Saturday, April 19, 2003

Just got back from a Pabasa which is a reading of the Passion (the fall, death and resurrection of Jesus), but in Tagalog (with a few Latin phrases thrown in) and chanted and sung for 12 hours. OK, so I didn't go for twelve hours and I went mostly because of the food. My family is not from the Tagalog region, so we don't do the Pabasa. It was a new experience for me.

The Pabasa is quite entertaining. It's chanted. And there are two, sometimes three groups of people singing different sections. Then in the more glorious movements there are sections that are sung in a faster skippier kind of beat with guitar accompaniament. Every few pages or so, there is a pause for the Our Father and Hail Mary and a song. There are leaders who seems to know how the song of the chant is supposed to go. It's mostly this downward minor key.

Today is especially important because it's Good Friday, the day Jesus gets to carry his cross around and gets the crown of thorns. If I had gone to church I would have been on my knees following along his path with his expounded in either painting or carving around the church. But I didn't, because there's better food at the Pabasa.

This one was held by my friend's parent's town association. They've been around FOREVER as shown by the pictures of Pinoys from the 1930s and 40s in their baseball outfits and formal attire at balls. And since it's Good Friday, there's no meat, so everything is veggie or seafood, which brings about an interesting part of Filipino cuisine. Filipino vegetable dishes are quite delicious but they often get second seat next to the lechon and such. There's Pinakbet (with bitter melon), Kalabasa/squash dish, banana hearts (yuuummm!), ukoy (fried veggie fritter, then the seafood: catfish, salmon, shrimp lumpia, some kind of dark squid dish.

There is a constant group of at least a dozen folks chanting with people switching in and out to eat, drink salabat (ginger tea), and rest. It's a tag team kind of thing. The tables have bowls of citrus wedges and cough drops. Twelve hours of chanting!!! They start at like 1p and end around 5am the next morning. At the end of the hall is a large shrine of white cloth with several religious dolls clad in black (for the mourning of Jesus' death) about 7 or 8 of them with a cross and accented with yellowish orchid blossoms.

It reminded me of a couple of things. It reminded me how I like the way Filipinos practice Catholicism. It's entertaining! If I wasn't Filipino, I wouldn't be Catholic. It also reminded me of the chanting the Tboli people of Mindanao do. They essentially chant out their epic songs and tales as a way of passing it on to the next generation. These tales carry morality lessons on them. Some are directed by spirits in their dreams to chant a story from beginning to end without stop.

The Pabasa is essentially this, but with the colonized religion pasted onto it. Yet this is one of the ways Filipinos survived colonialization. They could still sing and chant, they just needed to replace the epic story. Colonization couldn't stop Filipinos from singing and chanting. What it did do was change what right and wrong means. It changed what is valued and what was important to pass on. For the Tboli and other Indigenous populations, they were able to retain much of what their people knew of their world, while other groups took as much as they could, but still had to leave other things behind.

We talked to my friend about how the club continues on. It seemed as though no one under 40 did the chants. To the younger generation, this was something their parents did and that they had to go to, but they just weren't too passionate about the Passion. A lot of it was language, since it was not only in Tagalog but a fairly deep Tagalog. Some points I wish I had my dictionary. At the same time, I had difficulty singing and understanding it at the same time. It took me 8 years of study to understand a fraction of what is being chanted. For my friend who left the Philippines when he was 13, the Pabasa brought him home.

I wondered what my generation will take with us.

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