PAMPANGA, NOVEMBER 18, 2011 (STARweek) By Raul Esquillo Asis - [COVER Photo by Edd Gumban and Kiko Cabuena] Visiting the city of San Fernando, Pampanga on a beautiful sunny day brings back memories of vacation trips to check out Lenten season activities, the week-long celebration of the feast day of St. Ferdinand, the heritage houses around the poblacion, enjoying popular Kapampangan dishes, or going on a shopping spree.

But San Fernando is also famous for the Parul Sampenandu or San Fernando Christmas lantern, a celebrated product both here and abroad. Ornately designed and meticulously constructed, the lanterns come in various colors and sizes with materials such as capiz, handmade paper, vinyl plastic and fiberglass. Inasmuch as they are a wonder and a delight to behold, it was an even greater wonder to finally discover how they are made.

The craftsmanship and technical expertise that go into the fabrication and circuitry of these lanterns show the extreme skills of the Fernandinos. We were fortunate to meet 64-year-old Ernesto David Quiwa, whose family is engaged in the lantern-making business.

An outstanding Fernandino awardee in 2009 in the field of arts and culture, Mang Erning started the venture in 1966, and has been at it ever since, although now his children continue the legacy. His clients are varied, and his lanterns have lit up humble homes as well as public plazas. He recalls having brought four giant lanterns to add glitter to the glamor of the Manila International Film Festival years back.

[The facade of the Cultural Center of the Philippines is adorned with shining San Fernando Christmas lanterns. Photos by Kiko Cabuena]

His lanterns have won accolades and prizes, and have been displayed in international events in Austria (Vienna), Spain (Seville), China, and the United States, among other countries.

Mang Erning very kindly agreed to take us through the complicated process of making a Parul Sampenandu – which turned out to be even more difficult than we imagined.

“The first stage,” according to Mang Erning, “begins with the lantern maker’s design, where one visualizes how the play of lights goes and the timetable of production, what materials to use, and the number of people to work on the lantern.”

He continues, “Once the designer finishes the master plan, scaling and tracing follows using chalk or pencil to mark the design on the floor.” The framers then translate the design patterns on the ground into steel frames piece by piece.

After the frames are done, the pieces are carefully and precisely welded together. This is done twice, to make the two sides of one lantern. The two frames are then welded together, taking into account the needed space in between to fit the bulbs and electrical wiring.

A framer secures the intricate wiring of the parol. A process called “kulong” takes place, which means putting pieces of cardboard in between the steel frames, serving as the “walls” of each lantern compartment. These allow the lights to be in one specific place when the lantern is lit up, in order to achieve the pattern and design of the lantern. Completing all the divisions in one lantern takes two weeks.

Lanterns then undergo a process called “palara,” which further powers the light made by the bulbs. Strips of paper likewise called palara – the kind of paper used in packaging cigarettes – line the walls of each division inside the lantern. The paper enables light to “bounce” inside each lantern compartment, thus increasing the luminance of each bulb.

Preparing the bulbs comes next, and this is considered one of the most difficult tasks for lantern makers, especially since a giant lantern can contain a minimum of 3,000 bulbs.

It was a surprise to learn that bulbs are re-used or recycled from previous lanterns, especially the big ones used for the lantern festival. This not only saves on cost, but is more environment-friendly. Each and every bulb is first cleaned, taking out the old color, and testing if it still works. Electrical wiring of the bulbs is carefully carried out, then each bulb is colored according to what is needed for a particular lantern. The preparation of the bulbs alone can take up to seven weeks to accomplish.

Soon the bulbs are installed. Each lantern maker has to place each bulb in each compartment, carefully and strictly following the design pattern. Mistakes are very costly and thus rarely happen, as a single error can end up in disaster.

An average of four bulbs are placed in each lantern compartment, following the design plan and lighting sequence as specified by the designer.

[STARLIGHT, STAR BRIGHT: Lantern makers work amidst piles of different parol designs. Finally, connecting the electricity is a task which is not only painstaking and tedious, but also the most risky, for it requires lining up the electrical lines that would be delivered from the rotors and generators. Each light bulb is connected to a specific line for one specific color and movement. This process takes nearly two weeks.

Then the papering and covering of the lanterns is done. The lantern makers cover the face of the lantern with transparent sheets of paper as well as paper cutouts for added design and effect when the lantern is lit. Once this is completed, clear plastic sheets are overlaid to protect the lanterns from rain, strong winds and harsh environment.

A rotor is then connected, which serves as the mind of the giant lantern. This innovation, which undergoes a series of steps, dictates the play of lights and how it would move across the lantern.

The whole process of making a Parul Sampenandu takes months and involves the hands of many skilled workers. It is an art form that is passed on from generations of lantern-makers, each adding perhaps his own touch, a new innovation, to make a bright and starry Christmas tradition even more spectacular.

The famous Pampanga lanterns have been exhibited at various international events which include the Kunitchiwa Asian Fair, in Yokohama, Japan (1989); Seville World Exposition (1992); in the Philippine float at the Hollywood Christmas Parade (1993); Taiwan International Lantern Festival in Taipei, Taiwan (2003); Philippine Consulate in Hawaii for the Centennial of Filipino Migration in Hawaii (2006); the Viennese Palmenhaus to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Philippine-Austrian Diplomatic Relations in 2006, and at The Philippine Christmas tree at the Vienna City Hall Grounds in Austria (2007).

[The City of San Fernando Choir performs at the CCP ceremonial launch.] This Yuletide season, the public will be treated to a display of 50 Christmas lanterns from San Fernando, commencing with a ceremonial lighting recently at the CCP ramp to signal the start of the holiday season. With over-all design by Eric Cruz, the all-white lanterns, each measuring 8 feet in diameter, adorn the façade of the Cultural Center of the Philippines main building along Roxas Boulevard.

Billed as “Sulu: The Lanterns of San Fernando, Pampanga” (Sulu is pronounced with an accent on the second “u”, a Pampango term for light, which is also referred to as “liglig”) the project is a partnership between CCP and the City of San Fernando, Pampanga.

The City of San Fernando provided craftsmanship and technical expertise in the fabrication and circuitry of the lanterns, as well as supervised manpower in fabricating the 8-ft lanterns, and provided people to oversee the handling, transport, installation, individual testing, and strike down of lanterns.

In light of their accomplishments in the craft, the CCP has acknowledged the City of San Fernando, Pampanga as the lantern-making capital of the country, and has teamed up with the city in featuring the local artisan/craftsmanship of the Pampanga lantern makers.

The ceremonial launch of “Sulu” was graced by the San Fernando Mayor Oscar Rodriguez, CCP president Dr. Raul Sunico and some media representatives, and was highlighted by performances from Pampanga’s Magsilbi Tamu Band 919 and the City of San Fernando Choir.

A worker covers her lantern with colored plastic sheets.

“The Christmas lanterns of Pampanga clearly outline the expert craftsmanship and creativity of the San Fernando makers, and demonstrates the multi-talents of Pampangueños in the realm of arts and culture,” said Sunico during the launch. “The lanterns are eye-catching, elegant in their geometric lines, and inspiring in their Christmas message of peace, love and goodwill.”

“Sulu: The Lanterns of San Fernando, Pampanga” will be on display for three Christmas seasons, starting in November 2011 and ending in January 2014.





giant Lanterns from San Fernando, Pampanga, PHL


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