fully spread out into the sunlight, pregnant with flowers and fruits; when Banahaw mountain springs and rivers are teeming with dalag and shrimps.

Children paint the Tayabas skyline with the rainbows of their kites while their laughter accompanies the summer wind.


Mayohan opens on May 6 with a parade of baliskog and tao-tao. Baliskog is the Tayabas arch of welcome while tao-tao is the scarecrow that is commonly found in rice fields. This time, however, tao-tao is dressed up as a figure of history: a Spanish a friar, a Katipunero, a Japanese soldier, a New People’s Army fighter, a Tayabasin kumadrona or healer, and many others.

All 66 barangays together with government agencies and civil society showcase their baliskog and tao-tao brightly decorated with indigenous materials such as buli, rattan, dried flowers, kiping, and tistis.

Kalinangan – creative economics

Farmers, entrepreneurs, crafts people and artists come together in Kalingan sa Mayohan to experience the true meaning of center. A defined festival zone becomes the physical center of Mayohan. Here the mother navel summons producers to exchange inspiration and discoveries in the development and marketing of their work pieces and services.

Shoppers and sellers alike delight in the abundant farm produce hanging in kalinangan booths such as bundles of palay, giant upo and kalabasa. This bountiful display is mixed with old images of San Isidro and other Tayabas artifacts. Whether these items are for sale or strictly for exhibit, they make for lively conversation pieces.

Potential investors are toured around Kalinangan sa Mayohan, with the hope that they appreciate a vibrant cultural life as indispensable to genuine development. They are invited to be partners in facilitating the metamorphosis of one-sided industry and commerce into the ideal Tayabasin economic life.

At night the Mayohan festival zone is transformed into a gregarious world that froths with lambanog. Barangay residents and members of participating organizations converge in their own kalinangan booths for the customary ritual of tagayan taking turns drinking locally brewed coconut vodka from only one glass.

Ponsyunan rituals

True to being a cabecera, Tayabas is replete with traditions that are not mere echoes of the past. Through Ponsyunan, Mayohan inspires Tayabenses to reconnect with such practices as awitan, hagbungan, pamamanhikan, kasalan and awit sa krus.

Ponsyunan comes from the words funcion and posicion. This tradition refers to the invitation of the land steward who calls for bayanihan in rice planting and harvesting.

The cycles of life are remembered in ponsyunan. Rituals are enacted along with authentic Tayabasin songs, dances and prayers. Old costumes, furniture, ornaments, cooking utensils and other ancestral treasures are unearthed and exhibited. Superb delicacies form age-old recipes become the centerpiece of Mayohan fiesta tables.

Hagisan ng suman

The farmer is a being of faith who knows that physical prowess is not enough to harvest the fruits of his labor. Hence, he seeks guidance from the spirit of bounty symbolized by San Isidro de Labrador.

On May 15, Mayohan gives tribute to San Isidro with a procession reminiscent of the yearly Quiapo devotion to Jesus Nazareno. From many towns of Quezon, multitudes of peasants and workers--predominantly male--flock to Tayabas. They clamor for suman and other pabitin as their sweat, strength and rivalry pervade the air. Impelled by their yearly panata or sacrificial devotion to San Isidro, they participate in hagisan ng suman, believing that the bounty gathered in their sacks heralds economic upliftment. It portends the amount of their next harvest or income for the year.

Suman is the ritual gift of hagisan. It is cooked with great enthusiasm by Tayabenses because hagisan is an opportunity to share their prosperity. Bundles of suman are gaily tied in the pabitin made out of a special kind of bamboo called bagakay. As soon as the image of San Isidro passes by, the pabitin must be emptied of its abundance which, aside from suman, includes bananas, mangoes, buko, pineapple and other summer fruits.

Incarnating a vision

Mayohan sa Tayabas began in 1988 with writer and film director Orlando "Dandy" R. Nadres and then-Mayor Faustino "Dondi" A. Silang constructed the Mayohan as a vision for the social and cultural renewal of Tayabas. The sublime Spirit of the Mother was given flesh. The Tayabas municipal government institutionalized Mayohan to ensure that the initiative would meet its destiny.

When Atty. Walfredo "Boy" Sumilang, the present town mayor, assumed his post in 1998, he integrated new features in Mayohan. First, he infused the spirit of novenario by extending the number of days from five to ten, turning Mayohan into a celebration with a nine-day novena leading to the Feast of San Isidro on the tenth day.

Second, the former tiangge was elevated to its next essential stage, allowing the progressive development of Mayohan to take its course. He enlisted the full involvement of all 66 barangays to install their own booths, showcase their agricultural produce and crafts, and highlight creative economies from the countryside. The tiangge was thus renamed kalinangan sa Mayohan.

Third, ponsyunan was enlarged and made a regular feature of the summer festival. It was first launched in 1997 during the inaugural program of the restored Casa de Comunidad, originally built in 1831 as guesthouse for visiting Spanish dignitaries.

Now on its 12th year, Mayohan has indeed created the center of Tayabas whose soul is now fully emerging.

Becoming a model town

It is hoped that the dynamism of Mayohan stimulates the organism not just of Tayabas town but of the entire Quezon province. Tayabas will not again be the capital of Quezon province since Lucena City is already there, but it can be restored both as the center of Quezon history and culture and as a model of town planning and development. Its leaders are not only aware of its resources; they are determined to manage them well.

The local government of Tayabas has a comprehensive Development and Land Use Plan that specified general land use, socio-economic opportunities and the needed infrastructure. Tayabas is the first town in Quezon province, and one of the few in the country, with such a plan, as mandated by the Local Government Code.

Mayor Sumilang ensures the well-being of the whole community by looking after the simultaneous development of the cultural, political and economic aspects of Tayabasin life--aiming to make them mutually interdependent.

It has a holistic government program that gives priority to the farming sector, thus serving the majority of the Tayabas population. "Ours is a town that is basically agricultural, whose land is fertile and wide, whose raw materials are plenty, and whose water is fresh, thanks to the blessing of our sacred mountain," Mayor Sumilang said.

Convinced that an ecologically sound agriculture will ensure for Tayabas a sustainable economy, Mayor Sumilang has directed the conduct of scientific research on indigenous knowledge systems and pilot projects to demonstrate their viability, and retrieve and popularize them. These initiatives are made more promising by the fact that the soil in Tayabas is very fertile due to ideal rainfall distribution at the foot of Mount Banahaw.

Boy Sumilang was an active human rights lawyer of the Protestant Lawyers’ League before he joined the government in 1995. He served as vice-mayor for one term before running for mayor.

When asked about his dream as father of the town, he answered, "It is not too ambitious. I want enough livelihood for the Tayabasin--not even wealth yet. Along with this is good health, joyful contentment and a peaceful relationship with the environment."

"This is workable!" says the mayor, whose confidence is is enhanced by that fact that there are no feudal lords in Tayabas. The ordinary Tayabas farmer owns an average of two to three hectares that he himself cutivates.

Now 422 years old with a population of 72,000, Tayabas has a total land area of 31,889 hectares spread over 66 barangays. Sixty percent (60%) of its land is devoted to rice farming, making it a major rice supplier in Quezon province. It is 150 kilometers southeast of Manila.

Meeting the challenges

Although Tayabas has a rich cultural heritage and committed leaders who possess a vision, it has a cause for grave concern. Similar to the fate of many towns of the country, it is not excluded from the encroachment of materialist globalization.

In the realm of culture, this is manifested in television screens filled for 24 hours by HBO movies and other canned foreign shows that are brazenly opposed to the warm and gentle Tayabasin sensibility.

A subliminal assault to Tayabasin consciousness is the proliferation of dance revolution and computer games that initiate children and youth into a culture of automation and violence. What is more alarming is that they are seen by the younger generation as "educational" and "highly entertaining".

The cultural seduction of Tayabas is but one impact of modernization that has spilled into the town from nearby Lucena. Responding to this challenge Pataunia muses, "The eventual urbanization of Tayabas cannot be avoided. But there must be a balance. We have individual and communal values that we must not lose amidst technological progress. They are our hope, hence, we enliven them in Mayohan sa Tayabas."

He wants to take this opportunity to work for a healthy and mature relationship between Tayabas and Lucena City--the mother and the son.

Pataunia elaborates, "The unavoidable spill of Lucena’s fast urbanization into Tayabas is increasing. But if we could mutually handle this with a sense of who we really are and where we must really go, then we could, as a family, move forward with nurturing support for each other, while respecting our uniqueness and contrasting preferences."

The MPDC office which Pataunia heads, is vested with the responsibility of pursuing the goals of Mayohan: the passing of ancestral memory and revelations to the present generation, and building a community that will embody the Spirit of the Mother.

Two doors are therefore open to the Tayabasin. One looks to the past, another to the future. He stands between them, illuminated by a guiding light that is no less than the cabecera spirit. By choosing to resurrect it, Tayabas has found its high purpose. Blessed by the power of its sacred culture, it has paved the way to a new future.