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The Village Bells and Its Chimes

Make no mistake, if there is a fire you are bound to know when the fire truck with its siren flies by. And in other cities you know the different calls of the ambulance, fire truck or ice cream vendor. And so it was twenty five years ago in San Pedro when there was none of the above, nor radio, television nor even electricity.

The very effective way to communicate to the entire village was by means of the village church bell, which was standing right at central park in front of Jaguar’s Night Club. There was a large iron bell, perhaps some 24 inches in diameter, and a smaller one about 14 inches in diameter. The tower was a wooden structure with a little roof just for style or perhaps to help the bell resonate to every corner of the village which extended from the cemetery to the R.C. School, a total of five blocks.

And here is how the church bell was used to communicate with the village of San Pedro in the 1940’s through 1970’s.

To tell the people that there will be a mass- tang…tang…with a three second pause. tang…tang… another pause. This was repeated at least for two minutes.

The chime to announce a novena in the night: a single tang… a three second pause. Tang…a three second pause. Tang… and this continued for 25 tangs.

The ringing of the bell at eight o’clock every week day to remind children to go to school: a continuous slow and deliberate tang… tang…tang…tang…tang…tang…

Now listen to this chime and guess its call. Tang………a ten second pause…tang……….. prolonged pause…………….tang… and this would seem to go on eternally and very solemn and very spiritual. Yes this chime or rhythm was used to announce the death of someone in the village anytime from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. If the person passed away in the night, the bell was rung at six in the morning. If the bell was rung like that at midday, it was the first anniversary of someone’s death.

I am sure you can guess what was happening with this very urgent chime of the bell. Tang, tang, tang, tang, tang, tang, tang, tang, tang, tang, tang, tang, tang and on and on until… This was the signal that there was a fire in the village. And the bell would continue ringing until the people were out on the streets with their buckets responding to the bucket fire brigade.

Interesting, right? And there used to be a particular rhythm to announce a fajina (workaton) when the villagers were to come out to the beach with their rakes and machetes for a beach cleanup. Occasionally some little crazy drunkard would be tempted to ring the bell frantically in the middle of the night and give a fire alarm. Don’t ask what would happen to him if caught by the police. Or how he would be embarrassed and reprimanded by the villagers if they found out who this idiot was. The single policeman stationed in the village used to ring the bell at eight p.m. to signal the beginning of the mandatory curfew for children, and yes, some crazy child would ring this bell like half an hour earlier just as a prank, and then flee into the darkness. I don’t think any child was ever caught, but if reported, his dad would sure give him a whipping he would remember all his life. The last repairs to the wooden tower was done by Norman Eiley and friends, and then it was moved permanently to the concrete tower at the Catholic Church where it announces mass, baptisms, novenas, processions, and weddings of course. How is the church bell peal of a wedding? A pretty fast tang, tang, tang but not as fast as a fire. Oh, the fun and excitement of the bell in the small and sleepy fishing village of San Pedro 25 years ago!

– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist

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