Crucifying tradition

Trip Start Apr 01, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Philippines  ,
Saturday, April 7, 2007

Even after witnessing countless festivals and religious rituals, I am still unable to identify the reasons why some are better than others, why some feel sacred while others are simply entertaining and touristy.  It isn't the culture nor the type of festival, and it isn't the festival itself that 'makes' a festival what it is. Maybe it is the way a tradition is practiced by the present generation, the people's personal relationship with their God, the way they understand the meaning of the festival they are observing that makes the difference.

I was thinking this as I made my way through the crowd and observed how people were celebrating Good Friday in Palo, Leyte. Every year, a reenactment of the crucifixion, as described in the Bible, is performed on the streets of this town. The performance lasts a week, starting on Palm Sunday and ending on the resurrection on Easter Sunday.  The festival is called Pamalandong (Meditation on the Crucifixion), fashioned after the Semana Santa in Sevilla. And like the festival that Biernes Santo was modeled after, there is solemnity among the religious old folks, and perya (carnival) fun among the younger people. A perya-like area is rented out to vendors who put up temporary tents where they sell drinks and souvernirs unrelated to Holy Week, right beside the cathedral grounds. While the cathedral's speakers blare out religious music and prayers, the perya speakers blare out dance music. Any tourist can gather that there is no agreement between the church and the local government as to how Holy Week should be celebrated.

On the evening of Maundy Thursday, a mass is held with a performance merged into the ritual called Pamusa (Washing of the Feet) where the priest washes the feet of the apostle actors. The Last Supper follows after. The next day on Good Friday, Jesus is captured by Roman soldiers in the Cathedral's garden (that serves as Gethsemane), and brings him to Pontius Pilate (to the plaza) then to the munisipyo (municipal hall) where the people (of Jerusalem/Palo) shouts to free Barabas instead. Jesus the actor then walks about 4 blocks carrying the cross and is whipped and kicked by the Roman soldiers, while Veronica wipes his face and a bystander carries the cross for him, and Jesus falls down three times on designated spots, while people press for a better view and the penitents (in hooded costumes) cordon off the area for the actors to pass through. It is all spectacle and a pointless reminder of Jesus' suffering from man's cruelty and ignorance. If only Catholic Filipinos celebrated Easter Sunday (resurrection) with as much passion as they do Good Friday (crucifixion/suffering), maybe there would be a shift in their thinking, celebrating hope instead of sorrow and overcoming poverty, corruption, violence and the overall disunity among themselves in the process .

  There isn't anything meditative about the whole thing anymore. Gone were the pasyon (chanted epic songs in Waray by old women), the endless airing of the Siete Palabras on the Cathedral's speakers that could be heard all over town; gone were the mournful music, the hooded penitents that used to be everywhere asking for donations for the church (now there were only a few acting as guards, as throne-carriers, and as 'mascots' for tourists who wanted pictures taken with them).  Inside the Cathedral were a few penitent and religious people doing the stasyon (Stations of the Cross) on their knees, a few praying, and some resting from the heat outside.

After the Crucifixion show, my friends and I went to Tacloban to try the Calvary Hill. This was a more solemn and sacred climb, at every stop (station) people were praying instead of looking around and taking pictures (like I was), and no vendors were allowed the area so no one could annoy the devout.  There were guards in every corner making sure everything remained peaceful. I felt more solemnity in the climb than in the spectacle I had seen earlier. Here, people came to pray. They didn't come because there was a show to be seen, or people to watch.

It's not tradition that makes a festival, but the way a tradition is practiced by the present generation. I guess it's the needs of the times and of the people that dictates how things should be run. Even when it still looks 'traditional'. 
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