The Santo Entierro (Holy Interment) is one of the most iconic carozas, if not THE iconic caroza, in the entire roster of carozas that participate in the annual solemn procession conducted during Good Friday of the Semana Santa in the Municipality of Bantayan in Bantayan Island, Cebu. The caroza carries the sculpture of the dead Christ lying supine on his deathbed on a raised platform. A very old relic, it has been cared for by several people in the island for generations with the current caretakers doing it for almost three decades already.
Being the highlight of the solemn procession, its all-white glow and floral arrangements against a backdrop of yellow candlelight held by a sea of people is a sight to behold. However, most Bantayanons know that the Santo Entierro is infamous (wrongfully so) for the mayhem that ensues shortly after it has done its processional route.
My brother, Kim, who was once an officer (Wing 2, Intelligence) of the Citizens’ Army Training unit of one of the private high schools in the island, Bantayan Southern Institute (BSI), was privileged enough to be among the students tasked to provide perimeter defense on the caroza and cordon off the mass of devotees that walk with it during the procession. It was always fascinating to me to hear about his experience with it; the uncontrollable crowd who rushed in and jockeyed for position to grab hold of the floral decorations mounted on the caroza.
It is commonly believed that these decorations bring about good luck and fortune to the bearer but I thought there was more to the story. To shed some light on this phenomena, I asked a few questions to my friend and former classmate in the elementary and a member of one of the families who serve as stewards of the Santo Entierro.
Preparations for the caroza starts the night before Friday, when the caretaker families start putting in the fresh flowers on the deathbed. These are flowers of the white variety like chrysanthemums, Malaysian and spider mums, liliums and orchids. On the mounting platform, white paper flowers are planted which were lovingly but laboriously made and shaped. Lighting fixtures are also installed strategically, on different areas of the caroza allowing it to give off the well known white glow during the night. With this level of embellishment, it is no surprise that it takes more than half a day to complete the task, up to the mid-afternoon of the next day.
It turns out that the floral decorations on the caroza are not the only source of good luck charms for the devotees. Perhaps a tidbit that I have not heard before but is an equally fascinating tradition is the “pahigda”. These are items that people asked from caretakers to be placed on the undercarriage of the caroza with the belief of having it blessed and imbued with sacredness after the procession: fishing nets, incenses (tuob), letters of petition, medicinal oils and other traditional medicine substances, small money bills (20’s, 50’s, 100’s) and likely, many other items.
After the procession, these items are then handed over back to the people who have offered them to be used as charms: entrepreneurs would place the money bills on their cash registers to bring good fortune to their businesses while some individuals would put them on their wallets but not spend them so that their wallets won’t ever run out of money. Traditional medicine folks would use the oils and other substances for the healing and wellness of their patrons while fisher folks suffuse their fishing nets with the incenses before venturing out into the sea in the hope of a bountiful catch.
The strong beliefs highlighted in the aforementioned necessitates the inclusion of a tight security cordon around the caroza not only to maintain order but also to safeguard the well-being of the people accompanying the caroza as it snakes its way around the poblacion for the procession. A contingent of barangay tanods (village volunteer brigade), policemen and SWAT members complemented by a number of CAT students comprise the perimeter force. They hold on to a lengthy rope that winds around the caroza defining a no-venture zone while the procession is on-going.
As the caroza approaches the end of its journey, the people start to edge closer to it, practically shrugging off the security force, particularly the CAT students. Reports of people getting hit are but a common place as the crowd elbow their way towards the caroza and basically find multiple ways of hauling a good amount of the floral decorations.
I found myself an opportunity to photograph the struggle, so naturally, I immersed myself with the crowd. Going in closer was a challenge and great awareness must be considered at all times or you will come face to face with a moving caroza, as I did.
Being in the thick of it, I managed to pluck a few of those white paper flowers as well. The look I got from the people who were not able to get any were a mix of astonishment and fascination as they deem myself lucky.
Needless to say, by the time the Santo Entierro passes by the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Church, a majority of its floral decorations are but long gone.
As I went home that night holding a handful of those white paper flowers, a sense of wonder and amazement welled up inside me. The Santo Entierro of Bantayan is truly one of a kind. While we can debate all we want as to the efficacy of these long held traditions, we can all agree that the level of faith and belief my fellow Bantayanons possess is awe-inspiring.
All photos taken on: 03/04/2015