Lent 2011: ♰ Magdarame, a Lenten Tradition in Pampanga ♰

Holy Week in my hometown, Angeles City (Pampanga), will never be complete without witnessing the “magdarame” or flagellants/penitents in imitation of Christ’s passion, suffering and sorrows on His way to the Cross. They actually come in several forms, most common is a man doing the scourging (mamalaspas) with bloody back, man carrying the cross (mamusan krus), man crawling and falling on the ground (magsalibatbat), and some few who actually allowed themselves to be crucified on Good Friday.  Their face would all be covered with a hood, and they would all be wearing a crown made of twisted branches and leaves of plants. Few of the flagellants would be seen as early as Holy Monday, and they would peak come Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

The ways of the “magdarame” have always inspired awe and curiosity amongst the faithful during the days of Lent. Bloodied, scourged and caked with dust, magdarames live and act out the passion of the Lord—and the term “dame”, to sympathize and share one’s grief– captures this spirit of Oneness, in pain and sorrow.

The practice of “darame” in Pampanga was popularized by casamacs or peasants, who regard sacrifices such as fasting, prayer or abstinence as too mild. Among these materially deprived workers, only the extreme imitation of the Passion under the searing heat of the sun can cleanse them of their evil. It was further institutionalized during the American era prompted by our colonizer’s curiosity for exotic folk practices. The practice of actual crucifixion was introduced in San Fernando only in the 1950s. – Source: Views from the Pampang by Alex R. Castro

Flagellants/Penitents (Magdarame) scourging themselves in bloody spectacle and man carrying the cross (Mamusan Krus), visits “Puni” a chapel or community altar that do “Pabasa” (reading of Christ’s Passion on his way to the Cross), and Churches. They kneel or lie on the floor of the foot of the Chapels or Churches to pray and to do their acts of penance.
I had three of my uncles do it when I was a child, but it did not stop me from being scared at them. I’ve actually had my share of nightmares of them. It’s only now, that I actually had the chance and the courage to be within a striking distance from them. More than anything else, I have to put on a brave act to my son, Chase. 

“Magdarame” or Flagellant Lent 2011
I bravely went along to see them on Holy Thursday because we had to show them to my sister’s sister in law, who’s visiting from Cagayan de Oro. And we already saw like 50 of them for a mere hour of going out in the main streets of the city. They usually come in groups, and they have a crowd following them.  What seemed like a cultural and spiritual lenten tradition eventually also becomes a tourist and a cultural experience to those who travel from Manila, and from all over to Pampanga. 

Prepping the “Magdarame” or Flagellants/Penitents. To prepare themselves, they have to whip their back with the  bamboo scourge for it to swell, and eventually to numb the back surface. Then someone (said to be an expert) will make the wounds/incision via razor (approximately around 5 cuts from what I’ve seen) then they have to use the bamboo whip    (continuously much like a ritual) and this causes the bloody spectacle.

Surprisingly, I didn’t even have to go far to see for the very first time how it all come about. 5 guys from my village are gearing up to hit the streets and the Churches on Holy Thursday. I had seen enough to keep me at awe for years, so we didn’t volunteer to bring our guest to see a more bloodier spectacle at Pampang come Good Friday. Thankfully, there was the Last Supper Mass, and the Visita Iglesia (visiting 7 Churches) to keep me from thinking about them. I’m actually trying to look at all of these from an artist’s perspective. As an aspiring photographer, and writer, they are my unique subjects, so to speak. Have a Blessed Lenten Season!

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