LEMERY HOLDS 'TINAPAHAN' FESTIVAL

'TINAPAHAN' FESTIVALLemery, Batangas, May 14, 2003 -- While activists and laborers trooped to 
Liwasang Bonifacio for their annual rally and demonstration on sweltering 
Labor Day, the people of Lemery, a hundred or so kilometers south, were 
dancing on the streets, celebrating the humble tinapa  the smoked fish that 
has fed a multitude of peasants and laborers.

But tinapa is no longer a poor man's viand, it is now enjoyed by all, 
especially for breakfast with sinangag (fried garlic rice) and a simple 
side dish of diced tomatoes and onions. Tinapa could be any fish galunggong 
(scud fish), bangus (milkfish), tilapia (St. Peter's fish), etc.  as long 
as it is smoked to a deep auburn to golden color with a scent reminiscent 
of wood, bamboo and the sea.

It is high time indeed that a festival is held in this humble delicacy's 
honor. Yet while there have been a number of festivals celebrating a town's 
principal produce like milkfish, pandan, lanzones, flowers, people tended 
to exhibit a questioning look when I mentioned going to Lemery for its 
First Tinapahan Festival. Lemery? Tinapa?

Though tinapa is made in virtually every part of the country, along the 
coasts, Lemery is not known for it.

Lemery is one of the coastal towns of Batangas province. If nothing else, 
the town is variably known for its beaches and resorts, some of the most 
accessible from Manila.

There are many resorts here, which can amazingly be filled up during the 
summer months. And families seem to bring their entire homes: folding 
chairs and beds, coolers packed with food and beverages, kitchenware, a 
blaring karaoke, etc. Clothes and blankets hanging on makeshift 
clotheslines double as dividers to create a sense of privacy. The scene can 
be surreal, like a shantytown on a holiday or a palengke with no 
commodities to sell (Well, a number of stalls selling drinks and food do 
sprout up, taking advantage of the tide of people).

So, this is the Lemery most people, especially those from Manila, know. 
Though the town itself proves to be more restful, it is the mercantile 
center for eight nearby towns including Taal, Agoncillo, San Luis, Cuenca, 
Sta. Teresita, Calaca, Alitagtag and San Nicolas. It is to Lemery that many 
people from these towns go to buy and sell their produce, or send their 
children to school.

Recent big developments in the town include the construction of Fantasy 
World, a 38-hectare amusement park patterned after Disneyland; and Leisure 
Farms, an upscale real estate project that aims to create a community 
dedicated to organic farming and a clean lifestyle.

Lemery itself, which was named after a soldier from West Virginia during 
World War II, is primarily agricultural, with coconuts, vegetables and 
sugarcane as the main produce. Fishing accounts for only 30 percent of the 
livelihood of the town's 68,000 residents. The tinapa industry is a recent 
development, spearheaded by Mayor Raul B. Bendaña, popularly called RBB.

The fishing season here is from November to May. The sea yields a bountiful 
harvest of tulingan, galunggong, tamban or dampilas, milkfish, among 
others. So abundant is it that fishermen are forced to sell a substantial 
portion at give-away prices. Local government thus introduced the idea of 
making tinapa out of the excess catch.

Creating a tinapa industry has proven exciting. Eliciting the help of the 
Department of Agriculture for technology and know-how, people in the 
coastal areas were taught to make tinapa and assisted to jumpstart a 
business. The next step was promotion and creating a wide market for the 
new industry. Thus, the First Lemery Tinapahan Festival.

As there is no tinapa capital in the Philippines yet, Lemery might as well 
claim it. Never mind if its tinapa industry just started a year or so. By 
the promotional power of a touristy festival, Lemery in the long run may be 
known for producing the best tinapa.

Festivals are usually held to celebrate something that has long been 
integral and influential to the life and culture of a place. But Lemery's 
Tinapahan Festival is doing the reverse: using one to incorporate something 
into tits life and culture.

This was evident in the street pageant and the group dancing competition, 
staples of any Philippine festival. On the searing morning of May 1, 
Lemereños got their first taste of their own festival when the street 
pageant marched and danced through their main streets, converging into a 
covered court at the back of the municipal hall.

There were floats from private sectors like Fantasy World, Leisure Farms, 
the fast-food chain Jollibee and the animal feeds accompany, B-Meg. The 
local government contingent walked in bright yellow peasant costumes.

The main part of the parade was the group competition for the court dancing 
tilt, participated in by the town's five schools. In the future, each 
barangay of the town will be urged to send their delegates for the street 
pageant dancing competition.

In the court, competition began. The main requisite of contestants was that 
they must incorporate any two of the things used in making tinapa like fish 
nets, a bilao of fishes, baskets and the round bamboo implement in which 
the fish is smoked.

The Governor Feliciano Leviste Memorial National High School jumpstarted 
the competition, with contestants in black tights and body painting. The 
girls of Sambal Elementary School were in light blue halter tops and skirts 
with gold tassels the shape of fish, while the boys had shirts made of 
fishnet. St. Jherome International School danced in bright yellow tops and 
neon pink and orange skirts. St. Mary's Educational Institute went for a 
more simple peasant look  baro't saya and bakya. The Lemery Pilot 
Elementary School gave a grand production number complete with a float in 
the likeness of a giant clam ensconcing the sea goddess and her consort. 
There was a little cheerleading acrobatic number, where the “goddess” was 
tossed repeatedly into the air on a fishnet held by dancers in glittery, 
sequined attires, the skirts of which were shaped like fish tails. While 
many festivals try to be indigenous, the Tinapahan Festival dancing 
competition used modern techno music and pop jazz steps reminiscent of 
noontime variety shows on television.

The grand preparation of Lemery Pilot garnered for them the top prize, 
while Sambal Elementary and St. Jherome bagged the second and third prizes, 
respectively. Consolation prizes were given to Gov. Feliciano Leviste and 
St. Mary's.
As the dancing competition progressed, stalls were set up at the sides of 
the court. These displayed vegetables, fruits, fishes, tinapa and home 
appliances.

After a hearty lunch, we set out to visit Sambal Ilaya to see how tinapa is 
made. The barangay is a cluster of humble and seemingly makeshift houses, 
mostly of plywood and corrugated iron, huddled close together. In one 
house, the owners were proud to show their finished products in the smoky 
part of their house, which probably had been their “dirty kitchen.” Fresh 
fish were put into a bamboo container, which was placed in a sooty smoking 
aperture that looked like a caldera, and then covered.

“Iba ang timpla namin. Nilalagyan namin ng kusot ng narra (We used narra 
wood shavings to give it a different flavor),” the tinapa maker said. 
Indeed, tinapa-making here seems a welcome livelihood aside from fishing. 
Maybe the fire will catch on and the whole community will spew smokes from 
making tinapa, giving the place a distinctive aroma that will tell visitors 
they are in tinapa country.

But before that, they can at least witness the festival in the town 
proper  a festival that will hopefully help the burgeoning industry grow. 
One suggestion: In the years to come, why not use the expletive “Anak ng 
tinapa!” and transform it into a funny and catchy slogan? (Text and photos 
by Roel Hoang Manipon)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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