|Candy wrapper art: Pabalat ng Pastillas de Leche|
Not long ago, I read with great interest an article about Tukluhan, an obscure festival unique to the village of Santa Cruz in Marinduque Province, which takes place every May 15th on the feast day of San Isidro de Labrador (the Laborer), patron saint of farmers. The central event is a religious procession for which residents decorate fences, trees and other structures along the route with garlands of fruits, vegetables and various foodstuff. Parade-goers then eagerly collect¹ the hanging comestibles as they trail behind the passing procession, in what sounds like a rural Filipino hybrid of Mardi Gras, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and a self-service Halloween.
As I read, I hoped the article would satisfy my need for details: When did this tradition start? Was it some cool pre-colonial pagan harvest ritual adapted to Catholic themes? Most importantly, why was it done in the first place? Unfortunately, I came across a paragraph that pained my history-loving heart:
"Librada Ricamata, 75, who gathers and sells edible seashells for a living, said villagers can't remember when and how Tukluhan originated. 'By the time we were born, Tukluhan was already celebrated here,' said Ricamata. She said the festival has been held since the time of her parents. 'The tradition was passed from their generation to ours, and knowing its origin is not our concern anymore,' she said."
from "Marinduque Villagers Reach Out for Tukluhan" (PDI 5/26/11)A Question of History
I couldn't disagree more with Ms. Ricamata's final statement - our histories should always be our concern. Why is knowing the origins of Tukluhan or any other tradition so vital? The answer is in the question. All other queries record factual details: Asking what defines the tradition and how tells us the manner in which it is done; who reveals the participants while when and where establish time and space. But why is a glimpse into elusive meaning - the answer shines a light, albeit dim or filtered, into the needs and motivation behind our customs, which in turn helps us to understand their importance to our personal and group identities. The answer to why allows us to look at ourselves from the perspective of the past.
|Young folk musicians in Gasan, Marinduque, Easter '11|
Celebrations and Crafts
In a kind of cultural Darwinism, unique traditions fall by the wayside all the time, unnoticed because they are so little known, much less practiced, beyond the communities in which they first developed. Happily, some find a measure of outside fame to ensure their continuation, like the Moriones Festival, which originated in a tiny Marinduque parish and is now world-famous. That such a local cultural event can remain vibrant may be due, I believe, to an important distinction that the Tukluhan lacks: an active interest in its history that remains central to its tradition.
The Moriones Festival is celebrated during Easter Holy Week in municipalities throughout the province and has inspired similar festivities all over the Philippines, but the townspeople of Mogpog proudly preserve the story of how their own Father Dionisio Santiago staged the first re-enactment over 200 years ago. Furthermore, even as their tradition becomes a tourist attraction, the residents who participate in it do so in faithful practice to the event's original intent as a time for penance and prayer.
|Moriones parading through Mogpog, Marinduque/Easter '11|
Paper-Cutting: Folk Art and Candy Wrappers
That is the possible future facing the Filipino folk art form called pabalat². This lovely example of decorative paper-cutting is unique not only for being practiced primarily in one area, but also for its singular purpose - to make colorful wrappers for pastillas de leche. In a previous post, I discussed how the history of this Filipino milk candy is rather fuzzy for lack of recorded details; unfortunately, it extends to the special way this confection is presented. What little is known (or remembered) about how pabalat began is closely related to the origins of pastillas de leche in the town of San Miguel de Mayumo in Bulacan Province. But the reason behind why this particular candy, among all the many other treats and sweets, deserved such special wrappers has been lost.
Decorative paper-cutting is popular in the Philippines and its most recognized form is the famed parols, or Christmas lanterns, that sport fluttering 'comet tails' of delicately cut paper, of which pabalat is reminiscent. Filipino papercraft was likely adapted from Jian Zhi, the 1500-year old Chinese art of paper-cutting. Interestingly, jian zhi may have arrived in the Philippines via two routes - one direct, the other quite circuitous. Chinese traders and settlers probably brought paper-cutting directly to the islands, but a distinct influence may also have come from Mexico by way of the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade.
In pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, Aztecs made a form of paper called amatl (Sp. amate) from mashed tree bark, on which images of deities were cut out with stone knives. Spain's own history of papercraft³ began in the 12th century when the material and art were introduced by Muslim rulers and Arab traders who brought the practices back to the Middle East and Europe from Asia. After the Spanish conquest, the Aztec craft, influenced by its European colonizers, evolved into Mexico's distinctive papel picado ('perforated paper'), used to create festive banners for special occasions. The influence of Mexican papel picado on Filipino papercutting is strongest in the colorful flag garlands called banderitas (from Sp. bandera, 'flag'), which add festive decoration to local pistahans (festivals).
|Papercut candy wrapper|
Neither parols nor banderitas, however, are as closely related to a specific place and purpose as pabalat. Presumed to be as old as pastillas de leche, these pretty candy wrappers are made from papel de japón and were traditionally used as decorative table centerpieces in Bulacan's fine homes⁴. Sadly, this unique Bulakeño craft - once taught in local schools and practiced in many families - is slowly disappearing. Most practitioners are now elderly, their ranks dwindling, and pabalat is now often made only by special order in association with local pastillas-makers and retailers.
Fascinated by the delicate beauty of pabalat and feeling a particular affinity because of my personal ties to Bulacan, ancestral home of my father's family, I was inspired to try my hand at it. I had never previously seen an actual pabalat, other than photographs on the web, but with some online guidance, I gave it a go. I hope that, in some small way, I can help preserve a small part of our history.
1. Tukluhan ostensibly means "to reach". However, I could not confirm to which Filipino dialect this word belongs, and my mother - born in Marinduque and a native Tagalog-speaker - is unfamiliar with it.
2. Pabalat comes from the Tagalog word balat, meaning a covering (e.g. skin, bark, peel, husk, etc.)
3. Although Spain does not have a specific, named tradition of paper-cutting (at least, none that I could find online), the introduction of paper and papercraft to the region by Muslim traders was apparently the originating point for vibrant paper-cutting arts in other European cultures. The oldest may be the Jewish form, which is traditionally used to decorate mizrachs (a wall plaque indicating direction of prayer) and ketubahs (marriage contracts). Other papercut art forms include Scherenschnitte ('scissor cuts') in Germany and the Polish wycinanki.
4. Mapanoo, Sherwin. "The Pastillas Papercut Tradition" n.p.
Pabalat ng Pastillas de Leche
No recipe today! Instead, check out my earlier post about Pastillas de Leche for a recipe, then try crafting some pabalat for the candies you make or, as a quick alternative, use store-bought pastillas and other small candies such as Tootsie Rolls.
Materials and Tools
Papel de japón (tissue paper) in different colors
Fine-tipped scissors (curved cuticle scissors work beautifully!)
To make 2 wrappers:
With a pencil, draw your pattern! A workable design is part trial, part error and all personal creativity.Start by drawing simple shapes such as flowers or stars all over the area. Then, 'connect' the shapes together by drawing 'bands' between them. For best results, keep the cut-out sections small but numerous to get a more lacy look. I also suggest keeping the edges intact to give the pabalat more structure and support.
When done, open the sheet and cut in half lengthwise to make 2 panels. Take one half-sheet and cut in half again, beginning at the top of the cut-out section and stopping just at the untouched 4" x 2.5" portion.
If using homemade pastillas, wrap each piece in wax paper or plastic wrap to keep any moisture from saturating the paper. Place the candy lengthwise on the uncut portion of the pabalat and roll up, then gently twist both ends to close.
Place the pabalat-wrapped pastillas in a bowl or glass jar to show off your handiwork!
|A bit of self-indulgence...|