Holy Week or locally known as Semana Santa or cuaresma is one Catholic tradition which my siblings and I were exposed to since we were young.
Thanks to our parents and our Lolo Merto, our maternal grandfather, we learned to remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were all responsible to our religiosity and idea of faith until such time that we went independent in our pursuit of what we call true religion which will bring us to true salvation.
What is very clear in my bank of memory though during lent is the PASYON, which is the verse narrative on the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ. This is sung continuously which would start late in the afternoon of Maundy Thursday and would end in the morning of Good Friday. Pasyon had been our family’s “panata” (pledge or vow) for several years until 1983.
Our Lolo Merto was the one in-charge of the pasyon in our house. It was during this time that we got to see and mingle with our grandparents (my mama’s aunts and uncles) from Villa Hermosa and Cumadcad, Sorsogon. I would never forget Lola Loling (my Lolo Merto’s older sister), Lolo Gaspar (Lola Loling’s husband), Lolo Apron (my Lolo Merto’s older brother), Lolo Pastor (my Lolo Merto’s oldest brother), and Tiyo Talyo who would always be regular members of the “choir.” My mother’s cousins would also be in attendance making our small living room in Ilawod 2, Daraga, Albay congested. Really now, I don’t remember someone from my father’s side who was a master in Bicol Pasyon.
What would impress me though during pasyon in our house was the perfect blending of the singers’ voices the moment they started singing. Talk about old angels on earth. My lolos and lolas knew first, second, and third voices. Even without a rehearsal, they knew the right kind of tone or pitch that they should apply.
Could it be because of the “nganga” that was provided to them? Oh yes. This was always part of pasyon in our house. “Nganga” or betel quid is a popular Filipino (especially those living in rural and upland areas) concoction which is made of betel leaf, areca nut (aka betel nut), lime and sometimes tobacco.
I never dared inquire why this should always be provided to the pasyon singers especially when my curiosity got the better of me by preparing and chewing one secretly! Oh boy! My mouth was on fire because of the lime! Hahahaha.
It was only when I became maturer when I learned that chewing “nganga” is a way of staying warm and alert (having known to have a narcotic and even euphoric effect), plus it’s an indigenous breath freshener. According to local scientists, betel quid kills bacteria in the mouth. Well, for some, having reddish teeth after chewing is definitely not a pretty sight to behold.
At my young age though, everything was boring to me. The fact that I had no interest of reading and understanding the contents of the Bicol Pasyon book, you would not see me as part of the audience. My attention was on the continuous pouring of food which would address my tummy and getting a complete sleep afterwards unlike the pasyon participants.
During those early years, this vow had never been broken by our family. It was even intensified when my oldest brother Yul suffered and survived an accidental electrocution. Thus, when this panata reached its final stage in 1983, my brother had to be part of the reenactment which already took place in our new residence in Bagumbayan, Daraga, Albay. With him were his friends and our cousins completing the twelve disciples. of course, Long played the role of Jesus Christ. Hmmm, it think he could have been perfect as Judas Iscariot! The short play made it more meaningful as we expressed our overflowing thanks for my brother’s second life and our family’s victory over the trials.
Sad to say, no one among us siblings decided to continue this family tradition. I cannot cite a concrete reason, but perhaps we became diverse and a little modernized in our view as regards manifestation of our piety and faith. The pasyon could have been an intangible priceless family legacy.
Nevertheless, I am still grateful and happy that I got to witness and experience pasyon. Unquestionably, this is one strong link which will always bind my siblings and me together and make us value our rich Bicol heritage.