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bong z. lacson
bong z lacson MALELDO. A contraction of mal a aldo  (directly translating to a highly-valued, hence, holy day) has evolved to the one word comprising the Holy Week and all its rituals. Maleldo  is intertwined with kaleldo,  or summer, the season when it is celebrated.

The etymology of Maleldo  is easy enough to explain. The rituals and practices exclusive to the town of Sto. Tomas are a different thing.

In the absence of written history, the oral tradition ("kuwento ni lola"  ) is the only source of information on the rituals of Maleldo. 

From the Canlas sisters—Apung  Mameng (1898-1976), who remained unmarried, Apung  Rita vda de Zapata (1901-1980), Apung  Bibang vda de Manese (1903-1978)—came the information written here, passed on to them by their mother Demetria Pineda-Canlas (1860s-1952).

"Ding apu nang ima mi mig-sagala na la kanu king Maleldo  (The grandmothers of our mother had joined the Holy Week religious processions in their finest costumes)," the three sisters were wont to tell their inquisitive grandchildren at the time.

Holy Week in Sto. Tomas starts with Viernes Dolores  (the Friday before Palm Sunday). This was later moved to Sabado Dolores.  The change came in the late '60s or early '70s, somewhere at the tail end of the Cursillo Movement, to circumvent the rigid abstinence of no-meat-on-the-Fridays-of-Lent.

A triumvirate of women handles the activities: the hermana mayora,  the mayordoma,  and the secretaria.  The three fetch the image of the Mater Dolorosa  from the house of the camadera  in Barangay San Bartolome and head the procession to the parish church on Viernes Dolores. 

Sabado Dolores  starts with a morning Mass followed by a breakfast (courtesy of the secretaria  ) for the Mass-goers on the church grounds.

At lunchtime, presided by the hermana,  the saladoras  (a group comprising of previous hermanas,  mayordomas,  secretarias,  as well as descendants of those who served as such but have long been gone) gather to choose the successors to the three oficiales. 

Choice per position is through bola suerte.  The candidates per position are nominated. Then the drawing of the lot begins. Two jars are used: one contains rolled pieces of paper on which are written the names of the candidates; the other, rolled papers commensurate to the number of candidates—all blank but for one with the word suerte.  The name of the candidate drawn from the first jar that matches with the suerte  from the second jar becomes the hermana,  mayordoma,  or secretaria. 

In the evening, the image of the Mater Dolorosa  is venerated in a procession around the Poblacion with the hermana  and her court, escorted by their usbands, preceding the carro. 

The procession marks the debut appearance of the estabats  (12 young lasses that make a choir), accompanied by a manggirigi  (a violinist), as they sing hymns to the Blessed Virgin.

The estabats are so called after the opening lines of their Latin hymn: "stabat Mater Dolorosa…,"  roughly translated to "the sorrowful Mother was standing…"

Supervision of the Holy Week celebrations shifts from the hermana  to a Holy Week Executive Committee after Sabado Dolores.  The committee chair is selected each year and is given a free hand to choose his officers and members.

Domingo de Ramos  (Palm Sunday) comes with the traditional blessing of palms and olive branches in a barrio chapel, alternately in San Bartolome and San Vicente, followed by a procession to the parish church with the parish priest taking the role of Christ on the way to Jerusalem accompanied by 12 men acting and dressed in the role of the 12 Apostles.

At the four corners of the churchyard or the street fronting the church stand kubu-kubuan  (nipa stalls) where choir members sing hosannas and shower the priest with petals and confetti. The celebration ends with a Mass.

Lunes Santo  and Martes Santo  were quiet days. Until the cenaculo  (singing of the Passion of Christ in the vernacular) was moved to Martes Santo  and Miercoles Santo. 

Originally, the cenaculo  was held on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In the '70s, it was moved to Holy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday to give full contemplation on the suffering and death of Christ on Good Friday. Sometime later it was moved further to the day it is now observed.

Traditionally, the cenaculo  is an affair of the youth. A president from each gender gets elected to chair the festivity, which comprises the singing of the Pasyon  and the serving of—variably, depending on the collections—ice cream and barquillos  or kalame  (native rice cakes). Of late, the word cenaculo  has given way to the Tagalog pabasa.  A more appropriate term, so the purists hold, given that a cenaculo  goes beyond the mere singing of the Pasyon  to include a play or drama on the suffering and crucifixion of Christ.

The second procession of the week takes place in the evening of Miercoles Santo.  Here, images of the saints who had had participation in the days prior to the crucifixion as well as those depicting the suffering of Christ are put on decorated carros  with St. Peter, bearer of the keys to heaven with his ubiquitous white rooster at the lead, followed by Sts. John the Evangelist, Thomas, Bartholomew, James, Andrew, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and the images of Christ being scourged at the pillar and the Nazareno,  Jesus carrying the cross, followed by the living apostoles. 

The image of Mater Dolorosa  takes the rear, preceded by the estabats  and followed by a brass band.

In between the carros  walk the rosary-praying cofradias  and church organizations and the camaderas,  the owners or caretakers of the images.

Maundy Thursday marks the observance of the washing of the feet of the apostles and the Last Supper. The parish priest is assisted by the Holy Week Committee chair and officers during the foot-washing rites.

After the ceremonies, the parish priest and the apostoles take their own supper at the parish rectory and partake of the cordero  (a dish of beef covered with potatoes shaped like a lamb).

Rites and ceremonies for Good Friday start shortly after noon with the Las Siete Palabras,  homilies and meditation on the seven final utterances of Christ at Calvary, which end at 3:00 in the afternoon, traditionally believed as the hour of Christ's death.

Tanggal,  a dramatization in song and verse of Christ's body being taken down from the cross, used to follow the Las Siete Palabras.  The last staging of tanggal  was held in 1979.

Taking centerstage in the Good Friday procession is the image of the Santo Entierro.  It has become a tradition of the faithful to pluck out all the flowers decked in the carro  as soon as it enters the church after the procession. Some claim miraculous attributes to the flowers.

At the procession, the estabats  sing mournful hymns and dirges in reflection of the pain and anguish suffered by the Mater Dolorosa  —the image now dressed in black and its head replaced with one in tears—over the death of her Son.

Sabado de Gloria  is highlighted by the evening Mass with the blessing of the fire and water as well as the renewal of the faithful's baptismal vows.

Domingo de Pascua  (Easter Sunday) marks the climax of the celebrations in ways more than spiritual, folk art, aesthetics, socials melding into it.

Before 6:00 in the morning, the faithful gather at the churchyard for the salubong, the first meeting between the Risen Christ and the Blessed Mother.

Under a pusu-puso,  a veiled image of the Virgin Mary faces—behind a curtain—the image of the Risen Christ. The pusu-puso  opens in layers gradually, raining petals and confetti on the images. At its final opening, doves fly out and a young girl dressed as an angel comes out in a kalo  (an improvised swing), singing "Regina laetare, alleluia"  ("Joy to the queen, alleluia") as she is lowered down to take the veil off the Blessed Mother. At this, the curtain parts, the brass band plays, and the faithful applaud to mark the start of the Easter procession.

At the lead of the procession are the ciriales  (bearers of the ceremonial cross and candles in the person of three ladies in their fineries with their escorts in barong Tagalog  ). They are followed by the banderada  (bearer of the Vatican flag).

Sometime in the '80s, mini-sagalas  were introduced. These are little girls dressed as angels to accompany the incensario  ( bearer of the icnenser and the incense boat) and the angel who took the veil off the face of the Blessed Mother.

Next come the estabats,  singing glorious hymns and raining petals on the Atlung Maria  (Three Marys) at designated stops along the processional route.

The Atlung Maria  symbolize the Virgin Mother, Mary Magdalene, and Mary Cleofas. By tradition, the center—the spot of the Virgin—is reserved for the most beautiful of the three sagalas.  It is thus a most coveted spot. Sagalas  for the Atlung Maria  are exclusive to ladies born and bred in Sto. Tomas, or those whose ancestors can be traced to the town. In the social milieu, no lady from the town is truly beautiful unless she has been one of the Atlung Maria. 

With the Atlung Maria  is the ciro pascual  (bearer of the paschal candle)—always a local bachelor or one whose bloodline comes from the town.

The images of the Risen Christ and the Blessed Mother bring the rear of the procession which ends with a High Mass.

After the Mass or by high noon, the faithful congregate anew at the churchyard for the burning—exploding is more apt here—of the effigy of Judas Iscariot.

Atop a scaffolding, "Judas" is ignited by pyrotechnic ravens and then twists, turns upside down, rotates and starts exploding from the legs up the arms, the body, and finally the head with the loudest bang.

When Sto. Tomas was still a farming town, the loudness of the bang ending "Judas" was deemed a sign of the volume of the year's harvest: the louder the bang, the higher the yield.

Lost in some vengeful glee among the faithful is the meaning behind the burning of Judas: That spiritually renewed with the fire and water of Sabado de Gloria,  restored in grace with the Risen Christ, the faithful should cast away all vestiges of sin and of spiritual shortcomings with Judas, and burn them. This is no less a form of a holocaust offered to God. That which makes the very essence of the Holy Week celebrations.

[About the author. Bong Z. Lacson writes a daily column, Zona Libre, for Punto! Gitnang Luzon. He is chair of the Society of Pampanga Columnists.]

-Posted: 4:30 AM 3/5/08 | More of this author on eK!

Debbie Patao (of USA) writes...

Bong Lacson... you really are a JOURNALIST! From feature articles to expose', you don't just inform and entertain, you present the truth without fear and prejudice.

-Posted/Via Email: 2008-04-28 22:17:44 PDT

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