We spent Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Black Saturday at my mom’s hometown in Pila-Pila, Binangonan, Rizal. This is one of the many towns of Rizal that hasn’t fully succumbed to urbanization yet. It isn’t that far from Manila, in fact we reached this place an hour after we left Cavite last Thursday since there’s hardly any traffic. As we were entering Pila-pila, I remembered the times when we would go here to visit my Lola. Pila-pila is at the foot of a mountain. When I was a kid, we used to travel here at dawn in our owner-type jeep. My sister and I used to marvel at how big and scary the mountain was with its big boulders and bamboos. My dad often regale us with stories about how they chased an aswang in that same mountain and how he saw a Kapre smoking a pipe on one of the big trees along the road. Of course all those stories were designed to tickle our imagination but I have to admit, we ate them up.:)
I was surprised to learn that Lenten traditions like pabasa, senakulo, penitensya and prusisyon are still practiced in this place. Whereas religious traditions have slowly faded into the distant memories of people in urban towns, they are still very much alive here. Last Friday night, we trooped to the Bayan to watch the prusisyon (procession) and witness the Gewang-Gewang. I heard so much about Gewang-Gewang from my mom. It is the highlight of their Good Friday procession. It is called Gewang Gewang because devotees of the Santo Sepulcro (Jesus Christ in his coffin) try to squeeze themselves closer to the Santo Sepulcro so they can help carry it. They believe that all their prayer intentions and petitions will be granted if they will be able to touch or carry the Santo Sepulcro. Because of the surge of devotees trying to get near the Santo Seplucro, it moves in a gewang-gewang (topsy-turvy) motion. It takes hours before the Santo Sepulcro enters the church again. There is a story going around that the Santo Seplucro will not leave a certain place if it stops in front of a house where the owner planted his anting-anting (amulet). It is believed that it is one way of testing if it is still working and unless the owner digs and removes it from the ground, the Santo Sepulcro and the procession will not proceed even if the carriers willed it to move forward. For some reasons, it will just move back and forth as if a magnet is forcing it to stay. The procession that night started at 6 am and the Santo Sepulcro was brought back to the church a little over 3 am because it kept on moving at such slow pace.
We had a good view from where we were. We saw how the devotees fought their way closer to the Santo Sepulcro. In the course of their struggle, they get hurt. One devotee shared that they don’t mind getting wounded and crushed since to them these are all part of their sacrifice. We saw how others stepped on other men’s arms, legs, shoulders and even faces in their desire to reach the Santo Sepulcro. Some men that night were seen being fished out and carried by others to safety. And most of them were gasping for breath as they try to push the Santo Sepulcro. One man even suffered heart attack that night. It was very much like the Feast of the Black Nazarene. My cousin who has been a devotee of the Santo Sepulcro since he was a teenager shared that all his prayer intentions are granted whenever he joins the “buhat” (carrying of the Santo Sepulcro). Most of the devotees I have spoken to share the same sentiments that is why it has become every man’s panata in this town to join the Gewang-Gewang every Good Friday. To others, it has even become their initiation to manhood.
After witnessing Gewang Gewang for myself, I can’t help but admire these people for they truly were never afraid to show just how far they can take their faith in God. I admire how they have kept this tradition very much alive until now. How through their deep faith in the divine, they have managed to preserved this part of our culture. I am glad that I brought my 10 year old daughter to witness this with me. In the event that this tradition die a natural death like the others, at least my daughter has it engraved in her memory.