Fabulous Philippines > Yesterdays in the Philippines > Chapter 5(b)

A "Fiesta" at Obando. The Manila Fire Tree.

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June 6th.

Several days ago, a number of us went up the railway to see a "fiesta" at a little village called Obando. It was a religious observance lasting three days, and pilgrims from many villages thought it their duty to go there on foot. A great dingy old church with buttressed walls yards thick, a large plaza shaded by big trees, and beyond, on all sides, the native houses. Such a crowd I have rarely seen. Everybody seemed to think it his duty to dance; and men, women, old men and children, mothers with babies and papas with kids, shouted, jumped around, danced, joggled each other, and rumpussed about until they were blue in the face, dripping with heat, and covered with dust. Then they would stop and another crowd take up the play. As the circus proceeded the crowds increased; the old church was packed with worshippers who bought candles, and receiving a blessing, spent an hour or so on the stone pavements in positions of contrite humility. Around the walls of the church were placed realistic paintings of the chromo order, representing hell and the river Styx, and as the natives looked at portraits of devils driving nails into the heads of the tormented, of sulphurous flames that licked the cheeks of the wicked in this world, or serpents that twined themselves into square knots around the chest of a dozen unfortunates, and of countless horned demons who plucked out the heartstrings of the condemned, they counted their beads with renewed vigor and mumbled long prayers.

Countless little booths stood like mushrooms round about outside, and cheap jewellery, made in Germany, found ready sale. The dancing and shouting increased as the sun sank in the west, until the ground fairly shook and the dust arose in vast clouds. Around the edge of the church, under the porticoes, slept sections of the multitude who were preparing themselves to take part in the proceedings when others were tired out. It was a motly crowd, a motly scene, and an unforgettable collections of perfumes.

We left after a few hours' stay, and got back to Manila to find water a foot deep in some of the streets, as a result of one of the tropical thunder storms which has now begun in real earnest. And speaking of rain, everything is looking fresh and green, now that the dusty days of the hot season are a thing of the past. All the bamboo-trees have leafed out anew, flowering shrubs have taken life, and all nature seems to have had a bath.

One of the most showy trees in Manila is the arbol de fuego (fire-tree) and this product of nature resembles a large oak tree in general and a full-blown Japanese cherry blossom in particular. Many of the streets in the city are bordered with groups of this fire-trees, of large and stately dimensions, and at present they are simply one mass of huge flaming red blossoms growing thickly together and showing a wonderful fire-like carnation color. Scarcely any leaves make their appearance on these trees during the season of blossom, and although now and then bits of green look out from the mass of red, yet the general effect is a vast blaze of burning color.

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