Monday, May 23, 2011

Penitensiya: A Ritual Of Pain And Passion In The Philippines

During the long drive from Ilocos to Manila last Maundy Thursday, I couldn't resist the urge to stop the car and take a few pictures of a striking religious ritual happening on the very streets we were passing. We witnessed this scene somewhere in Pampanga, one of the oldest provinces in the Philippines.

A few half-naked men were whipping their backs as they trudged through the night. In cases where some of them carried logs, someone else did the flogging. As if those weren't gruesome enough, one particular man opted to crawl and roll as his means to move about, doing this while another man caned him. When the bruised and bloodied mean appear to have reached their destination, they would either kneel or lay prostrate on the ground while someone else struck them yet again.

The local rite is known Penitensiya and is basically meant to depict the suffering of Jesus Christ. You might have already guessed that the English equivalent of the word is penitence, which means showing sorrow and regret for one's wrongdoings. Indeed, devotees believe that this form of self flagellation is one way to show they are sorry for their transgressions. In fact, some of them believe that the act itself cleanses them from their sins.

Aside from atonement, some carry out the rite to ask for special favors such as the healing of a loved one. Some believe they get protection or guidance in return. Others merely keep a vow they made when they asked for divine intervention or a miracle in the past.

Regardless of their reasons, these devotees are decided to keep observing this ritual yearly, for as long as they can.

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