The Philippines is a poor country. It is also a country with public, large scale acts of religious devotion, and massive street parties (called ‘Fiestas’) that put families into debt. There is an argument that can be made to link one to the others, but whatever the case the people do alot of praying and drinking.

The Quiapo Fiesta attracts over a million people every year. They arrive early in the morning for mass, and wait until the procession (which starts at noon and lasts until early evening). The main goal for the devotees is to touch the statue of the Black Nazarene, or at least to get a piece of cloth rubbed on it. The statue is believed to have magical powers, so in a country of hardship, that’s pretty damned important.

The dark colour of the statue is explained as being the result of surviving a fire aboard the Spanish ship that brought it to Asia in the 17th century. It’s a rather gory idol as well, as the face is bloody and bruised and seems to be struggling to bear the cross.

This year, like last, there were a few deaths and many injuries resulting from the sea of humanity pushing towards and away from the statue (perched utop a slowly moving vehicle). The deaths were officially caused by heart attacks and struck the old, while most injuries that I saw were on feet as the majority of people had exposed feet in flip-flops or sandals.

I wasn’t primarily here to photograph the fiesta. I have family that lives and works in Quiapo so mostly I was with them the whole day.

So this is the part where we walk away from the religious centre and out into the periphery (about two blocks away). Out here is where the people of the area mix. Here they are barbequing on the streets, playing games, having community parades, and here the characters emerge.

I saw this very theatrical drag queen coming down the street and it got me thinking about the question of homosexuality in the Phils. It’s very interesting to me that single men that seem to be gay are very common and are accepted. The Phils, however, is a Catholic country so gay couples are generally not accepted. From what I can tell it is ok to be gay in the Phils, as long as one doesn’t actually BE gay. So every day I run into people that appear to me to be gay, but then turn to tell me that they are married with five kids.

I remember that in the old pre-spanish days many of the village shamen, or ‘babaylan‘ were gay. The modern situation is very odd to me and makes me wonder what the colonial conversion of the island into Catholicism must have meant to the homosexual population.

As we start to move away from the main roads and into the residential streets we start to see the places where people live. Alongside the religious aspect to the fiesta is the other fiesta, the community fiesta. This is where the local people put on parades and feasts.

Historically this was a tool of the colonizer; they started the fiestas and encouraged locals to spend beyond their means in order to keep them indebted. Today this has evolved into a Filipino bad habit, so at fiesta time you see everyone shelling out for fiesta and parade outfits, decorations, food, and drink. The day after the poverty returns.

These are old run down alleyways and streets that once saw much better days. A stagnant canal sits next dilapidated concrete buildings, next to makeshift squatter homes. A crowd has started to gather for a parade of the different barangays (the smallest municipal units) of Quiapo. And a older man man carrying a bag full of foodstuffs is captured by some random guy with a camera as he passes by an empty plot of land which was the site of a recent fire (empty plots of land don’t stay empty for long in this city where most everyone is either a squatter or nearly one). All the while a boy looks on in curiousity.

All afternoon the parade continued. Each community in the Quiapo area (judging by how the parade never ended, there are alot), as well as businesses had a part in the parade. This took place on the side streets away from the Basilica, and I guess you could say is the secular part of the festival. Most of the participants were marching bands in matching outfits. There were a few floats as well. And the businesses basically went around in billboard vans advertising their products and giving a paltry amount of free samples (judging from the general grumbling I heard from the people as they passed).

Along the sides of the street community members were setting up their feasts. Everyone is welcome to come and eat. My family that lives here ran out of food by 5pm–the booze supply lasted for a few hours longer.

As with most parties in the Phils it usually ends with drinking and kareoke. And for anyone that’s spent time here, you know that most kareoke videos are based around soft core porn.

There’s something about a group of men (as is often the case around scenes of kareoke and alcohol) singing love songs to videos of half-naked women while wearing an image of Jesus on their shirts that’s kind of amusing–but it’s equally a depressing reminder of where the country is at the present.

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All images ©2008 alex felipe; please contact the photographer for ALL use inquires, assignment queries, etc. Email him at: alex.felipe@gmail.com

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