Friday, June 6, 2014

The Araquio Tradition of Penaranda, Nueva Ecija

The town of Penaranda in Nueva Ecija has a very historic and religious tradition that shows how Filipinos adapted to and embraced the Catholicism brought by the Spanish colonizers to the country - the ARAQUIO. The very same tradition also shows Penaranda people's craft and artistry as well as their loyalty to the Philippines' past and culture for it was actually practiced there even during the Spanish times!
Araquio Performers
Araquio is traditionally and religiously held during the month of May in the town of Penaranda where local wealthy families take turns in sponsoring different Araquio groups to perform it. A presentation similar to Spanish zarzuelas, it depicts the crusade made by Queen Helen and King Constantine (and later, Emperor Heraclius from where the name "Araquio" purportedly came from) to recover the True Cross where Jesus was crucified. 

Queen Helen (famously known as Reyna Elena in the Philippines)

I have been fortunate to be able to witness this tradition through my co-teacher, Ma'am Manilyn, in Gapan. She invited me to attend the presentation in her hometown Penaranda (which is just less than an hour away) and I readily agreed. The time that she mentioned 'araquio' to me is actually the first time I heard the word and that made me very curious. She tried to explain it to me and I just got some faint idea of what it is, which made me more and more curious.

Laida and Blanca, Queen Helen's servants

Araquio, I learned during the same day I witnessed it, is a 4-5 hour long theatrical presentation which feature performers singing, acting and dancing while a brass band plays (during the earlier times, it was said that people uses other materials such as bamboos, wash basins, and utensils). The script, which uses old form of the Tagalog language, has remained the same since the tradition started though the choice of songs and choreography varies as time goes by according to my co-teacher.  
King Constantine

There are usually 16 performers in an Araquio Group composed of the following: 9 people consisting the Christian Group and 7 consisting the Moro Group. The Christian group is headed by Queen Helen and King Constantine. Other Christian characters include the Queen's two servants, Blanca and Laida, and the Roman soldiers Alberto, Arsenio, Rosauro, Fernando and Leonato.

The Moro group on the other hand is headed by Erlisa and the Moro Emperor with the Moro soldiers Emir, Dublar, Marmolin, Engras and Sagmar. The Male Moro's wear mostly red costumes with feathered headdresses while the Male Christians wear either blue pants with white top or black pants and blue top. 

Moro Emperor

The female costumes on the other hand are similar for both Moros and Christians though some differences can be observed: Christian women wear a sash (known as "banda" that looks like the sashes worn by European Royalties) while Moro women wear feathered headdresses similar to their male counterparts.

Soldiers from the Christian (left) and the Moro (right) side.

At the start of the presentation, the girls sung and danced to the Filipino folk song "Ang Dalagang Pilipina" and continued on to the other parts of the presentation. What I remembered most is the part where King Constantine was supposedly sharpening the blades of each of the Christian soldiers individually, continuing on with the process for almost 20 minutes!

The Girl performers singing while dancing "Ang Dalagang Pilipina" at the start of the Araquio.
Other important part of the performance shows how the Christians used the power of their faith symbolized by the cross to fight the Moros, and the Moros retaliation by stealing the cross. The performance finally ends when the Christian successfully recovered the cross and the Moros were baptized as Christians.

King Constantine sharpens the blade of the Christian Soldiers
I was not able to finish the presentation (latter parts were just related to me by my co-teacher) because me and my companion, April, still has to travel to Manila that night. While in the bus, I thought about what I have witnessed and realized the following:

1.) One must be a very dedicated performer to be part of an Araquio group. I saw that every part of the cast must memorize long lines to deliver effectively (though there is someone who will help him/her whenever he/she forgets his line by reciting it for him/her). The length of the presentation is also something to consider because presenting a drama in the middle of a street for 4-5 hours is a no easy feat! 
It was tiring and needs a lot of patience which made me wonder how these young performers was encouraged to join an Araquio group. I learned again from my co-teacher that one must not reject the proposal to be part of an Araquio Group because it would also mean rejection of the God's blessings.

2.) Penaranda is a unique town worthy of praise in its passion and success to continue a century-long tradition in the midst of current urbanity and globalization. Zarzuelas are long gone as well as the Balagtasan (which are now mostly performed only in schools) but Penaranda's Araquio tradition lives on to remind us of our past and the Filipino's deep devotion to God. I am fervently hoping that this tradition continue on to the next generation.

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About the Author

I am ROMEL RAFOR JAIME, the man behind San Josenyong Gala. My travel blogger name came about because I am a proud resident of the City of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. In real life, I am a licensed librarian who works in a college in Gapan, Nueva Ecija as a librarian and teaches general education subjects from time to time. My goal is to visit all the 81 provinces of the Philippines before visiting other countries. As of 2017, I have already visited 73... :)

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