Wet weekend as communities celebrate San Juan water festival

IT WOULD be wise to steer off roads this weekend in barangays that have Saint John the Baptist as patron saint, as people will surely be in festive mood to get everyone wet in celebration of this water-dousing festival.

The old road from Guagua town leading to the Betis district will be noticeably sparse with the usual traffic this weekend. This is an unusual occurrence, since the road is the most traversed route from Guagua leading to Bacolor town and the capital city.

But this weekend, during the feast of St. John the Baptist, motorists and drivers would avoid the road while commuters will wake up early to avoid being caught up in the middle of water cannons and rabid local spewing water (sometimes drainage water) on unsuspecting passengers.

The people of Barangay San Juan in Betis, Guagua use a section of the road for a tradition that traces its roots since ancient times.

Similarly, other towns and villages in the country named after St. John the Baptist would actually observe the same peculiar custom.

Around 9 a.m., before the high mass in the local chapel, people would gather along the once busy street and transform it into a stage for what would turn out to be a myriad of water-throwing and splashing.

This might be the welcoming highlight for an adventure-hungry-visitor attending the "Kuraldal" in Barrio San Juan in celebration of the feast of St. John the Baptist every year.

According to local artist Ruston Banal, two fire trucks have been commissioned for the event to shower people on the streets while dancing to the rhythm of the Ati-Atihan and marching bands.

The highlight of the event is a venerated bronze cross, which will be passed on to revelers. Banal said anyone "wanting to have a bountiful life all year round" would hold the cross high up in the air while being splashed with water.

This would continue until the cross is returned to the chapel or until everyone is satisfied, in which case the ritual may drag until noon.

Banal said their version of the Kuraldal is a ritual that is also observed annually in nearby Barrio of Sta. Ursula every month of July.

In the case of Sta. Ursula, Kuraldal is a ritual dance for a good harvest. In the past, this place was a fishing and rice-planting village. They believed that a ritual dance while walking from the heart of the barrio toward the Betis church would assure a bountiful harvest.

Ruston said in the '70s, Kuraldal was accompanied by what the old people call as Libad (fluvial procession) in Barrio San Juan Bautista. During the time when the Betis River was still wide and deep, boats were tied up together to form several pagoda-like structures on a wide platform, enough to hold a large number of people.

However, silt on the river has stopped the Libad and only ritual dancing and water splashing on the street remained.

The fiesta celebration in Guagua still has the usual home feasts prepared for visitors but with the strange twist of having to take a bath, literally, before reaching the house a person is supposed to visit.

The event attracts devotees, young and old, into a practice of folk devotion as interpreted by locals.


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