April 22, 2014 5 Comments
Semana Santa or Holy Week in the Philippines—which officially starts on Palm Sunday, with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday declared as national holidays—is observed with a mixture of devout reverence for traditional Catholic practices and local folklores bordering on the mystical and comedic.
This year’s Semana Santa took me to the sleepy island province of Marinduque, the home of the century-old Moriones Festival.
The Moriones is believed to have originated in the town of Mogpog around the 1880s under Father Dionisio Santiago, the local parish priest. Fray Santiago created the festival to focus the attention of his parishioners to Lenten religious activities.
A morion—a man (or a woman) wearing a fierce-looking and often bearded mask of hand-carved wood or papier-mâché, and topped by a helmet adorned with feathers or multicolored paper flowers—is a parody of a Roman soldier during the time of Christ.
Traditionally, a morion‘s real identity is secret, even to his immediate family. For underneath the playful and colorful morion mask is a penitent fulfilling a vow of penance or thanksgiving; or is performing a numinous act of self-cleansing. We may see them engaging in mock swordfights along the streets, dancing and marching in groups, boisterously playing pranks on children, doing hilarious antics or springing surprises for everyone’s merriment; those unending walks under the sweltering heat of the summer sun, burdened by their cumbersome costumes and headgear and their joining the early evening religious procession during Holy Wednesday and Good Friday are a form of spiritual sacrifice.