Holy Week Flagellants, Zambales, Philippines

 
COPYRIGHTED ©: All Rights Reserved.
No part of the content of this website maybe used without the written consent of Kevin R. Hamdorf.

 

Western visitors to Pampanga and Zambales provinces in the Philippines during the Holy Week (Easter Lent) period (Good Friday principally), may be shocked by the sight of groups of masked young men flagellating (penitensiya in the Tagalog language) their bare backs to a bloody pulp with wood tip whips. This extraordinary early Medieval Christian practice was introduced by Spanish Catholic missionaries, who set up shop shortly after Portuguese maritime explorer, Ferdinand Magellan (1480 – 1421), the first European to make landfall in the archipelago, arrived in 1521. (Magellan landed on Homonhon Island on March 16th 1521, but was subsequently killed by native forces lead by Chief Lapu- Lapu, during a miscalculated raid on a Mactan Island, Cebu village, on April 27th 1521).

Not for the squeamish, this fascinating self-mortification ritual is a peculiar combination of what appears to be a sincere act of penance (on the part of some, but not all – one young novice actually confessed he participated in the act for fun!) and a festive occasion - for the greater number of non-participatory observers. Good cheer, accompanied with the intake of food and drink was evident all along the parade route. For most, it was like a Xmas pageant, with hordes of picture takers (including myself!), elbowing  in and snapping away souvenir photos. I noted that the Philippine Department of Tourism actually promotes the spectacle (including acts of crucifixion) internationally, as a tourism attraction.

Researcher / writer, Nicholas H. Barker (Religious Revival in Contemporary Southeast Asia ),  provides the following assessment on the motivation behind the sincere flagellant: 

“Self-flagellation is practiced in contemporary Philippines as a contractual sacrifice, based on a vow (panata) to God, sworn for a fixed period, usually between five and fifteen years, often during a crisis or time of difficulty, most commonly the illness of close kin. The link with health or ill-health is pervasive. Aside from the culturally important task, particularly for adult males, of sharing the suffering of Christ, the flagellant is also sharing (damay), and thus trying to ease the pain of a sick relative by offering himself as a sacrifice. Aside from petition or supplication, a vow may also be pledged as an act of thanksgiving, following unexpected good fortune or even specific or protracted avoidance of misfortune……. The hope is that God will bestow grace on the family, parents and children alike, and provide protection against harm and misfortune.”

Fr. Mike of the Matain, Subic City  parish told me: “Officially, the Catholic Church of the Philippines, does not encourage or condone self-flagellation or Crucifixion, as part of the Holly Week rituals. As the practice dates back centuries and has been accepted by the Filipino Christian, the Church tolerates it. The popularity of the practice is actually growing with each passing year”

The following images were taken between Subic City and Castillejos, Zambales on the morning of March 21st 2008 and reflect the drama (real and convincingly enacted), color and festivity of the occasion.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108A_0051
A group of Holy Week (Easter / Lent) flagellants pass the “Garden of Gethsemane”, a local Christian  shrine,  3km north of Subic City on the National Highway towards Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines. . Road side religious shrines are common in the Philippines and testify to the Filipino’s deep and daily commitment to Christianity.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108A_0095

A group of Holy Week (Easter / Lent) flagellants pass the “Garden of Gethsemane”, a local Christian shrine located 3km north of Subic City on the National Highway to Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines. Road side religious shrines are common in the Philippines and testify to the Filipino’s deep and daily commitment to Christianity.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0085

A prostrated flagellant spiritually bloodies the local basketball court, Matain, Subic Bay, Zambales, Philippines.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0146

An onlooker appears to be grateful that he skipped participation in this year’s Holy Week flagellation ritual. National Highway, Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0204

Stoically baring his burden, a penitent receives serious encouragement from his minders. Subic City Bridge, Zambales, Philippines.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0209

One had to wonder at what was going through the impressionable minds of these young onlookers, as the parade of bloodied and abused flagellants passed this shine to Christ, located in Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0268

Stifling heat, dehydration and loss of blood from an over enthusiastic self application of the whip, brings a flagellant to his knees – no doubt having fully accounted for the preceding year’s accumulated sins. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines. 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0289
With blood streaming from his self inflicted wounds a flagellant  passes the Castillejos ancestral home and birth place of National Hero,  Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay (August 31, 1907 - March 17, 1957) who was the third President of the Third Republic of the Philippines from December 30, 1953 until he was killed when his C47 Presidential plane crashed into Mt. Manungal after leaving Cebu on March 17th 1957.  All but one of the 26 persons aboard perished.  He was elected President under the banner of the Nacionalista Party and is fondly remembered by the people of his home province, Zambales,  for his integrity and strength of character. During his term, he made Malacañáng Palace literally a "house of the people", opening its gates to the public. An estimated 2 million people attended Magsaysay's burial on March 22, 1957. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

 Photo # 032108B_0315

A Holy Week flagellant in contemplative prayer.  Subic City, Zambales, Philippines.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

 Photo # 032108B_0319

Holly Week flagellants prostrating in prayer before a shrine to the Virgin Mary, Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines. 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0327

The bloodied back of a Holly Week Flagellant. The initial wounds are inflicted by use of a razor blade (note straight line slashes to the shoulders) applied by a fellow flagellant, male friend or even girlfriend (as was witnessed in one case). Repeated flaying by the wood tipped whip generates the desired steady flow of blood. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0349

Bloodied Holly Week Flagellants kneel and pray before a shrine to Christ. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines. 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0358

A Holly Week Flagellant kneels and prays before a shrine to Christ. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines. As part of the public self mortification and humiliation ritual, male flagellants will often where female attire, as in the above example wearing a skirt.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

 Photo # 032108B_0361

Holy Week Flagellants kneel and pray before a shrine to Christ. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines. As part of the public self mortification and humiliation ritual, male flagellants will often where female attire, as in the above example wearing a skirt.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0366

Another form of self - mortification is the practice of suspending  sharp  objects (arrows, knives, etc) about the body that are aimed towards venerable parts of the anatomy. Passing through the often fervid crowds of spectators (always willing to lend a helping hand), one shudders at the thought of such a decorated individual tripping!  Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines. 

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0379

A saintly robed penitent acknowledges the documentarian (no, that is not my hand jerking his rope).  Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0427
The re-enactment (Passion play or Sinakulo in the Tagalog language) of Christ’s humiliation on his way to Calvary and crucifixion, is an intragal component of the Holly Week Good Friday  procession. Given the seemingly brutal treatment hand out to the fellow portraying Christ, one must assume the participants are more “actor” than authentic penitents. I was reassured of this fact, when I noticed one of the Roman guards “freshen up” Christ’s bloody wounds by discretely  squirting on some hapless creature’s blood from a concealed container! Castillajes, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0493

Reflective of the often festive atmosphere displayed by the by non-participatory spectators of the Holly Week parade, a gaily attired videographer, takes a shooting  break before a prostrated Christ. At times, I  could not help but cast my  imagination back to the Roman period,  when the blood-lust crowds of the Coliseum roared approval, as Christians were feed to the lions. At other times, certain scenes would conger up amusing memories of  the 1979 Monty Python Comedy film, “The Life of Brian”. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0397

The re-enactment (Passion play or Sinakulo in the Tagalog language) of Christ’s humiliation on his way to Calvary and crucifixion, is an intragal component of the procession. Given the seemingly brutal treatment hand out to the fellow portraying Christ, one must assume the participants are more “actors” than real  penitents. I was reassured of this fact, when I noticed one of the Roman guards “freshen up” Christ’s bloody wounds by discretely  squirting some hapless creature’s blood from a concealed container! Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0420

The re-enactment (Passion play or Sinakulo in the Tagalog language) of Christ’s humiliation on his way to Calvary and crucifixion, is an intragal component of the procession. Given the seemingly brutal treatment hand out to the fellow portraying Christ, one must assume the participants are more “actors” than real  penitents. I was reassured of this fact, when I noticed one of the Roman guards “freshen up” Christ’s bloody wounds by discretely  squirting some hapless creature’s blood from a concealed container! Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0435

This young girl portraying the Virgin Mary accompanying the Christ figure, became so emotionally disturbed by the abuse being meted out to him, that she broke down and wept uncontrollably. A demonstration of the thin line traveled between reality and fantasy for some of the participants in the Holly Week self-mortification rituals. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0484

One had to often struggle through masses of cel-phone cameras to get a close up shot of the proceedings. This handsome victim had the attention of the lady photographers. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0448

This young girl portraying the Virgin Mary accompanying the Christ figure, became so emotionally disturbed by the abuse being meted out to him, that she broke down and wept uncontrollably. A demonstration of the thin line traveled between reality and fantasy for some of the participants in the Holly Week rituals of self-mortification. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0453

Deftly applied make up and a gift for the melodramatic, won the sympathies of the Holly Week crowd for this impersonator of Christ. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

Flagellants, Subic, Philippines

Photo # 032108B_0461

Until next year. Castillejos, Zambales, Philippines.

 

 

Kevin Hamdorf Photography                   New Images
HomeBioStockNew ImagesFine Arts PrintsPublicationsDesignLinksContact