The Legend of the Town of San Roque
When you were younger, you probably heard the folk song “Doon Po sa Amin” (“In Our Hometown”). It tells the story of four disabled beggars and their attempt to have fun. Below is the traditional lyrics of the folksong.
Doon po sa amin, Bayan ng San Roque
May nagkatuwaan, apat na pulubi
Sumayaw ang pilay, umawit ang pipi
Nanood ang bulag, at nakinig ang bingi
(In our hometown of San Roque
Four beggars had some fun
The cripple danced, the mute sang
The blind watched, and the deaf listened)
Origins of the Town of San Roque
There are numerous places in the Philippines named San Roque, and even more numerous in Mexico, Spain, and the rest of the Spanish-speaking world. But the town being referred to in the folksong is likely a fictional place.
Some sources dismiss the folksong as an example of a nonsense song, but the folksong’s elements suggest the opposite. It was no coincidence that the town was called San Roque, patron saint of plagues and persons with afflictions, or that the four characters were beggars with various disabilities.
The folksong about the town of San Roque could be referring to historical accounts of miraculous healings on account of San Roque or St. Roche. When you watch an online stream of various masses of the Catholic Church today, you will notice a special supplication at the end of the mass, calling on St. Roche to protect us and heal us of COVID-19.
The Legend of the Town of San Roque
National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario recently published a poem titled "Alamat ng Bayan ng San Roque" ("Legend of the Town of San Roque"), in which he imagines a prosperous town called Pueblo de Gran Duque (Town of the Great Datu) that is suddenly beset by a pandemic. It was written by Almario on April 8 and published on Facebook on April 19.
According to Almario’s story, the town of San Roque was prosperous. The town enjoyed abundant harvests of rice and vegetables, and all the livestock were fat and healthy. But it had a huge flaw: The people were selfish.
Whenever they had surplus from their harvests, they used it as fertilizer or fed it to the pigs instead of sharing it with neighboring towns who needed help. When beggars come to them for aid, the townspeople reproached them and sent them away with nothing.
One Saturday, a stranger appeared in their cemetery: He was unkempt and sickly and was accompanied by a dog. He prophesied that he will wait for people to be buried there, but the residents ridiculed him and put him in prison.
When Sunday came, everyone in town had prepared bountiful tables in their homes, unaware of the impending calamity that was going to take place.
When they woke up on Monday morning, they discovered all their livestock had died during the night, and pestilence had taken hold of the town. Their harvests also failed, and the stench from the rotting corpses filled the air. The town was enveloped in darkness for a whole week, as the sun refused to rise or set.
Disease spread among the population, and those with weak lungs perished because of asthma. Others suffered skin disease. It was during this time when they remembered the prophecy of the old fool at the cemetery. We can surmise that some people had gone blind, mute, deaf, and crippled during the calamity.
When they came to fetch the old fool at the prison, they were astounded to find him and the dog missing. Their plight became even worse when a typhoon came and destroyed their homes, crops, and hospitals.
A famine ensued, killing even more people. In their desperation, they decided to pray at the church, where they noticed the statue of St. Roche and his dog, who looked eerily similar to the crazy man and the dog they had imprisoned.
When they realized their fault and asked for forgiveness and healing, a miracle happened. They were healed of afflictions and the pestilence vanished. However, the town remained poor and stripped of its former wealth.
Despite their poverty and their lost industry, the residents were so joyful at their healing that they decided to rename the town San Roque.
Thus did the people celebrate their new life, and decided to have some fun: The cripple danced, the mute sang, the blind watched, and the deaf listened in the town of San Roque.
To read Virgilio Almario’s original story on the "Legend of the Town San Roque," click this link.