By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
Post-Lenten, post-reunion notes
posted 18-Apr-2007  ·  
1,814 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Holy Week during election season takes on a different character, and definitely not to its better realization. True, the campaigners took a respite much of the time, but hardly was the aleluya angel done with her last aria (na baging dai prinaktis) that campaign jungles started blaring out their disturbance of everyone’s peace (take note, Sunday of the Resurrection is called La Paz). The next day, Araw ng Kagitingan, which should have been a good opportunity from segue Christ’s sacrifice to that of our World War II heroes, was thoroughly blasphemed by the deluge of candidate jingles making empty promises of superlative heroism if elected, set to yucky baduy music. So the serenity of Holy Week was never allowed to linger on even for a bit into our back-to-normal, post-Lenten lives. Ay ano nang gobyerno ta ini.

And so, we were not granted a really holy week during the Holy Week. Let me cite just one more illustration. The processions became such ridiculously surreal experience because some houses along the route displayed prominently on their facades huge campaign streamers, taking advantage of captive audience. So the houses looked like higanteng mga pantiyon with the streamers as matching lapidas (the candidate being the departed, appropriately memorialized with such funny epitaphs ha! ha!) duly festooned with flower pots and lighted with candles, napatintihan! Ay grabe na ini, it looked more like defuntorum than mahal na aldaw. Sus, poetic justice at its fullest potency: someone’s bad taste backfiring on him/her, kua mo’ng hanap mo.

But this piece is not on election and politics. Sa masunod na an. This is on my worthier experiences during the last Holy Week. On two things in fact: one on kinalobong art, which needs more than passing look, and another on the reunion of CNHS batch ’77, which deserves just one more commentary.

KinalobongArt

One thing that makes me look forward to Good Friday procession in Virac is the kinalobong, set upon strategic places along the route. They are legitimate works of art, made more remarkable by the fact that they are products of community effort, what they call in Art Studies as "collaborative art." Furthermore, they may be classified as "transient art" because they are not intended to last for a long time. Immediately torn down after the procession, they are more of an event than a material thing. The kinalobong is therefore in league with other temporary space art forms such as sand, ice or chocolate sculptures and installation art. They take on special allure because of their fragile existence. They may be recorded on camera, but their immortalization happens only in memory. In memory, things become pure and perfect.

The kinalobong is not confined to Holy Week. During certain religious observances, such as novenarios for various occasions, we build elaborately decorated make-shift altars. Kinalobongs specifically mushroom in various places around town during the month of May for the street-corner or neighborhood santacruzan. So it may look like the kinalobong is a mainly a catholic thing, but it is not. Many other religions resort to their equivalent of the kinalobong. For the kinalobong is essentially a temporary altar shed, a makeshift shrine. In the Philippines, the pre-colonial natives were specifically given to building such temporary shrines. Ever thought why our country never produced palatial and imposing temples like they did in neighboring counties such as Thailand and Indonesia? Because we were never a nation-state under a single strong ruler before the coming of the Spaniards. Rather, we were numerous independent but small barangays. And since religion mirrors politics (or is it the other way around?), we did not practice state-sponsored (or state-imposed) religions such as Buddhism of Islam (with the exception of Muslim Sulu and Manila). Instead, we observed highly dispersed pockets of animism (belief in earth-bound spirits). As huge, permanent temples are to large nation-states (such as kingdoms) sponsoring a state religion, so are the temporary small shrines to the barangays observing pocket forms of animism. Monumental temples may be important national symbols and tourist attractions, but they are also reminders of tyrannical governments: they are built only with so much human cost, translated into slavery and high taxes. So the small shrines, the kinalobongs, may be seen as indicative of the precarious and small-scale but more democratic solidarity of the barangay.

My speculation is that the present ermitas of Catanduanes (most notably in Virac), are merely expanded, more durable, evolved versions of the kinalobong. The intermediate form between the ermita and kinalobong are the permanent but diminutive roadside shrines we call "cruz." So the catholic religion which we love, clearly retained elements of the animist faith of our pre-colonial days, at least in the physical aspects. The big parish churches may have been built with some use of force on the population by the Spanish authorities, but the ermitas, the many roadside cruzes and yes the temporary kinalobongs, were products of communal cooperation, much as we did during our anitero days circa the baranganic era, kang panahon pa ni Mahoma.

The kinalobong has two basic designs. One traditional and the other may be called "modern." The traditional design consists of the religious icon, or the holy image, and the container of the icon that is usually an enclosure consisting of a roof, a backdrop and a platform altar. The kinalobong traditionally is nothing but a holy image that is framed or enclosed in a shelter. If you expand the proportion, you produce a chapel or a church. In a traditional kinalobong, the roof can be done away with, but not the backdrop and the altar platform. The former frames and defines the icon, and the latter is where you place the decorative and votive elements such as flowers and candles.

The modern design consists of a miniature representation of the crucifixion, either in a realistic or stylized manner. There is no more sheltering roof or framing backdrop and the altar platform is substituted with the ground on which the cross is planted, the "Golgotha." As far as I remember, this design was introduced in the early seventies by barangay San Juan. It consisted of a bare bamboo cross set upon a small mound of rocks, representing Calvary, created out of sako ning semento. Weeds and vines jutted out or crept all over the rugged contours of the paper hill. A single flood light (the bulb concealed) illumined the installation. Numerous variations on the two designs have already been produced through the years. And there is no way of saying which one is the better model because both produced outstanding works of art.

The kinalobongs may be appreciated for the almost limitless creativity that can be spawned around two basic designs. It is amazing how an art form could be so old yet could take changes according to evolving sensibilities. It is folk, yet it is also contemporary. It tells us of folk wisdom, of folk notions of beauty, of folk decorative devices. They are exemplary illustrations of creative recycling, of how local materials that seem insignificant can be converted into things of beauty. Weeds and vines, discarded driftwood, thrown –away veedol cans, sighed, corn husks, etc.

Through the years, we can single out barangays Rawis and San Roque for having created memorable kinalobongs. In the late sixties and seventies, Rawis was always topnotch with their exquisite creations made of banana stalks, vegetables and fruits. This style had been constantly imitated, but the artistry of the original was never duplicated. We may mention two Rawisian artists Rogelio Tubalinal and Simplicio Mendoza for leading the teams that came up with really interesting and ornate works of kinalobong art. In San Roque on the other hand, Noli Rodrigueza attracted so much attention with his avant-garde kinalobongs. One piece I vividly remember is a minimalist kinalobong centered on a silver-foil cross that glowed on German (black) light, and which appeared to be floating on dry-ice smoke. A space-age kinalobong?

What about this year’s crop? The most we can say is that they were earnest efforts, but nothing remarkable, really. I liked the one in barangay Concepcion for the nice, unpredictable rendering of the "cave’ motif. The one in Sta. Elena also stood out because it was done in the old traditional style, which we seldom see now, a refreshing novelty amidst the "modern" Calvary design of the rest that offered nothing new. One thing, please: let us stop using all those Christmas lights on kinalobongs, nagmu-mukhang videoke-han. Should we say that we have already seen the better days of the Kinalobong Art? Perhaps it’s a temporary lull, and who knows, we are in for a surprise in the coming years. As for next year, I guess I will be in Pandan for the Holy Week. I heard that they have raised the level of kinalobong art there, literally that is: they build kinalobongs there three-stories high. Something to be seen.

Batch ’77 Reunion

Oh it was a huge success. A comparison may be a little pilit, but a 30th anniversary grand reunion is like the kinalobong, an exquisite but temporary work of art: you anticipate it, then it happens, beautifully, but the next thing you know is it becomes a memory, a thing of the past. Another point of comparison: the reunion is a communal effort. Its success depended upon the participation of a big number of people. But levels of participation differ. Behind the successful reunion is the heroism of a small circle of batch-mates whose sustained efforts was crucial. The grand reunion was more than a year in the making. In our case, this small core of workers was led by a trio made up of Engr. Gil Balmadrid (Chair of the Steering Committee), Engr. Wine Molod (Asst. Chair) and Ms. Elvie Sorreda, who was "Mother Lily" of the batch, running the reunion as if indeed it was one big household. It was strategic that the three worked in the same office, the provincial DPWH. Around this core of leaders is a small circle of a loyal work force. We must mention the spouses Rudy and Sally Bagadiong, Ludy Molod, the duo of Melba Romero and Tita Aldea, Luz Tablate, Obet Tabelin, Bikol Valeza, Lito Avila, Pio Mendoza, Goying Aldea. Marlon Buenafe did a crucial role in the initial organizing phase. There were others too who came every now and then to pitch-in help. The remarkable thing was that we did not contribute a prescribed amount. Resources were raised boluntad-style, su ma-agud. Through this column, the entire batch extends its gratitude to everyone who helped, both in material and human resource. It was a tedious process of realization. We had our own "horror stories" but who cares about them now? There were those who expressed skepticism about the reunion materializing at all. But oh, the feeling is nice, that we have proven them wrong.

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