Part circus, part amusement park and part carnival, the perya is set up during a town fiesta in the Philippines or during special occasions such as Christmas and school fairs. I’ve been to theme parks such as Disneyland and enjoyed magical Mickey Mouse moments that I will treasure forever, but there is something about the Filipino perya that I keep coming back to.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been amazed at the gypsy-like culture that local carnies emit. I would take pleasure in purchasing cheap candy, food served on sticks, and sodas poured into plastic bags. I’d enjoy the rush of riding rusty trains and rollercoasters that will most likely fail the government’s safety regulations. I’d pretend to scream in fear when riding horror trains and come face to face with guys wearing dingy monster costumes.
As a kid I remember watching freak shows and would feel sorry for the dancing legless and disfigured man who was dubbed as Penguin Boy. I would laugh at the badly formed paper mache costume of Babaeng Gagamba (spider girl). My friends and I would boo at the terrible show illusion of the manananggal (a mythical folklore creature that is half woman, half winged monster).
The Perya is part of the Filipino subculture that most people now take for granted. Most journalists are no longer fascinated by the underlying stories of whimsical clowns, exploited disabled performers and underage carnival workers. The “sad circus” plot has become stale.
I visited the Subic Fiesta Carnival in Olonggapo this weekend. It was like a nostalgic trip to my childhood back in the ’90s. I went on a rollercoaster ride where the unstable hairpin turns and loosely fastened seatbelts made me fear for my life. With our eyes set on the grand prize, my sister and I tried our luck at the balloon dart booth and won the consolation prize instead—a small piece of candy.
I even looked for a freak show to see if they still exploit people with disabilities or abnormalities, but they didn’t have any. There was a long line at the main entrance and I laughed when I saw that the kids still prefer the rollercoaster to the lame duck ride.
Although business seemed to be doing well, I was a bit disappointed that Peryas are no longer as grand as it used it be. What ever happened to the good old attractions such as the water dunk tank, human maze and house of mirrors?
A good friend once told me that the perya is a dying part of our culture. I think it’s simply regressing. I don’t know which one is worse.