For quite a time last week, Cuyo Island was in a proverbial aquarium as the world’s eyes were focused on twin celebrations happening in their beautiful place-the town’s fiesta, dubbed as the Purongitan Festival, and the Jubilee which marked the 400th Year of Christianity in Palawan, planted in the soil and soul of Cuyunos. As was already expected, the locals did not fail; with flying colors they passed. It was a real treat for those who were able to participate and was a miss-half-of-your-life thing for those who were absent—during pagenelsel, makon sanda. 400 years is 400 years, and it only happens once in a lifetime or so.

Cuyo Island has captured everyone’s imagination of what a fiesta must be. It is so culturally alive, albeit spontaneously. Life itself is the very culture of every Cuyuno.

Coordination was the leitmotif during the opening salvo. On arrival, Cuyunos welcomed the Jubilee Cross, which has been on pilgrimage around Palawan for quite some time, with a bang. To the tune of “Solteros,” 400 young people serenaded everyone with graceful dances and friendly glances. What was rather eye-catching too was the presence of both religious and government leaders, elegantly-clad as well, parading as well-wishers also. With 400 dancers and the collaboration of the Church and the State in place, if that is not coordination, then what is? Umpisa pa lamang ngani busog kita ren y ang husto. Estraviva!

Participation, too, is the other name of the game. Figuratively and literally, each and every household has had to offer for just anybody and to everybody’s delight. Lahat ng bahay ay may handa at may saya. The highlights were the triple-treat parade: the street-dance competition, which is cultural in nature; the so-called grand procession in honor of St. Augustine, the town’s patron; and the merry-making “purongitan”, where not one was spared from having his/her face tainted or painted. With the three, it was quite insane, a killjoy maybe, to not be drawn to stomping your feet to a dance or two, or be totally lost to the beat of the music and the vibe of the people. Estraviva!

What was rather remarkable too with Cuyunons was their faith as graven into their hearts down deep manifesting in the very milieu of their culture. Before the scheduled revelry, religiosity is a top priority. While the “main” Mass was at 10 o’clock, the preceding Masses were already overflowing with attendees. Hindi buo ang pista kung hindi nakapagsimba. Nay Consol, endeared name of Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion, and Amang San Agustin must have been proudly beaming from above, seeing Cuyunos celebrate God’s faithfulness to everyone. Estraviva!

Not to be outdone was Magsaysay town, of the same culture and housed on the same island as Cuyo. Lucbuan, Magsaysay’s former popular name, had her own showcase of life and culture. It was impressive how the faithful walked down memory lane with Christianity’s 400 years. It was as if one was trapped in a time machine, with everyone dressed in colonial attire, complete with white innocent veils for ladies, and the old big stones of the parish church and a war-ravaged fortress as a backdrop. Fr. Neil Bacones, the current cura parroco of Lucbuan, could not be more correct when he said, “Kung makapagsasalita lang ang mga bato nitong ating simbahan… sila ang mga saksi ng pagsusumikap ng ating mga gurang-gurang at ng mga pagpapala ng Diyos.” For his part, Mayor Rommel De la Torre, during the “caraenan sa banua”, declared how faith is embedded in the municipality, “Kasama lagi ang Simbahan… Pumunta tayo sa Simbahan… Humingi ng awa sa Diyos.” Estraviva!

It has been said: “You’ve not been to Palawan if you have not been to Puerto Princesa.” Among others, it has a reference to the city’s famous Underground River, one of the Seven Wonders of Nature. Some would claim, however, that “you have never been to Palawan without a visit to El Nido.” To say the least, The Nest has consistently been a top choice for both tourists and pundits alike. For sure, Coron will contest the crown when it comes to natural beauty and captivating memories. But, whatever else is said, Cuyo is unquestionably the soul of Palawan. After all, the island is the acknowledged Cradle of Civilization and the bastion of Christianity for the entire province. Hence, it could be said that you have not just gone deeper into Palawan yet if you have not explored the island of Cuyo. Estraviva!

You could already be curious about “Estraviva”. That is how Cuyunos would express good wishes instead of “Mabuhay!” The story of Estraviva, and other Cuyuno terminologies at that, is also worth another column. Meanwhile, let Cuyo forever be a small island with a big soul.

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