Monday, August 27, 2007


GOT MILK? Ambulant milk vendors or lecheros/lecheras ply the town with fresh gatas damulag dispensed from metal pitchers and earthenware jugs. Nowadays, hard-to-find carabao’s milk is packaged in ketchup bottles. Ca. 1910-1917.

My most delicious childhood memories are made of gatas damulag---smooth, creamy, fresh-from-the-farm carabao’s milk that Mother used to buy from early morning market hawkers. These were not your regular vendors, mind you, but farmers’ wives, sons and daughters, out to make an extra peso or two from the dairy produce of their own carabaos. Gatas damulag often came in recycled ketchup bottles, but in the days of yore, as seen from this vintage postcard, the milk was peddled and stored in metal pitchers and earthenware crocks or dispensed from jugs made from dry gourds. These ambulant lecheros/lecheras would station themselves strategically near the public market while others would line the main highway, waving the familiar bottles to passing motorists to attract their attention. By mid-morning, their milk-selling duties would be over.

Gatas damulag has a richer, creamier flavor than your everyday cow’s milk. Early on, it was drilled into our young minds that carabao’s milk is more nutritious than cow’s milk; it’s got less water, more total solids, more lactose. And, with a fat content that’s 50-60% higher than cow’s milk, it was guaranteed to make you fatter, faster! Of course, like all milk, it had to be heated first to be enjoyed, lest one developed stomach pains (Or worse, cholera—just like what happened to the revolutionary hero, Apolinario Mabini, who died from complications caused by drinking contaminated milk!)

No wonder, gatas damulag manifested itself in many mouth-watering ways in our diet. For breakfast, we poured it onto a heaping mound of rice which we then sprinkled with sugar. Or we ate our milk-soaked rice with fried tuyo (salted fish) or mango. Duman (green glutinous rice) season also provided us with another rare milk-and-rice tummy filler. Spoonsful of this green-colored glutinous rice was put in a cup and allowed to swell while drenched in hot carabao’s milk, a real taste delight!

We seldom drank carabao’s milk straight from a glass but an irresistible treat that was often served when I got sick was my Mother’s homemade egg nog. Milk was heated in a pan, then transferred to a tall glass. While still steaming hot, a whole egg yolk was briskly stirred into the milk. Sweetened with sugar, a glassful was enough to send me rising from my sick bed. Still another jiffy merienda idea was to dunk banana slices into a cold glass of milk for a banana shake unlike any other!

Of course, our traditional sweets are often laced with gatas damulag. San Miguel de Mayumo may have laid claim to having originated the famous pastillas de leche (milk candies), but Pampanga’s pastillas, in all their sweet, soft, munchy deliciousness, can hold their own against Bulacan versions. In the early days, pastillas were made by farming families themselves, requiring the most basic of ingredients: milk, sugar and lemon rind. The concoction is allowed to simmer in a tacho, or copper pans, thickened to a desired consistency, cut up or molded, then rolled in sugar. The sweets are then wrapped in fringed papel de japon; in Bulacan, the wrapper is exquisitely cut to include local folk motifs, an art form in itself. Or, like jalea, the pastillas mixture can be bottled. These days, pastillas come in plain brown boxes, wrapped individually in plain tissue. Magalang’s Pabalan Delicacies are renown for their delectable pastillas and are sought after as pasalubongs by local tourists and viajeros.

Snack lovers insist that carabao milk pastillas is what gives the halo-halo served at Corazon’s in Angeles and Kabigting in Arayat truly a distinctive flavor. That may indeed be true; after all, another local dessert—leche flan—utilizes the same taste and texture of gatas damulag to the fullest. Mixed with egg yolks, sugar and dalayap (lime) and steamed in oval tin molds, the resultant flan is creamy and caramel-y to the lips, with a hint of vanilla and lemon.

Nowadays it seems, one has to go farther to look for gatas damulag. But when one does finds it, it still comes in the same clear ketchup bottles--no labels, no frills—just 100% milk, as pure and unadulterated as our world back then.
(3 May 2003)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

45. LIMBUN: The Pageantry of Processions

WALK OF FAITH. In this 1938 “limbun” of Barrio Sta. Ines in Mabalacat, the cura parocco is shown leading the procession of santos while devotees carry a palio, to serve as cover for the Blessed Sacrament. Alex R. Castro photo collection.

Religious processions, introduced over four hundred years ago by our Spanish conquistadors, were held to mark the important feast days of our Christian religious calendar. The Lenten season, Christmas and town fiestas were major causes for ceremonials, and a holy procession, with all its pomp and pageantry, was essential to these celebrations.

The first documented procession was held to commemorate the recovery of the Santo Nino at Cebu, from a fire set by local villagers as they retreated from Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s advancing forces. It was, in fact, a very simple affair: the santo was transported on foot from the San Agustin church to the site where it was found, followed by a throng of citizens assembled by the town councilor or regidor. This was followed by a host of festivities like bullfights, dance balls and fireworks display.

Accounts abound of early processions that were characterized by opulence that matched a people’s religious fervor. A Lumban, Laguna procession in the 1600, for instance, was described by Franciscan Felix de la Huerta as featuring decorations of pure gold and diamonds from affluent residents of nearby Nagcarlan, Majayjay and Liliw. Carrozas of rattan were encrusted with more gold and precious stones while lamps that lit the parade weighed 75 pounds. The Dominican celebration of La Naval, which commemorates the 17th century Spanish-Filipino victory against the Dutch, was held with Our Lady of the Rosary as the focal point of the procession. Borne on a flower-bedecked silver carroza, the image was processioned around Intramuros and back, with barefoot penitents in attendance. The 17th century Mexican-made image of Nuestro Padre Jesus de Nazareno, the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, has His own processions conducted every January 9, with Manila’s menfolk coming in droves to bear the santo on their shoulders. Semana Santa processions of old are often the most dramatic, with a long parade of life-size santos and complex tableaus, visualizing the events of the Passion.

Pampanga has its share of processions, both simple and grand--“limbun” or “lubenas” ( a corruption of the word “novena”) as they are locally called. An early barrio of Mabalacat town was even known as “Paglimbunan”, a place for processions. Riverine towns like Apalit have their fluvial processions, and during its June town fiesta, the image of their patron, “Apo Iro”, is borne on multi-storied pagoda mounted on rafts that then traverses the river to the accompaniment of hundreds of devotees on boats. Simliar fluvial celebrations were once held on Pasig River to honor San Nicolas de Tolentino during his feast day.

The feast of La Naval is also celebrated in Angeles City , a major Pampanga religious event held every 2nd Sunday of October and half of the city’s “twin fiesta” celebrations. The image of Nuestra Sra. Del Rosario and the Christ Child is taken from the Holy Rosary Parish for the traditional annual procession. Days later, on the last Friday of October, comes “Fiesta ng Apu”, an event to honor “Apung Mamacalulu”, the Lord of the Holy Sepulchre, whose story is linked with that of Angeles’s.

In 1928, the revered icon figured in an unforgettable Holy Week procession which resulted in the santo being stolen. The root cause was the controversy between then parish priest, P. Juan Almario and the recamaderos or caretakers of the image with regards to the disbursement of alms generated by the “Apu” processions. On Good Friday, as the procession wended its way to the church, a band of men snatched the image, in connivance, they say, with the local police. A case was filed by the Catholic Church; the image was recovered, although rumors persist that this was just a replica, and that the original “Apu” is somewhere in the town of Calamba, Laguna.
The Catholic Church has simplified most of its rituals today . Masses are shorter and the shrouding of images with purple cloth on Holy Thursday is rarely done by parishes. Intonations in Latin have all but disappeared from our missals. Even church vestments are devoid of heavy gold and silver embroidery, for practical reasons. Happily, one need only to look at our “limbun” on our street, to see that there are still those who carry on the old ways, maintaining our rich religious tradition, by walking literally with God.
(12 October 2002)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


WHEELS BENEATH MY WINGS. An elaborate carroza shaped like a chariot bears the image of Ntra. Sra. De la Milagrosa (Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal) during a Marian procession in Magalang. The carroza came equipped with expensive glass globes borne by angels, floral arrangements and a profusion of decorative carvings—scrolls, clouds, cherubs. Early 1920s. Alex R. Castro Photo Collection
Maleldo is that time of the year when families bring out their heirloom santos (processional saints) associated with the Passion and parade them off in ritual processions, arrayed in sumptuous gold-embroidered raiments and expensive devotional adornments. In the old days, these priceless santos—some larger than life—were lavished with gifts, with some receiving part of the year’s revenue from rice or sugar harvests for their upkeep and maintenance.

Not only did families dote on their treasured images, they also spent thousands on the wheeled platforms that bear them—carrozas or caros. The most prized carrozas are those made with panels of solid silver melted from old Mexican coins. The silver panels, often detachable, were made by craftsmen in “pinukpok” style, the same process in making metal décor for calesas, also known as repoussé, where designs are created by hammering the reverse side of the silver sheet. Other metalwork methods include chasing (indenting with a hammer or a dull-pointed object), embossing (raising in relief by pushing in the background) and engraving.

Long before the advent of wheeled carrozas were the andas (walkers), the platform mounts of santos, borne on the shoulders of able-bodied men. In Sevilla, Spain, these processional platforms were called pasos, which functioned as elaborate stage sets for the images. Andas referred to the structural supports for the paso. Heavy, decorated fabrics or faldas hung from the paso’s stretcher, thus hiding the paid carriers or costaleros. Eventually, as the size of platforms grew and the representations became more complex (the Ultima Cena tableaux has at least 13 santos!), the anda was mounted on a wheeled chassis for better maneuverability. Early carrozas had narrow calesa/cartela wheels, but these have now been replaced with modern, automotive tires for a smoother, jolt-less ride.

If one could not afford silver, wood (batikuling was a favorite) was utilized to make the carroza body. This was then carved, varnished, polychromed or gilded with gold. Historian Mariano A. Henson writes of an 1860 Holy Week procession in Kuliat (Angeles) in which images were carried on gilded floats, replacing the modest biers used in 1830. The gilding was done manually by women “who are not gluttonous and not given to smoke, chewing tobacco or buyo”. Woman’s saliva was used to moisten the gesso on the carroza so that the gold foil, when applied with a brush, stayed fast on the surface. This process assured the survival of the gilt even after years of handling and exposure to the elements.

Carrozas came in many forms: multi-storied, columned, canopied or made to look like boats. The carroza of Nstra. Sra. De las Estrellas, an ivory image owned by the late Carlos Mercado of Sasmuan for instance, is shaped like a chariot. Platforms can be designed with 8 sides or ochovado style. Carrozas carrying the sorrowful Virgin (Dolorosa) were equipped with a palio or a baldachin supported by carved poles or varas. The Mercado clan has a Sto. Entierro inside a calandra or a funeral coach, topped by angels bearing the symbols of the Passion. Silver chandeliers held glass virinas decorated with sampaguita flowers. In Mabalacat, the 28 emblems of the Passion (ladder, hammer, nails, crown of thorns, dice, etc.) are incorporated as silver milagros on the black sayal (skirting) of the carroza bearing Apung Mamacalulu.

During the Spanish times, the commodious ground floors (zaguans) of convents and large colonial mansions were perfect parking spaces for carrozas. Before storing, the metal parts were treated with shoe polish or zinc oxide dissolved in alcohol to prevent tarnish.

It would seem however, that carrozas not only served to carry santos, they were also used as funeral biers for children. I have seen at least one memento mori picture of an infant laid atop a carroza surrounded with flowers and lights, a beguilingly chilling sight. Perhaps, it was decided that this child, with a life still untainted, deserved to journey into the next life in the same spectacular way as our holy santos.

In the 1920s, families ordered their carrozas from ateliers in Quiapo, like the popular Maximo Vicente. The art of carroza making is still practiced in Pampanga although exceptional carvers are getting harder to find. One has to scour out-of-the-way religious shops in Betis and Guagua for these artisans. The Nicdaos of Bacolor and Gener Bautista of San Gabriel, Macabebe still accept commissions for old-style caros while Boyet Flores, a descendant of the famed Flores carving family from Betis, continues the tedious carroza-building tradition.

Whether burnished, silvered, chased or plated, each carroza is reflective of the highest degree of skill attained by our local craftsmen. That is why, this maleldo, when the santos come once more a-rolling, pay close attention to the carrozas—the spectacular splendor-on-wheels, bearers of divinities who have come down to earth to remind us of our Lord’s Passion, as well as the greatness of Kapampangan talent.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

43. PASIUN: Sing a Song of Passion

PABASA IN PAMPANGA. Women were often asked to sing the narrative verses of the Passion of the Lord, performed in visitas or before makeshift altars such as this. Taken in Magalang, circa 1924.

The liturgical season of Lent gives one a close look at the Kapampangan’s unique and divergent interpretations of Christian religiosity. Forty days—hence the term, kuaresma, representing the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert—are committed to prayer, abstinence, penitence and acts of charities. Most of the practices are part of the Church’s paraliturgy, but some rituals are of popular origins, developed by the laity and sanctioned by local priests. One example is the public chanting of the Passion of Christ—Pasiun—which was often performed in the days of old by women and a scattering of men in a visita, a barrio chapel or in a dressed-up room of a sponsor’s house.

A makeshift altar forms the backdrop of the Pasiun pabasa. A crucifix or a santo associated with the Passion (Examples: Kristung Makagapus, Desmayadu or Dolorosa) is often installed on top of a linen-covered table adorned with flowers and lit with candles. The reading was once done on the Sundays of Lent: Domingo de Ceniza, Primera Estacion, Domingo Panis, Domingo Lazaro and Domingo de Ramos; nowadays the Pasiun is sung daily.

The Pasiun book is an art form in itself; handscripted on vellum, decorated with calligraphic flourishes and sometimes illustrated with key biblical scenes. Regional versions have been documented from 9 linguistic groups in Luzon and the Visayas. The earliest version is in Tagalog, Gaspar Aquino de Belen’s Mahal na Pasion ni Jesu Christong P.(oon) Natin na Tola; while the most popular is the Pasyong Genesis by Mariano Pilapil (1814) . Being the work of laymen, it was but expected that Spanish friars went up in arms against these books, decrying them for their heretical and profane content.

It took a learned member of the ilustrado clergy to rid the Pasiun of doctrinal errors and stylistic defects. D. Aniceto de la Merced, then parish priest of Candaba and Vicario Foraneo of the secular clergy in Pampanga, wrote the monumental “El Libro de la Vida Historia Sagrada con Santas Reflexiones y Doctrinas Morales para la Vida Cristiana”, now known to us as Pasyong Candaba. Written in Tagalog, de la Merced’s version is more erudite, more coherent, with emphasis on Christian doctrine rather than on characters. He liberally quoted the Scriptures to validate his points, at the same time, condemning folk practices derived from paganism, like the concept of kulam or witchcraft.

The ritual a capella singing of the Pasiun appears to mimic the pattern of church singing, with deep influences from local folk melodies. The style is called melismatic, characterized by highly florid passages in which the original tune is spun out into embellishments. The Pasiun singing may vary from the very plaintive (“managulele”), mournful (“dalit”) to dirge-like (“punebri”). It was not uncommon for pabasa sponsors to seek out veteran singers to lend their voices to the marathon singing which can go on late into the night.

The Pasiun also inspired theatrical plays called “sinakulu”, in which important episodes from the life of Christ are enacted on stage. Biblical characters spewed out lines lifted from Pasiun books, with each presentation taking place from Palm Sunday to Easter.

During the post-war years, simple accompaniment was added to the singing especially where the younger set joined in. Guitars, harmonicas and bandurias lent variation to the plain chant. Of late, the Pasiun has been infused with a more contemporary sound, sung with borrowed melodies as varied as “Voltes 5 Theme” to folksinger Coritha’s nationalistic “Bayan Ko”.

Pacing is critical in singing the Pasiun as the entire book should be completely read out by Biernes Santu (Good Friday). After that, the churches take over with eloquent and reflective dissertations of the Siete Palabras (7 Last Words). The grand finale of the Pasiun reading is marked with a generous feast served by the host of the pabasa, a welcome reward for the sore-throated, who, for the whole season of Lent, sang the passion of the Lord non-stop, to high heavens.
(12 April 2003)