Monday, March 25, 2013

Domingo Ramos (Palm Sunday) of old

Blessing of the ramos [palaspas, Tag.] at the St. Michael the Archangel Church in Fort Bonifacio, 24 March 2013.

It's a good thing something distracted me from going to the Sta. Cruz church in Manila for the afternoon Domingo Ramos mass yesterday.  It rained so hard in the afternoon that some places in the metropolitan area were 'treated' to the usual flashfloods.

We were in our sister's place in the AFP housing village and the St. Michael the Archangel church was just a short walk away.  As expected the street leading to the church was lined up with vendors of palaspas (artfully crafted young coconut leaves) to be blessed by the priest, brought home and hang by doorways to ward off evil, according to folklore.  In San Antonio, Zambales, people don't use these artistic coconut leaves but instead bring a branch (ramo, Sp.) of the Zycas zambalensis, an endangered specie, to the Palm Sunday service.

The vendors were telling me that they came down from Laguna as early as Friday with hauls of coconut leaves, and camped on streets around the church where they fashioned the artistic ramos.  After the early evening mass, they were lamenting they still had plenty to sell, adding that there were really not as many churchgoers as in previous years.

We remember that in our childhood in San Narciso, Zambales where there are many who carry the family name Ramos (it came all the way from Paoay, Ilocos Norte in 1837 and was not replaced by an F surname from the Narciso Claveria catalog in1850), young girls including our five sisters had major roles in Aglipayan church activities during the Holy Week.

Their first appearance was on Domingo Ramos.  Both the Roman Catholics and the Aglipayans built several small house-like bamboo structures walled and roofed with white curtains or bedsheets called kubo-kubo where the little girls dressed in white with cardboard angel wings were posted as if they were looking out from a window.  When the priest (representing Jesus Christ) paused in front of a kubo-kubo, they strewed flower petals to the beat of their song in Latin, 'Hosanna Filio David,' that they had rehearsed with the cantoras for several weeks.

Their rites of girlhood in white dress and angel wings continued through the processions of Holy Thursday and Good Friday and culminated during the early dawn sabet (Iloc.; salubong, Tag.) rites of Easter Sunday.  Here they sang the story of the resurrection in Ilocano, being joyful only at the Nagungaren (He has risen!) Alleluia chorus, as they watched a suspended a large flower open its petals in which one of them, previously chosen because of better singing projection, was hidden and now brought down to lift the black veil of the sorrowful Virgin Mary when the Risen Christ was brought before her.

The kubo-kubo ritual of Domingo Ramos in our town has become part of history. This year, the Aglipayans have adopted the new form, which the Roman Catholics have been using for a long time: the palaspas rites in the church yard before the priest leads the congregation to the church for the holy mass.  For almost two decades now, the Catholics too have an image of Christ riding a donkey in the procession to the church.

Artistic ramos is something we share with the Mexicans who also use coconut fronds as shown by the lower photo from the latest issue of Atencion San Miguel, a bilingual publication of the library of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  (Source:

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