MALELDO: Kapampangan Lenten Traditions

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As soon as Ash Wednesday sets in the land of Pampanga, the official lenten spirit starts creeping slowly until the dawn of Holy Monday, when the pabasa or “puni” we call it, (makeshift chapels), commence their 24 hour chants and penitents start treading their way on the street. If you grew up in Pampanga, it is normal and usual to see penitents with their bleeding backs or cross bearing acts while trodding the streets and main thoroughfares of the province – whether be it in the urban or rural area.

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The prevalent tradition of the “magdarame” is intertwined in the Kapampangan culture as believed to be an effective act of penance and is being practiced through generations, as fathers or male figures of Catholic families would pass the practice to their younger male kin, some sort of a rite of passage, unofficial though. This gory practice has been contradicted by the Catholic church since.

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I grew up having fear of these “magdarames” because their eerie get-up: the veiled face, crown out of leaves or flowers, rope bound extremities or the “Nazareno” robe, the identifiable maroon robe. The “mamusan krus” or cross bearers are the quite sneaky ones as they walk quietly, almost without a trace of a sound, contrary of the “mamalaspas” who have this characteristic sound of bamboo sticks flogged on their back that is audible from a distance. Some beyond-the-usual penant practice includes bounding sharp ended bamboo sticks to their neck or armpit area leaving themselves in a tiring position, the “kukusads” who crawl crouched low on the ground, and the “kalbaryo” – who bears a cross, waist bound, and dragged by his tormentors to the “puni”. Some cross bearers have banana trunks and cross that don’t touch the ground. Also, there are sightings of “double sided” cross bearers, where penitents are bound on the opposite sides of a single cross and take turns in bearing the weight. There are also female penitents who join the practice.

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Quezon Drive Street in Dau, Mabalacat where countless penitents pass through and hosts many “Puni’s”, or makeshift chapels
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Unveiled Penitents in Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga

This year’s Maleldo is different for me since I have developed the guts to capture these penitents as photographic subjects, in addition to my collection of Kapampangan rites, observations, and festivals. Despite my personal belief against the practice and that lingering anxiety inside my chest, I still trod the streets of City of San Fernando on a Good Friday and joined other photographers, both foreign nationals and locals, in covering the event that put Pampanga as one of prime location to visit during Lenten Season.

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Famed penitent Ruben Enaje crucified 31st times in this year’s VIA CRUCIS

After taking shots in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the innumerable penitents that paused in front of the church, we moved to San Pedro, Cutud, the main site where crucifixions are held in Pampanga.  We watched the 31st crucifixion of the famed penitent Ruben Enaje, with the local and foreign media groups, under the scorching heat of the afternoon summer sun. Prior the momentous of driving the nail into his palm, a long marching “senakulo” snaking through the town before ending up on the stage molded as the “Calvary Hill”. Most of the crowds are waiting on the nailing process, once dangled, majority of the onlookers fled the site even without finishing the rite.

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Another Kapampangan observation tick from my list.

The Lenten Season in Pampanga is another spectacle, yet on a quite solemn and less festive note. For children, it is a week on following penitents and enjoying free snacks on the “puni”, elderly lining up to chant the “pabasa”, for content creators as their subjects, and with some population as a way of reflecting or meditating.

Being fearful of this season during my young years and growing up hating this very week, this experience broadened my understanding on this such practice, even I personally am against with. It is already practice deeply rooted already in the Catholic majority of the region, that is indeed a challenge to call for a halt.

More photographs [some graphic]:

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