The audience in a tent held their breath.
A man in Leotard mounted a narrow bar by climbing a tall rope ladder and took off from the board on the fly bar. He waited for a call from a female catcher, equally clad in Leotard, to make sure she leaves at the correct time. Otherwise, she would not be close enough to the flyer to make a successful catch.
Then, the flyer performed aerial tricks and was caught by the catcher in high air, swinging from a separate bar. Once in the catcher’s hand, the flyer continues to swing and is trust back to the fly bar. Once back in the fly bar, the flyer returned to the bar and another flyer took a turn. The show goes on until the flyers and the catchers took their bow to a thunderous applause.
Then came a turbaned man in loose shining-black trousers. He held a tap hat and showed to the audience it was empty. In a wink of an eye, he produced a rabbit. The act received loud applause. He took a red handkerchief from his pocket and placed it inside the hat. When he took it out again, the color has been changed to green. Another wild applause.
In one of his most bizarre acts, a five-foot wooden elongated box which looked like a cabinet was presented to him. He opened the cabinet. It was empty. He called a lady in skimpy bikinis and asked her to enter the cabinet. He closed the cabinet and locked it.
When six Samurais were presented to him, there was a mix of excitement and fear among the audience. When he trusted the first Samurai, a lady shouted, ‘’ay afu (oh my God)!.’ Finally, all six Samurais were trusted into the cabinet. There was a long silence and every move of the man was closely watched. He waved his hands towards the cabinet. An assistant came and opened the box. The lady in bikini stepped out unharmed. A sigh of relief registered among the audience. A wild applause the man received.
The man was introduced as Professor Sajid or something, master Magician from India.
Welcome to the Tuguegarao Circus where Flying Trapeze and good magic were the order of the day during fiestas in the late 1960s to mid-1970s.
A trapeze (French, pronounced tra-pez) is a horizontal bar hanging by two ropes and free to swing. It was invented by Frenchman Jules Leotard from where the flier’s costume was named. The area surrounding the old Tuguegarao town hall had been designated as the Carnival grounds during fiestas characterized by sticky soil over loose gravel due to the August rains.
The Ferris Wheel has always been a permanent fixture and was highly patronized by the residents for only Ph15 centavos. The circus in Tuguegarao has always been complete. There was the Running Lights where the people can bet on where the light stopped. While soliciting bets, the man in-charge of the running lights usually performed top tunes of the era to attract bettors. Prizes like junk foods are won. For the bettor, it was not about the price, it was about thrills and frills.
The Circus was laced with abnormalities and the weird. So you see ‘Bagubu,’ a man who was marketed as a wild man complete with long, unkept hair, skimpy tattered shorts and seemed to be hydrophobic. He was the Chicken Man. As early as the elevated platform was full to capacity, you see the caged Bagubu, hands and feet chained, eat a live chicken. How’s that for appetite?
Inside the tent for the flying trapeze and magic, some performers, singers and jugglers are Lilliputians who were weirdly dressed possibly to get attention. Majority were in black accentuated with silver linings for the desired effect. .The costumes left nothing to one’s imagination However, the people were more interested in the trapeze because of its breath-taking act. The house was full every night with two shows for 15 days.
Then, there’s Dyesebel, obviously inspired from the comics character of novelist Mars Ravelo. “Dyesebel” was the child ‘mermaid’ with long black hair which reached the water level of the giant basin where she sat with her ‘fish tail.’ The individual circus crowd paid her Ph20 centavos visit. And yes, under accompaniment from a dilapidated guitar, she sings her out. Some kids testified that Dyesebel was actually the little girl taking her milk early morning in full legs.
Like all circus go, the mood was festive and various instant food stalls were there; dirty ice cream, white and red cotton candies, mani and balatung siopao, tropical fruits like caramay, vunnay, santol, manga soaked in vinegar and salt, among others.
Gambling was part of the Circus including ping-pong. For the kids, there’s the ‘kulung-kulung’ where a dice was covered by an earless cup and you bet on the numbers. There were young boys called ‘asu-asu’ planted by the operator. From afar, you think the boys are bettors but it was only a ploy to entice other children to bet, too.
It was an exciting era, the Roaring Sixties ushering a turbulent Seventies, an era residents now recall with sweet nostalgia. It was a time when life in Tuguegarao was young and easy; in fact, lazy. There were no loud concerts, no boastful pyrotechnic display, no marathons or motocross, no over-charging tricycles, no victims of pick-pockets, no street dance and battle of the bands competitions.
The baratillo which in recent years suspended a Mayor was already there. The difference was that, most of them came from Metro Manila and elsewhere and not those local businessmen who needed a killing. The residents called them presyo-agawid.
Today, as residents pass the old Pantranco terminal in Balzain with only the Ferris Wheel, remnant of a bygone era, silently standing on its toes, a question is on their minds.
Where was the magic of the Tuguegarao Circus of yore? Can the city government bring it back to where it once belong?
Mayor Bienvenido De Guzman will have the answer next year. Benjie De Yro/TNF