The Philippines is the third largest Roman Catholic country in the world with some 80% of the 85 million Filipinos following the faith. The major events in the Christian calendar, Christmas, Easter, All Saints Day, are all celebrated with gusto but it is Easter or Holy Week, as it is known in the Philippines, which ignites the Filipino passion. From the public self-flagellation and crucifixions of Pampanga Province to the street parades and the shrines of Makati City’s Poblacion suburb with their infusion of popular and indigenous cultural influences, Holy Week is the celebration of the calendar.
For over half a century, the 17000 residents of this suburb have held street parades, a Saturday night, Sunday morning vigil or salubong and constructed shrines in honour of Holy week. Each year up to 40 shrines are dotted about the one square kilometer that is the inner city suburb of Poblacion. Throughout the year, street groups known locally as Samahans have raised the 50,000 pesos required to employ an artist, feed and water the volunteer assistants and obtain the materials necessary to actualize the artist’s vision for their shrine.
These shrines are folk art of the first order, utilizing a range of materials from the time honoured papier-mâché to the 20th Century’s set builder’s material of choice, polystyrene. When they are combined with bamboo, plywood, timber, bricks and mortar that call on the trade skills of the residents and the artist’s skill with the brush they produce settings worthy of an off Broadway production.
In the weeks leading up to Holy Week, streets become impassable to vehicles as the construction takes place. Scaffolding is erected, frames are built and clad, sculptures several meters high are constructed, water features are incorporated, lights are installed with the chosen street corners becoming beehives of activity. As the start of Holy Week arrives the activity goes up a notch, the shrines must be completed by Wednesday evening.
Its arrival heralds a street parade which wends it way through the suburb incorporating every shrine in its route. The devout carry crucifixes for installation in the shrines accompanied by the Makati City Marching Band. It is now that Christ’s Pasyon, the marathon chanting or singing of the poem of Jesus’ life, passion, and death begins and continues day and night through to 3pm on Good Friday.
The Thursday before Good Friday sees thousands of people from all over Metro Manila descend upon the suburb. They wander the streets admiring the diversity of the art created by the Poblacion residents. Although sacred in inspiration, the designs of the shrines are often unconventional ranging from the American Wild West to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt for their chosen themes. There is carnival atmosphere in the air as excited children run and point, adults ooh and ah, street sellers hawk their wares and camera flashes bounce off the walls of the shrines.
Throughout Good Friday Christ’s Pasyon is recited by members of the street associations, usually working in pairs. Church goers wander home from their devotions stopping to listen and gossip at the shrines. At 3pm, the reputed time of Jesus’ death, black shrouds are draped over the crucifixes in the shrines. In the evening a parade of the shrine’s tableaux traverses the streets of the suburb.
After Saturday’s midnight mass, at the local parish church of Saint Peter and Paul, effigies of Jesus and Mary are carried along different streets to meet for the Salubong outside the suburb’s sports complex. There, a temporary stage has been erected upon which a choir of children dressed as angels await their arrival. The statue of Mary has her head shrouded with a black cloth and before a crowd of several thousand people packed into this town square, it is removed when she meets her son. Blue and white helium filled balloons bare her shroud into the dark heavens above.
Eight to ten hours after this two a. m. meeting, many of the shrines are builder’s rubble. They have had their 4 days in the sun and over the following few days any trace of their existence will have vanished except perhaps for a painted section of road way and the record captured by the photographers.
Henry Bateman is an artist/photographer, his work can be seen at http://www.pissedpoet pics and this essay with photographs can be seen here .