BUTUAN CITY (MndaNews/30 July) – As their own way of asking the heavens to protect them from future natural disasters, residents held the Abayan Festival on Sunday in honor of Santa Ana (St. Anne) highlighted by a fluvial parade on the Agusan River.
Seven large pump boats carrying 40 to 80 passengers together with smaller boats and fast rescue crafts cruised the river right after a mass held at the Philippine Ports Authority complex.
Meanwhile hundreds of people lined the riverbanks along several barangays where they set up altars and cheered as the fluvial procession passed by.
Father Joesilo Amalla, curator of Butuan Diocesan Liturgical Museum explained that Santa Ana is the patron saint of the rivers in Agusan.
“In our celebration here we should remember that we serve as the steward, guardians of our waterways, creeks and rivers. We should remember that when we abuse nature, it will fight back. There will be a lot of natural disasters unless we try to take care of what God has assigned to us,” said Amalla.
Amalia further explained that by celebrating Abayan the people are reminded of the task God has given to His people and that is to preserve and take care of nature.
City Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr. stressed the significance of the tradition to the river and how it links with the local government’s efforts.
“This river since time immemorial has been the center of trade, commerce, transportation and industry of Butuan. Agusan River is the center of the circle of life. In this circle the river can become a curse or a source of blessing to the people,” said Amante.
The mayor said illegal logging and mining in the riverside communities can make the river a curse. But with proper management it can be a good source of livelihood like fishing and tourism, he added.
He said celebrating the Abayan is asking God for protection as “our source of strength as a people.”
Greg Hontiveros, local historian and president of the Butuan City Heritage Society traced the tradition back to the Spanish colonial period.
“During the Spanish time the procession in the river was practiced to ask protection against crocodile attacks and floods. Remember that during those times there were no roads so the only transportation was on the river since traveling through the thick forest was long and hard,” said Honteviros.
He reckoned that the fluvial procession started as early as the late 1600s.
“Today you can see an old Spanish bell in the church in barangay San Vicente marked 1796 with the name of Sta. Ana suggesting that earlier than that date the saint has been part of the early Butuan tradition acting as a secondary patron saint to that of Saint Joseph,” the historian said.
Historical records suggest that three bells were built marked with the names of Sta. Ana, Saint Joseph and San Francisco de sales. (Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)