Saturday, April 9, 2011

The rites of Paete, Laguna for the Senyor Sepulcro (Dead Christ)

The Senyor Sepulcro after the rite of the dead.

We arrived too late on Holy Wednesday morning last year when the devotees moved the Senyor Sepulcro (Dead Christ) image from its niche in the antique Roman Catholic church of Paete, Laguna to the house of the Afuang family for their traditional rite of the dead.

Devotees keep vigil during the smoking of the Senyor.

When we got to the Afuangs the Senyor was already enclosed in a cubicle covered by several layers of bedsheets.  Gathered around were womenfolk in prayerful vigil.  We were told that they earlier wiped the old image--alleged to be from Mexico with a dark head and disjointed arms and limbs--with a mixture of lambanog (coconut wine) and herbs and had Him seated inside on an armchair.  The air was redolent with incense as the Senyor was being smoked until 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Source:  Picpican (2003) credited this picture of the "sinadag/sinangadli funeral practices of Bakun" to the SLU Museum of Arts and Cultures.

We thought we've read of a similar practice among the Igorots of old in the Cordilleras. "Centuries ago," master photographer Eduardo Masferre (1999) wrote, " the bodies of wealthy people from the area of Kabayan, Benguet, were treated with a herbal mixture and then smoked for as long as three months.  The process effectively mummified the remains, which were then placed in a cave.  The herbal recipe was lost, probably before the turn of the century."

The women remove the layers of bedsheets they themselves brought.

What still persists today is the practice of having the "corpse seated on a sangadli [also called sangachil] with low intensity fires around it to dry the body (Picpican, 2003)" among the rich members of some highland tribes. 

The seated Senyor revealed.
Strange coincidences but the seating and smoking rites of the dead and the woodcarving tradition of the Paete people and the Cordillera tribes spin some kind of ancient cultural thread between them. 

 We were back to the Afuang house before 3PM.  We were invited either to take a place around the cubicle and insert our feet inside, or join a few folks inside for our personal prayers.  We gave the last one a try, but we sat inside long enough to look at the Senyor through the haze of incense smoke.

The devotees prepare to dress up the Senyor.

On the set time, the layers of bedsheets were removed, and the wooden frames of the cubicle dismantled.  The Senyor could have been naked without the white cloth covering the pelvic area and the white scarf wrapped around the head.

The Senyor dressed up in a white gown.

He was soon clothed in a white gown, laid on a bed, and a wig put on his head.  His body was then covered by a maroon shroud with embroidered embellishments before the faithful was allowed to pay the traditional homage of kissing the feet or hands or wiping them with their handkerchief.

Devotees transfer the Senyor to his bed.

The Senyor would stay in repose at the Afuangs with the devotees keeping vigil until he is carried out in an ornate coffin for the Good Friday procession.

A devotee praying before the shrouded Senyor.

We were told that the devote menfolk of Paete would take turns carrying the Senyor and they would walk in measured cadence such that the coffin sways with a rhythm.

  • Masferre, Eduardo. 1999.  A Tribute to the Philippine Cordillera.  Hong Kong: Golden Cup Printing Co., Ltd.  (75)
  • Picpican, Isikias. 2003.  The Igorot mummies: a socio-cultural and historical treatise.  Quezon City: Rex Book Store, Inc.

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