Kneeling Carabaos

kneeling carabaos

Every May 14, residents of Pulilan in Bulacan, San Isidro in Nueva Ecija, and Angono in Rizal, commemorate the feast day of San Isidro de Labrador, patron saint of farmers, with the carabaos sharing celebrity status.

But while the three towns have similar cause for marking the day of the farmers’ patron saint, it is Pulilan town that always come on top as a sea of curious spectators gather to witness the carabaos’ special talents.

The select carabaos of Pulilan, on this special day, do not only display their enhanced “beauty” but they also showcase their unusual but remarkably surprising talent—that of genuflecting or kneeling or gyrating or doing the jig while kneeling. Because of this display of talent, the observance of the feast day in Pulilan is also called “The Kneeling Carabao Festival”.

The carabaos are brought by their owners in front of the church on this special day and are made to display their

famous trait. This peculiar show, no doubt, is a reason enough for the influx of local and foreign tourists in Pulilan town.

Known as the farmers’ best friend and indispensable ally in different kinds of farm works, the carabaos are given royal treatment on this day. In preparation for the festival, according to their owners, the carabaos are “retouched” starting early in the morning in order to be ready for the parade that takes off early in the afternoon on the same day.

Part of the preparation includes making the carabaos “kings and queens” wherein their “crowns” (horns) are

rubbed with oil for a shining sheen; their backs are adorned with special clothes serving as their capes; their bodies are scrubbed, cleaned, and painted; their legs are designed with knee caps; and their hooves, too, are either made shiny or painted with apt colors.

As in past celebrations, long before the clock ticked at 2:00 pm last May 14, which was the time set for the start of the event, the main streets of Pulilan town were already crowded with thousands of people, residents, and tourists alike.

They were eagerly awaiting for the passing of hooves, too, are either made shiny or painted with apt colors.

As in past celebrations, long before the clock ticked at 2:00 pm last May 14, which was the time set for the start of the event, the main streets of Pulilan town were already crowded with thousands of people, residents, and tourists alike.

They were eagerly awaiting for the passing of incessant popular request from the throng of onlookers, the carabao owners could not do anything but oblige to the delight of the spectators.

The San Isidro Labrador church, of course, was the ultimate destination of the animals’ show of “religiosity”.

The carabaos knelt at the signal of their master as they passed one by one in front of the church. The kneeling was

for a few minutes with the carabaos not minding people and their reactions. What appears to be more interesting and greatly appreciated by the onlookers was not only the carabaos’ demonstration of their ability to kneel but also to “walk” on their knees like penitents in front of the church. This scenario left onlookers in a blaze of awe and surprise.

May 15, according to the Catholic Church’s account, is the day for the patron saint of farmers—San Isidro de Labrador (laborer) also known as Isidore the Farmer. The account said that Isidore was a

laborer who was always late in tending to his farm chores yet always finishes his job at the end of the day.

One day, his co-laborers complained to their master that Isidore was always late for work in the morning. Prompted with curiosity, the master went to the field and investigated the claim by himself. The master was astounded by what he saw. He found Isidore at prayer while two angels were helping him with his field works thus making his work equal to that of three laborers. Struck with awe, the master knelt and prayed before the

angels. San Isidro de Labrador was also known for his goodness toward the poor and animals. He was then called the patron saint of farmers.

Among the residents of Pulilan town, nobody can really tell how this practice of making the carabaos kneel in

front of the church started. However, the residents have been doing this practice for many, many years already.

Accounts said that the farmers took it upon themselves to make it a vow to participate in the parade, thus, they make big preparations for this occasion. In fact, many other residents from different towns in Bulacan come over to Pulilan town just to participate. This tradition continues to be passed on among generations


Sweets haven in Bulacan

Looking for sweets treat this Christmas season? Then go buy assorted pastillas de leche in San Miguel, Bulacan and savor them alone or with your love ones.

Pastillas de leche is basically a candy made out of milk and sugar. It is rolled into thumb-size pieces, wrapped in white paper and then packed in different colorful papers.

The best thing about the pastillas de leche is that once popped inside the mouth, the partaker finds the grits of sugar and the slow, gentle melting of it in the mouth and offers a heavenly goodness of pure carabao’s milk. It gives not just sweetness but also creaminess and softness of a candy that one would crave for more.

Coming in different varieties, this delicacy in San Miguel town has become an addiction to travelers and most especially to its locals.

A gateway to Nueva Ecija and Cagayan Valley region, San Miguel town is a favorite stopover for travelers who crave for mouth-watering pastillas de lecheout of carabao’s milk.

According to Rafael Payawal, popularly called as “Ka Ape”, who is one of the oldest living residents in San Miguel, the pastillas industry in the town traces its history to the Spanish period.

“San Miguel as an agricultural area has many carabaos. Because of this, people thought of capitalizing it for other uses aside from farming activities. And so they came up with collecting its milk and developing it into pastillas,” Payawal said.

Due to growing demand, pastillas has become at par with farming as the main livelihoods in San Miguel.

Now, the number of commercial pastillas makers is growing in number. Among these are Ocampo Sweets, Sevilla Sweets, Andrea Sweets, Garcia’s and Ricmar’s. Their common secret? It’s the freshness of the carabao’s milk, which is pasteurized immediately upon delivery and uses it for pastillas making.

The Sevilla and Ocampo sweets products include the following:

  • Pastillas de leche. Soft and creamy milk candies made of pure carabao’s milk and sugar. Available in boxes containing 25 jumbo pieces and plastic bags with 24 smaller pieces.
  • Flavored pastillas. Pastillas de leche with langka (jackfruit), cheese and ube (purple yam) flavors. These are packed in plastic bags with 24 pieces each.
  • Assorted pastillas. An assortment of flavors in plastic container, namely; pastillas de leche, pastillas de yema, pastillas de ube, pastillas de langka, and pastillas de keso.
  • Ube pastillas. Thumb-size morsel rolled in sugar and wrapped in clear cellophane with ube as its main ingredient made tastier with carabao’s milk.
  • Pastillas de yema. A sweet, sticky delicacy made of condensed milk, egg yolk, cheese, sugar and lemon. Available in plastic bags containing 24 pieces.
  • Pastillas stick. It is composed of 12 sticks of yummy pastillas bound by festive yellow ribbon.
  • Cheese candy. Consisting of 12 sticks of cheese-flavored tied with yellow ribbon.

Other products include special polvoron, polvoron de pinipig, assorted polvoron, assorted macapuno balls, dried fruits, cashew tart, pili tart, lengua de gato, turon de casuy, pacencia white, uraro, and minarka.

Aside from being used as a favorite dessert on the locals’ and travelers’ tables, the pastillas products are also used as a present (pasalubong) or a gift during special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and Christmas because of its delicate, colorfully wrapped goodies.

“These milk products continue to live because of the strong patronage of the locals in San Miguel,” says Mayor Roderick DG. Tiongson.

In fact, Bulacan celebrated the first Pastillas festival on May 5-7, 2005 which highlighted the importance of pastillas in the lives of its locals. According to Mayor Tiongson, the province of Bulacan will set another pastillas festival in May 2011.

In 2008, San Miguel tried its best to be included in the Guiness Book of World Records for producing the “longest pastillas in the world”. The efforts involved the use of 12,800 liters of carabao’s milk and 1,600 kilos of sugar that produced a 200-meter long, five-inch diameter pastillas. The finished product, when cut into pieces, resulted in 500,000 thumb-size pieces morsels.

The effort, though, was not officially recognized due to some reasons.

Nobody can really claim where pastillas has originated.

But according to Caridad Sevilla, her mother-in-law Olympia Sevilla, more popularly known as “Lola Impiyang”, was said to be the very first resident of San Miguel who started the pastillas business.

Caridad relates that Lola Impiyang was then a vendor of coffee with fresh carabao’s milk. At the end of the day, she still has overflowing liters of milk. With this in hand, she applied what she has learned from her ancestors, and that is cooking the carabo’s milk into pastillas. At first, she would just give it to her neighbors but eventually turned it into a family business when more and more locals became patrons of her pastillas.

Today, more than 200 households in San Miguel town are engaged in pastillas making. They sell their products in the town and other places.

The production of pastillas de leche in San Miguel, as a business enterprise, is expected to grow, not wane, as the years go on.