Key holders, nameplates, bracelets, t-shirts, and festival masks are common in souvenir shops during Sinulog; but it is a row of handmade ceramic items that is catching the attention of passersby in a Sinulog bazaar along Osmeña Boulevard.
“Common na man ni ang mga key holders nga butangan og pangan inig ka Sinulog or mga pista-pista, pero lahi man ni sa uban, kay gi-carve man gyud ni nako ang mga letters. Ang common man gud, pintal ang isuwat (Personalized key holders are common during Sinulog or fiestas but mine are different because I carve the letters, not just paint them),” said 29-year-old Randy Villajos.
Villajos has been selling souvenirs for eight years; but it was only four months ago when he started to make bracelets and keychains out of clay to make his items stand out from the rest.
“Sa una, mangumpra ra ko aning mga keychains. Interesado gyud ko makat-on og mga ingon ani nga art, mao nga nisuway ko og himo, nakat-on ra pud ko unya naka-decide ko pwede man ni nako i-negosyo (I used to just buy the keychains but I was so interested to learn the art of making them.
When I finally learned, I decided that I could make this my business),” he said.
As customers begin to flock Sinulog bazaars during the week, Villajos prepared around 1,000 pieces of ceramic-made bracelets and key holders.
In a day, Villajos can make around 100 pieces of key holders and 60 to 80 bracelets.
The key holders bear an image of Sto. Niño; while phrases like “I love Sto. Niño” and “I love Cebu” are etched on the bracelets.
According to Villajos, unlike other souvenir makers who use an ordinary needle and a blackening shampoo to personalize items, he uses a mini-drill to carve out letters on the surface of his ceramic-made items. The process takes nearly half an hour to complete.
“Hagoan gyud, mokabat og 20 to 30 minutes ang pagbuhat sa kada usa ani apan kinahanglan gyud mokita para sa akong mga anak (It’s painstaking, maybe around 20 to 30 minutes to make one item; but I need to earn for my children),” he said.
To shape the keychains into a perfect rectangle, Villajos uses empty matchboxes as molder. Each bracelet or key holder sells at P20.
Santo Niño devotee
Villajos is a single parent to his two kids, aged 3 and 5, who were left to the care of his parents in Aloguinsan, southwest Cebu, after he broke up with his wife.
Away from his children most of the time, Villajos said he never fails to ask the Sto. Niño to watch over them while he is out earning a living.
“Kada ari nako sa Sinulog, gipangayo gyud na nako sa Sto. Niño nga bantayan niya didto akong mga anak samtang wala ko kay para mangitag kwarta. Lisod kaayo layo nila pero wa may mahimo kung di ko molakaw maninda (Everytime I come for Sinulog, I really ask Sto. Niño to watch over my children while I’m away trying to make money. It’s very difficult but there isn’t much I can do but sell),” he said.
Since souvenir items are seasonal, Villajos travels to different parts of the country to sell his items during festivals and big sports events.“Mapul-an man ang mga tawo dayon ani, halinon ra gyud ni sya kung naay pista unya naay ingon ani nga dagkong events. Mao na nga one week or duha ka semana ra ko sa usa ka lugar or event. Balhin na pud sa laing lugar (People easily get tired of these, so I move from place to place wherever there is a fiesta or big event. I give each place one to two weeks before I move to another place),” Villajos said.
A week before the Sinulog festival, Villajos could earn as much as P1,000 to P2,000 a day if he opens his stall from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Despite the presence of many other souvenir shops in the city, he manages to earn enough each day.
“Mas halinon man gud ni kay sa atong gipintalan kay daghan naman namaligya ato. Kusog gyud ko og halin karon kay sa last year kadtong ordinaryo ra nga keychains gama sa kahoy pa akong gibaligya (These items sell faster than those that are painted which are sold by many others. My sales are higher this year compared to last year when I sold ordinary keychains made of wood),” Villajos said.
Aside from tourists and students, Villajos said several people buy in bulk from him.
Villajos considers himself lucky for being the only one, for now, to sell ceramic hand-carved Sinulog souvenirs.
He is also happy for the chance to showcase his creativity and entrepreneurial skills while also promoting the culture and history of Cebu.