Obando Fertility Rites

The Obando Fertility Rites and Dance monument in front of the town hall of Obando, Bulacan.

The Obando Fertility Rites[1] are a dance ritual and Catholic festival celebrated every May in Obando, Bulacan, Philippines. Locals and pilgrims, sometimes dressed in traditional costume, dance and sing in the town's streets to honour and beseech Obando's three patron saints: San Pascual (Paschal Baylon), Santa Clara (Clare of Assisi) and Nuestra Señora de Salambáo (Our Lady of Salambao).


The Rites and dancing are held over a triduum: 17 May for St. Paschal Baylon, 18 May for St. Clare, and 19 May for Our Lady of Salambáo. Each of the three days usually starts with a Mass said by the parish priest in the morning. A procession is held immediately after the service, consisting of the three saints' images followed by bands playing instruments made of bamboo or brass, and devotees who dance the fandango while singing the traditional hymn, Santa Clara Pinung-Pino (Saint Clare, Most Refined). The image of each saint leads the procession on his or her designated feast day.

The Rites, especially the fertility dance, are popular with pilgrims from other parts of the Philippines, most of whom supplicate the triad of saints for a child, spouse, or simply good fortune. The devotees joyously dance on the streets as a form of prayer, asking for the spirit of life to enter into the wombs of women.

The Philippine national hero, José Rizal, mentioned the Rites in Chapter 6 ("Captain Tiago") of his 1887 Spanish novel, Noli Me Tángere.

The patron saints

Images of the three saints above the altar of Obando Church: Our Lady of Salambáo is in the centre, flanked by St Paschal to her right and St Clare to her left.

Saint Clare

St. Clare of Assisi is the oldest saint declared patroness of Catanghalan (the town's former name), her image first enshrined the chapel built by missionaries of the Order of Friars Minor in the town. St. Clare was a 13th-century Italian nun, who founded the Poor Clares according to the rule and teachings of her contemporary, St. Francis.

St. Clare became the patroness of good weather because her Spanish name, Clara, also referred to the brightening of the skies after storms. This formed the basis for the Filipino custom of offering chicken eggs to St. Clare to ensure good weather, as the Spanish word for egg white or albumen, claro, is a pun on her name. Devotees participating in the Rites would sometimes hold eggs as they sway to the fandango.

The introduction of St. Clare by Spanish Franciscans as a replacement for pre-colonial Filipino gods transformed the old, animist Kasilonawan dancing ritual into the offering of the fandango to the saint as a means of preventing or curing sterility in women. Eventually, St. Clare evolved into the patroness of individuals seeking a mate and to have children, particularly daughters.

Santa Clarang Pinong-pino

Saint Paschal

During the 18th century, the Franciscan missionaries built the town church and introduced the veneration of Saint Paschal Baylon. His surname, Baylon, was taken to mean "one who likes dancing", ultimately derived from the Spanish bailar, the verb form of "dance". Like St. Clare, he also became the patron saint of fertility, wealth and abundance.

An anecdote tells of how a childless husband and wife from the neighbouring town of Hagonoy came across a crab vendor, who recommended that the couple visit Obando and participate in the Rites to ameliorate their condition. Upon arriving at the Obando Church, the husband and wife were stunned upon seeing the face of St. Paschal's image, as it looked exactly like that of the crab vendor they had just met. This forms the basis for St. Paschal's patronage of childless couples who wish to have children, particularly sons.

Our Lady of Salambáo

On 19 June 1763, the image of Our Lady of Salambáo (formal title: "Our Lady of Immaculate Conception of Salambáo"), was the last saint whose cultus was introduced to Obando. Legend tells of three fishermen named Juan, Julián, and Diego dela Cruz caught the Virgin Mary's image in their salambáw, a fishing net supported with bamboo crosspieces and mounted on a raft.

They were fishing at a place known as Hulingduong, Binwangan (now part of Malabon), and when they decided to bring the image to the neighbouring town of Navotas, their boat suddenly grew heavy and immobile. When they eventually decided to bring the image to Obando, their boat quickly lightened and became easy to paddle. This was taken a sign that the Virgin wanted to be enshrined in the Obando Church, where she is still venerated as the local patroness of fishing and of good harvests.

Ban and post-War revival

During the Second World War, the church and a large portion of Obando were ravaged by fire; included amongst the damaged property were the images of the three patron saints. A few years after the war's end, both the Archbishop of Manila and the vicar of Obando Church forbade the practise of the fertility dance due to its pagan origins. During the prohibition, normal religious processions were conducted without the lively street dancing.

In 1972, parish priest Rev. Fr. Rome R. Fernández and the Komisyon ng Kalinangan (Commission on Culture) of Obando helped in having the ban lifted and in reviving the ancient dance ritual, which is still practised to this day.

The Rites were featured in the pilot episode of the Filipino teleserye Ina Kapatid Anak (whose plot was driven by issues of fertility).

See also



  1. "Sayaw Obando." (Fertility Dance), Obando, Bayang Pinagpala! (Obando, Blessed Town!), Pamahalaang Bayan ng Obando (Local Government of Obando), 2006/2007


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