ON JANUARY 10, the kuraldal season of Sasmuan ends with street dancing to be held around the chapel of Barangay Sta. Lucia, just a short distance from the town's parish church.
The archbishop will concelebrate a mass with the parish priest on a makeshift altar at the chapel's rear, facing an intersection, which is the only spot in the area that's large enough to accommodate the big crowd.
Kuraldal is the Kapampangan equivalent of Obando's Sta. Clara and
Cebu's Sto. Niño festivals, in which devotees dance their prayers and petitions. In Sasmuan, the object of devotion is St. Lucy, the town's patron saint. While devotees dance, they shout "Viva Sta. Lucia! Puera sakit! (Long live St. Lucy! Away with ailments!)"
Spanish chronicler Fray Gaspar de San Agustin, OSA wrote in Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas (1698) that St. Lucy had been venerated in Sasmuan "since long ago," i.e., the devotion may have been brought by the conquistadores in this ancient town when they arrived in 1571.
The small wooden image of St. Lucy enshrined in the chapel, according to heritage expert Prof. Regalado Trota Jose, is probably the earliest image of the saint in the town, older than either the one found in the parish church or the one taken out in procession during the town fiesta; it is also not made in Spain or Mexico but most likely carved locally because its elongated earlobes, similar to Buddha's, are a characteristic of an ancient carving style in Southeast Asia.
The kuraldal season in Sasmuan begins on December 13 with the feast of St. Lucy, whom the early Roman pagans executed by gouging out her eyes, which is why she is the patron saint of people with eye problems (her image holds a palm leaf, which is the symbol of martyrdom, and a platter with two eyeballs on it).
Pilgrims by the thousands, according to old folks, used to troop to Sasmuan on December 13, the same way pilgrims still do in Antipolo and Manaoag. Residents of Bacolor and Lubao still recall seeing thousands passing by on their way to the town of
But the town's official fiesta has been moved to January 6; nobody remembers why, but it must have had something to do with the timing of the harvest, because rice and duman planters in Porac and Sta. Rita still coincide their harvest with the Sasmuan fiesta when the demand is great.
Pilgrims come and dance on both December 13 and January 6, but the wildest dancing occurs on the season's last day, January 10. The crowd is so thick that some manage to only sway or jump instead of dance. But those who can dance perform the traditional kuraldal steps; they look like a tribal dance with intervals of swaying and clapping as the brass band slows down before picking up again.
The dancing can go non-stop for hours; some devotees literally dance till they drop, bathed in sweat with eyes rolling as if in a trance. It is really a form of sacrifice or penitence, which is what Kapampangan folks do to ask for favors (like the Holy Week penitents do). In the case of St. Lucy, aside from cure for diseases, devotees pray to have children, and indeed, I have met many previously barren pilgrims who keep coming back to thank the saint for favors granted, their children in tow.
But while Sasmuan has the biggest kuraldal festival in Pampanga, it is not the only place where it's done. In several villages in Macabebe, people dance during their respective patron saints' processions; in Sta. Cruz, Lubao, the kuraldal held during the barrio's fiesta on May 3 causes massive traffic jam along
Olongapo-Gapan Road. In Betis, costumed performers dance their version of kuraldal with swordfights on the feast of St. James on July 25.
These places are all located in the southern half of Pampanga. Nowhere in the northern towns will you find kuraldal. Is it because Angeles and
and adjacent towns have been so urbanized that they will never be caught doing a thing as folksy as dancing in the street? Or is it because of the southern towns' proximity to the San Fernando , the cradle of Kapampangan civilization? Are Kapampangans living in the more ancient southern towns more in touch with their cultural fountainhead? Pampanga River
I notice that Kapampangans in the river communities dance at the drop of a hat; in the more agricultural northern towns, they have to dress up first and create artificial inducements like tigtigan terakan king dalan (street disco) to bring themselves to dance in public.
Sasmuan and those other towns holding kuraldal should realize the value of this cultural practice, its potency as a socio-religious expression and its potential for tourism. While it has similarities with Obando and
Cebu, kuraldal is unique to Pampanga because it is wilder and more tribal. It is a vestige of a lost pagan ritual, replaced long ago with this Christian devotion to St. Lucy. It is also an expression of how musical, how carefree and how hedonistic we Kapampangans once were and still are.
The Department of Tourism should promote kuraldal as a genuine Kapampangan festival, with the kuraldal dance steps serving as the basic dance steps in other festivals like the Sinukuan Festival in San Fernando and the Baguis Festival in Angeles -- two well-funded public events in search of cultural roots and a theme and a rhythm that will resonate with the Kapampangan spirit. Public and private schools should introduce it in their PE classes.
Lastly, parishes should make an effort to hold kuraldal during their religious processions. Praying can be more physical than mere mumbling of prayers. Our ancestors put fun in their worship; we who lost it should take a hint from the kuraldal.
Sunstar Pampanga (January, 2007)