‘Healing bath’ also a matter of faith
LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—For centuries, people in Los Baños in Laguna have come to believe that there is more to bathing in the town’s hot springs at the foot of Mount Makiling.
“The water can cure diseases (such as) skin rashes, open wounds and can even ease the effects of hypertension or mild stroke,” says Connie Lawas, 61.
Lawas says her late mother-in-law, who regularly bathed in the hot springs, lived longer than most elders. (Her in-law died at 114 years old last year.)
So does Edna Tandang, 56, whose father was a patron of public bath. Despite having suffered a mild stroke, he reached the age of 84.
Both Lawas and Tandang are devotees of the Elejer, a Catholic procession in honor of the town’s patron, the Nuestra Señora de Aguas Santas (Virgin of the Holy Waters).
“It’s not just the water but the faith and hope the bathing draws out that heal a person,” Tandang says.
Elejer is participated in mostly by elders who dance on the streets in a cariñosa-type music while reciting a Tagalog prayer to the Virgin Mary. The ritual ends as devotees gather at the lakeshore for a fluvial parade of fishermen hoping for a bountiful catch or the “healing bath” in the hot springs.
The tradition traces its roots to 1590 when Franciscan priest Pedro Bautista created a public bath he called the “Los Baños.”
The hot water, with a temperature between 38 and 40 degrees Celsius, comes from the springs of Makiling, an inactive volcano.
Results of laboratory tests conducted by the Los Baños Water District in 2009 showed that the water actually contains minerals such as sulfur, potassium, bicarbonate, zinc, calcium and silica that aid blood circulation, help remove body toxins, normalize heartbeat, and strengthen body tissues.
“(Elejer) is a dance to honor Mary. It’s a dance with Mary to get healed,” says Robi Cereno of the Turismo de Los Baños, a private organization of local traders promoting tourism.
Cereno, who also heads the Makiling Botanic Gardens of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, was commissioned by the local government to conceptualize the Bañamos festival, which was first staged in 2002 to celebrate the town’s founding anniversary in September.
This year, “we (in coordination with the government) wanted something that could make Los Baños’ festival different from other festivities,” Cereno says.
The first option was to highlight the “buko” (coconut) pie, a product for which the town is also known. “But we thought the buko pie just (became popular) in the ’60s,” Cereno says.
He says that as local tourism works along the line of promoting the town as a “wellness destination,” the old tradition of the Elejer has been revived as part of the Bañamos on September 14-18.
The Elejer has never been gone, Cereno says, but since the ’70s, only Barangays (villages) Mayondon, Bayog, Anos and Maahas have kept the practice alive and only during fiestas.
“It was also ‘distorted’ as men dressed in gowns made a mockery of the dance. It rather became a katuwaan (a form of jest),” he says.
With the revival of the Elejer as a town celebration, some 3,800 residents joined the 3-kilometer procession from the Immaculate Conception parish in Barangay Baybayin to the Paciano Rizal Park at the town proper on September 17, says municipal information officer Oji Sanchez.
“The procession lasted for about three hours because of the dance,” he says.
About 200 devotees took part in the “healing bath.” People actually dipped only half of their bodies or simply washed their arms and legs in the hot springs.
The “bath” was held at Lake View Wellness Resort, one of the oldest hot spring resorts, and at the Los Baños Therapeutic Massage Center and Health Spa, a government livelihood training center.
“Even the Church was happy because faith was really in it. You could see some washing their bodies with their eyes closed,” Cereno says.
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