In the course of my research about the Turumba Festival in Pakil, I have come across a number of books documenting its history. One book that I came across was written by Alejandro Roces entitled, Fiestas in the Philippines. In his book Mr. Roces came across a book written in the 19th century entitled, Twenty Years in the Philippines Aventures d’un Gentilhomme Breton aux iles Philippines. Its author, Paul Proust Dela Gironiere was a French Naval surgeon lived in the town of Jala-Jala, in the province of Rizal during the 1830’s. In his book, he wrote one of the earliest descriptions of the Turumba Festival.
Here’s an excerpt about the Turumba (translated from French):
“Some religious festivals especially those in the countryside, are influenced by beliefs. For instance, there is a procession celebrated yearly in the town of Pakil where all the sick and invalid take part in by dancing. In this manner, they believe, that they will get cured of their sufferings. Coming from places as far as 20 miles, the lame and sick who still have a little bit of strength plod themselves along to Pakil to participate in the fiesta.
During the entire duration of the procession these unhappy ones dance assisted by helpers and shout ‘Toromba la Virgen, la Virgen toromba’. It is a strange spectacle to see all these poor devils make superhuman efforts and incredible contortions until the Blessed virgin is returned to the church. These unfortunate ones at the end of their strength throw themselves to the ground gasping and rest motionless for hours. those who are seriously ill often die of exhaustion, while others regain their health or get worse.”
Also, according to Mr. Roces’ book, Gironiere had a different version about the origin of the festival. In his version, the festival began with an Armenian whose boat capsized in Laguna de Bay during a storm. He promised that he would hold a procession in honor of the Blessed Virgin if he reaches the shore safely. Upon reaching the shore, he fulfilled his vow and proceeded to dance while shouting, “Turumba!, Turumba!”. However, this version of the story does not account for any of the unique features of the Turumba Festival not even the meaning of the word. And Mr. Roces dismisses this as an implausible explanation of the origin of the festival.
Aventures d’un Gentilhomme Breton aux iles Philippines (Adventures of a Gentleman Breton in the Philippine Islands).
Full transcript of the book can be found here (French)