Pampanga’s ‘parol’ goes global
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Ornamental Christmas lanterns in various shapes and sizes handcrafted in this Pampanga capital have gone global, having been shipped out to many Filipino communities abroad for the Christmas season.
The “Sampernandu parul” (as old folks still call the San Fernando lanterns) has brought its warm glow of lights overseas “to strengthen our Christmas tradition,” according to Mayor Oscar Rodriguez.
“It’s one of their (Filipino communities) connections back home. It reminds them of their families and our country while they work overseas,” Rodriguez said.
In Spanish colonial times, lantern making began in Bacolor, the Athens of Pampanga, a town from which San Fernando was founded. Bacolor was then the capital town of Pampanga, as well as of the entire Philippines under Spanish control.
The faithful lit candles encased in paper lanterns to illuminate the religious processions in this part of Pampanga, which was the seat of Augustinian missions in Central Luzon.
In 1908, salt vendor Francisco Estanislao of Barangay Sta. Lucia at the border of Bacolor shaped a big lantern out of bamboo and coco cloth for the Christmas dawn Masses.
Since then, the lanterns have evolved in design, lighting technique, size and materials and have also spurred household-based enterprises.
Since the first lantern competition in 1931, held to honor First Lady Aurora Quezon, the city government has vigorously promoted the lanterns for other objectives.
“For foreigners to know our city for tourism purposes, to showcase our products, to help our parul makers in finding a market and to show the special skills and talent of our people,” Rodriguez said.
Regular partners in the undertakings are associations of Filipinos, many of them Kapampangans, and embassies or consulates.
In December, Filipinos in Honolulu, Hawaii, are holding their first lantern festival.
According to San Fernando tourism officer Ching Pangilinan-Gonzales, the city government is shipping to Hawaii a giant lantern and bringing in craftsmen who will share the basics of lantern making.
The city government also sent out the first set of lanterns to the Philippine Embassy in Poland, she said.
Two giant lanterns will be displayed at the Cathedral of Good Shepherd in Singapore. The traditional beacons will also grace the Philippine embassies in Singapore, Moscow in Russia and Ottawa, Canada.
Pampanga’s pride embellished the Philippine embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2011 just as they did the new Philippine Embassy in Dublin, Ireland; the consulate in Beijing, China; and the Ethnology Museum in Vienna, Austria, in 2010.
In 2009, the Philippine consulate in New York and the Lord Mayor’s House in Dublin decorated the premises with lanterns.
In 2007, they enhanced the Christmas tree that Filipinos put up on the Vienna City Hall grounds in Austria.
In 2006, they were exhibited to commemorate the centennial of Filipino migration to Hawaii and the 60th anniversary of Philippine-Austrian diplomatic relations.
The first documented overseas display of Pampanga’s giant lanterns was in 1979 for the 75th anniversary of the Philippine-Hawaii Commission that year.
In 1989, a giant lantern flickered to delight audiences at the Kunitchiwa Asian Fair in Yokohama, Japan.
In 1992, or just a year after the eruptions of Mt. Pinatubo, 40 kilometers west of Pampanga, a giant lantern was exhibited at the World Expo in Seville, Spain.
In 1993, a float that featured a giant lantern made in San Fernando won first place in the Hollywood Christmas parade.
In 2003, former Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon sent a giant lantern to the Taiwan International Lantern Festival in Taipei.
In 2005, the city joined the 3rd Annual Parol Lantern Parade organized by Filipino-American Development Foundation in California.
Pampanga lanterns also adorned various international exhibits, competitions or contracts undertaken by popular lantern makers like Roland Quiambao and Eric Quiwa.
Quiwa, 40, a descendant of pioneer lantern maker Estanislao, exhibited household and giant lanterns in Seville in 1990, San Diego in California in 1993, Taipei and Hollywood in California in 1995, Dubai in 2008 and 2009, and Hawaii and Singapore this year.
The Cultural Center of the Philippines has also displayed them on its facade since 2011.
Craftsmen in San Fernando helped evolve the traditional lanterns.
From the “papel de japon” (rice paper), the lanterns were soon wrapped in sheets made of capiz (flattened white sea shells), plastic vinyl, handmade paper composed of grass and in the last four years, fiberglass.
From the original candle, the lantern used light bulbs powered by batteries, an initiative of Severino David, son-in-law of Estanislao, in the 1940s.
The bulbs allowed the operators of giant lanterns to switch the lights on and off, in sync with the music played by a brass band.
Mario Datu and Susing Manalang introduced the use of molded steel as the frames of Pampanga lanterns in 1950, replacing the bamboo and wood.
The addition of a rotary motor in 1957 improved the course of illuminating lanterns, by giving out the illusion of dancing lights and shadows. The rotor is credited to David’s son, Rodolfo.
By the 1970s, the small lanterns provided “dancing lights” through sequencers, which were appropriately attuned to international safety regulations, and which opened the opportunity for Pampanga lanterns to be exported.
The “ligligan parul” (lantern festival) has been sustained through “bayanihan” (volunteerism). Residents of a village contribute money, materials and food so their community can construct a fresh lantern and join a local contest.
The tourism ministry supported the festival for the first time in 1975.
No festival was held in 1978 and 1979 because then Mayor Armando Biliwang canceled the event due to martial rule.
Gov. Estelito Mendoza revived the festival in 1980. Mayor Vicente Macalino standardized the size of giant lanterns to a ceiling of 3 meters (at present, authorities allow lanterns to loom as large as 5.4 m in diameter) and began the policy of providing subsidies of up to P5,000 in 1982.
Held on Dec. 22, 1990, the festival was highlighted by two lanterns participating in the event, one of which was shaped by Ernesto Quiwa, a grandson of Estanislao.
In 2007, the subsidies were increased to P125,000, but lantern makers said that represented only a quarter of the P500,000 needed to make an outstanding lantern.
The first lanterns were exported in 1987 during the term of Mayor Virgilio Sanchez.
Robert David, another grandson of Estanislao, made lanterns to adorn the roofs of the Paskuhan Village and the Bren Z. Guiao Convention Center, both in San Fernando.
David also attempted to set a world record but failed to build a 31.5-m-tall lantern in 2002.
The lanterns are a Hall of Fame titlist in the Department of Trade and Industry’s One-Town One-Product (OTOP) program.
The festival draws foreign and local dignitaries as well as tourists. In 2007, Nileema Noble, United Nations resident coordinator in the Philippines, said: “Magnificent! The efforts here to preserve heritage and tradition are flourishing.”
There is no school that trains for the craft of lantern making, Pampanga-style.
Edwin David Jr., 29, learned by “albe-albe” (watching) or “ilig” (preference) or “tuki-tuki” (tagging along).
Fifth-generation lantern makers like Eric Quiwa are convinced that the rotor cannot be replaced by computers. “It really gives the lanterns the magical effect of dancing lights,” he said.
Computers are only used to design the lanterns, Eric added. His 19-year-old son, Carl Ernesto, and his 15-year-old nephew, Christian Lervin, have been learning the craft by observing, helping out and running errands.
In this year’s festival on Dec. 15 at the Robinsons Starmills in San Fernando, Eric expects to win the best lantern—his third in a row.
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