When I was about six or seven years old, my father took us to witness a senakulo (derived from the word cenacle, as far as I know), the traditional play depicting the passion and death of Jesus Christ). I can’t remember anymore where it was but it was a province outside of the greater Manila area. I remember that it was a place near a lake because the flagellants bathed in the lake afterwards.
The memory is hazy after all so many decades but I can distinctly remember — like snapshots in my mind — three things:
1) the flagellants whipped themselves with an improvised cat-o’-nine tails with common razor blades (the old kind used for shaving) attached to the end of each tail;
2) the lacerated raw flesh on the backs of the flagellants as they bathed in the river; and
3) the blood that spattered on the windows and sides of our blue Ford Thunderbird.
It was a shocking experience for me. I never went out of my way — ever — to watch a senakulo again. But because our old house stood on a main street, every year we could see from the windows upstairs men and women in costumes re-enacting the Passion. There was whipping and blood but the violence and the authentic touch grew less and less over the years.
Perhaps, it was just me growing up. What could awe a young child could be corny for an adolescent. I remember my brother commenting that Roman soldiers did not wear Spartan slippers.
The senakulo is the staple of Lenten rituals in the Philippines. Some are more elaborate than others. Last Wednesday, Speedy was in Marikina and chanced upon a senakulo, a simple neighborhood production, it appears, with young men and boys in costumes.
I was thinking of driving to other parts of Rizal on Good Friday so that the kids could witness a senakulo. They are 14 and 13, and old enough to learn about an aspect of the religious culture of the Philippines. Alex vehemently objected, shivering at the thought of seeing — live — someone get nailed to a cross. We weren’t able to go, as it turned out, because everyone woke up late due to the previous night’s Monopoly game.
Some interesting links: