“Lakaran”

The Tagalog word lakad literally means “to walk” when used as a verb. Used as a noun, lakad connotes purpose, cause, or mission.[1] While it is literally translated as “journey on foot”, lakaran really implies a “journey with a purpose”. It is a purposeful journey, a sacred journey, a vision quest, or a pilgrimage for a cause that demands a true sacrifice.[2] Historically, lakaran goes back to Apolinario de la Cruz, also known as Hermano Pule. In 1832, he founded a confraternity, the Hermadad de la Archi-Cofradía del Glorioso Señor San Jose y de la Virgen del Rosario, in the town of Lucban, Tayabas province (now, Quezon province).[3] In 1839, the Cofradía de San Jose underwent rapid expansion in the provinces of Laguna, Batangas, Cavite, and Camarines. Enraged by the different kinds of oppression inflicted upon the Filipino peasantry, the Cofradía revolted against Spain in October 1841. Ten days later, it was suppressed by Spanish forces. But what really struck the Spaniards about the native rebels was the “irrational” disregard for personal safety with which they fought the Spanish forces.[4] Reynaldo Ileto argues that such “irrational behavior” attributed to the cofrades (members of the Cofradía) can only be properly understood when seen within the context of a coherent worldview, the native peasants’ worldview.

Working on pieces of devotional literature and correspondences associated with the Cofradía and Hermano Pule, Ileto shows how the pasyon provided the perceptual framework by which the cofrades – and, in general, the 19th century ordinary peasantry – interpreted their experiences and struggles. This should not surprise us because, as a matter of fact, the very first Tagalog pasyon (Mahal na Pasion) of 1703 was already popular among the Tagalog peasantry by the middle of the 18th century. In the 19th century, other versions in Tagalog as well as other vernaculars were made available in Luzon and the Visayas. Casaysayan or Pasyon Pilapil, first published in 1814, replaced Mahal na Pasion in popularity in the 19th century.[5] An ordinary peasant in the 1830’s would surely be familiar with the pasyon. For the cofrades, such familiarity was further reinforced by the repeated recitation of memorized prayers recommended by Hermano Pule.[6]

A prayer which was repeatedly recited by the confrades was the dalit (religious hymn) entitled “Hymn to the peace in heaven that will be attained by the faithful.” This hymn offered a vision of the state of perfection that once reigned in Eden and would be reestablished in heaven. It is a state of perfection described in terms of the pasyon image of liwanag (light, radiance). Heaven is the state of pure and permanent liwanag that connotes a deep sense of equality and fraternal love dissolving any form of inequality because of different social positions. Earthly unity is fragile; it is liwanag that is constantly threatened by dilim (darkness). In the state of pure liwanag, the faithful acquires the ultimate form of knowledge (the ability to see God face to face) and becomes a source of liwanag. In the 19th century, the cofrades and, in general, the Filipino peasants saw in this vision the fulfillment of their long-standing quest for perfect unity and equality, and the realization of their uphill search for liwanag. It also gave them hope and strength to remain steadfast in their struggle.[7]

Liwanag and dilim again appeared in Hermano Pule’s letters to the members of the Cofradía. Here, they were employed to address the specific problem of the cofrades’ wavering loob (inner being) in the face of bitter hardship and oppression.[8] Clouded by prolonged suffering, loob can vacillate and even retreat. Obscured by dilim, loob becomes fickle and weak. But loob that has self-control is one that endures suffering unwaveringly. It is steadfast and firm. Such loob faces the suffering squarely. Again, loob which vacillated at first, but later regained self-control is a transformed loob. A loob that wavers is loob in darkness. That which is transformed and steadfast is loob that is radiant. Liwanag radiates not only in the perfect unity of persons and in heavenly beings; its radiance also shines in persons with transformed loob.

Indeed, Hermano Pule’s use of pasyon images reinforced the pasyon framework which helped the cofrades to understand their experiences. At times, his continuous use of these images caused the blurring of the distinction between the “everyday world” and the “pasyon world.” [9] As Ileto succinctly puts it:

In sum, the leader’s (Hermano Pule’s) advice, encouragement, scoldings, and interpretations of events raised everyday life to a level that was both transcendental and coherent – transcendental in the sense that the present was viewed in relation to the time of the pasyon (e.g., the Day of Judgment being the focus of present action); coherent in the sense that everything – conflict, suffering, and death included – had meaning.[10]

Inasmuch as the cofrades framed and perceived their “everyday world” within the “pasyon world,” how then – we may ask – did they perceive their leader? Naturally, the cofrades interpreted Hermano Pule’s life in terms of the pasyon image of Christ. He was a powerful sign of Christ’s presence particularly among the Tagalog people; undeniably another Christ-figure in Philippine history.[11] In fact, several events in his life were received as expressions of his damay with Christ. The Tagalog word damay has nuances of meaning.[12] Here, we understand it as “one’s participation in another’s experience or work.” Hermano Pule, who 200 years ago wandered (lakaran) in the southern provinces of Luzon, begging, preaching, eventually gathering his first followers and founding of the Cofradía, is suggestive of Christ who 2,000 year ago went around preaching, spreading God’s word, and gathering disciples. In other words, the lakaran undertaken by Hermano Pule was his way of expressing his participation in Christ’s lakaran, an expression of his damay with the Christ he encountered in the pasyon.[13]

But lakaran too was the Cofradía’s way to proselytize. As a matter of fact, lakaran refers to long treks that designated cofrades had to undertake in order to spread the word to other localities and inspire new members to join the Cofradía.[14] These mission driven journeys on foot were dangerous and could be very physically exhausting, requiring therefore total devotion of body and soul. Yet, the willingness of cofrades to take the risk of facing danger squarely and experiencing hardship tell us something more about lakaran than simply recruitment strategy. Seen within the pasyon world, lakaran is reminiscent of the pasyon Christ. It is a long path that involves trials and suffering, born with a deep sense of serenity coming from a steadfast inner self that exhibits self-control (transformed loob). It is a journey done with Christ (damay); it knows no turning back and definitely ends in Calvary. Lakaran, besides being a way to proselytize, is viewed more profoundly as part of the cofrades’ life of damay with the Christ of the pasyon and a way to develop their potentialities and acquire transformed loob.[15] In this sense, lakaran includes the quest for the state of pure liwanag and perfect unity.

When in September 1841 the Spanish government ordered the suppression of the Cofradía and the arrest of its leaders, a call was made to all cofrades in all the provinces to assemble at Isabang (a village of the province of Tayabas) for prayer and purification. I like to put it as a call to undertake a special lakaran to form communion. Within a week, an estimated number of eight to nine thousand members gathered at Isabang. Later, the Cofradía moved to the higher and more strategic village of Aritao on the slopes of Mt. San Cristobal (Tayabas province). Imagine how the cofrades would have interpreted this turn of events within the pasyon worldview. It was an experience of community (of thousands), of people from different provinces in solidarity, of brothers and sisters, of equals – a step closer to the state of perfect unity and pure liwanag; in short, the vision of heaven.[16]

On October 31, 1841, the Cofradía community at Aritao was surrounded, attacked and defeated by Government forces. Hermano Pule was captured and brought to trial. Before his execution, Hermano Pule exhibited an unusual serenity and greatness of spirit. It has been suggested that the unusual serenity and greatness of spirit by which Hermano Pule and his followers faced death be explained by how they perceived their own death. Through the lens of the pasyon world, they saw death as the fulfillment of their hopes, their final passage into the state of pure liwanag and perfect unity. Moreover, death for a cause at the hands of the authorities was for them another act of damay, a participation in Christ’s pasyon.[17]

Refuting therefore the “irrational behavior” attributed to the cofrades, Ileto explains their seeming madness by unveiling the pasyon world by which the cofrades framed and interpreted their life, struggle, and even death. It is within this same pasyon world that we grasp lakaran as an act of damay with Christ. It is every single cofrade’s participation in the lakad of the Christ of the pasyon in order to achieve a steadfast inner self (transformed loob) while hoping for the fulfillment of that vision of heaven marked by the state of perfect unity and pure liwanag.

As a journey to achieve inner strength and perfect unity, lakaran bears the influence of the Tradition Religion practiced by the indigenous people of the Philippines even before they were colonized and Christianized. As a ritual done in the spirit of damay, lakaran remains alive today in cults and pilgrimages enacted by followers of Traditional Religion and also in popular religious processions celebrated by Catholics. [18]

Relevant to the scope of our study though and to our task of exploring a Filipino theological dramatics, lakaran lends itself as another dramatic horizon which has the power to reveal as well as unite. The popular religious processions like the Salúbong processions, if seen through the dramatic horizon that is the lakaran, can relate our every day lakaran (journey for a cause, quest for a vision) with the lakad (purpose, mission) and lakaran (itinerant ministry and journey to Jerusalem) of Christ. The dramatic horizon that is the lakaran can bring about that encounter between the human condition implied in the lakaran of our daily life and the vision of salvation revealed in Christ’s lakaran, a lakaran that begins in the inner life of God and culminates with his death on the cross, his descent into hell, his resurrection, and ascension into heaven.

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[1] Mercado, “Lakaran,” 308-9.

[2] Katrin de Guia, Ph.D., Kapwa: The Self in the Other: Worldviews and Lifestyles of Filipino Culture-Bearers (Pasig City, Philippines: Anvil Publishing, 2005), 273, 376.

[3] Apolinario de la Cruz (1814-41) was a native of Lucban, a town of Tayabas, Philippines. At 15, he wanted to enter the monastic life. Being an Indio (name given to Filipino natives by early Spanish colonizers), he could not be accepted to a religious order. Instead, he ended up as a donado, i.e., one whose life is dedicated to the Lord, serving at the charitable institution of San Juan de Dios Hospital in Manila. He became a member of the Cofradía de San Juan de Dios, a confraternity open to Indios. Inclined to mystical theology, he picked up scraps of knowledge through personal reading and by listening to sermons. Later, he himself became an accomplished lay preacher who could move his listeners’ hearts. In 1832, Apolinario de la Cruz founded the Hermadad de la Archi-Cofradía del Glorioso Señor San Jose y de la Virgen del Rosario or simply Cofradía de San Jose. Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution, 31-32.

[4] Ibid., 29, 33.

[5] Bienvenido Lumbera clarifies that religious writing dominated the literary scene in the 19th century. Three factors explain this dominance: (a) during this time, major printing presses were owned by religious orders, (b) the writers themselves were either priests or members of religious organizations, and (c) the Comisión Permanente de Censura made sure that only the books “safe” for the natives to read were published or allowed in the country. One such book was the Casaysayan which was edited by Fr. Mariano Pilapil, then rector of San Jose College. Lumbera, Tagalog Poetry, 92-93.

[6] For instance, a cofrade was constantly reminded of basic pasyon themes every time he or she prayed the Rosary. Similarly, new members of the Cofradía, by personally making their “Declaration of submission to the beloved Lord St. Joseph,” were initiated to walk the pasyon path of “suffering toward happiness” under the protection of St. Joseph. Gradually, the pasyon world became the perceptual framework by which the cofrades made sense of their life, their struggles, and their hope of happiness, indeed their cry for salvation. Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution, 34-36.

[7] Ibid., 36-39.

[8] Literary, the Tagalog word loob means “the inside of something.” In this context, however, it refers to a person’s inner being or inner self.

[9] As I suggested earlier, the pasyon, i.e., the vernacular versed narrative of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, may perhaps be an early attempt to inculturate theology, particularly Christology, in the Philippines. Amazingly, it is an example of contextualized theology that comes to us in the beautiful form of native poetry, rather than in the clear, abstract language of a theological treatise. The pasyon’s popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries has been attributed by scholars (Lumbera, Javellana, Rivera, Aligan) to the poet’s success in making his characters – including Jesus – feel and act as life-sized and full-fleshed Filipinos, exhibiting familiar values such as damay (i.e., participation in another person’s experience or work; empathy). Consequently, the pasyon became an influential guide to Filipinos for Christian living as early as the 18th century. But a closer look at how the Filipino folk received the pasyon and Christianity reveals to us what could be characterized as “a creative evolvement by Filipinos of their own brand of Folk Christianity” (Ileto), “a merging of cosmic and meta-cosmic religion” (Aloysius Pieris, John McAndrew), or “a process of localization” (Oliver William Wolters). In other words, Christianity is interpreted and recast in the Filipino indigenous worldview described as this-worldly, transpersonal, interconnected spirit world. In this sense, the pasyon and the pasyon world is the interlacement of the Christian worldview and the Filipino indigenous worldview.

[10] Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution, 42. In these words of Ileto, we actually have a case in point of what we may describe as revelatory unitive experience. It is revelatory because the cofrades’ experience of struggle, seen in pasyon terms, propelled them, individually and collectively, towards a vision of heaven, a state of pure liwanag and perfect unity. And it is unitive because it formed them into a confraternity, a community of equals. But not only that, it also enabled them to participate in the life and passion of Christ. Finally, it brought a sense of unity – a unity that somehow came from heaven – that harmonized all their experiences of conflict, suffering, and even death into a meaningful whole.

[11] Ibid., 50.

[12] The word damay has several nuanced meanings: sympathy, empathy, compassion, help or aid, condolence for another’s misfortune, sharing in one’s sorrow or trouble, involvement in one’s action or crime. In the context of our discussion, damay signifies empathy and participation in another person’s experience and work.

[13] The Lenten practice of chanting the account of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ in verse non-stop, otherwise known as the pabasa, is about damay or the participation in Christ’s experience and work (to establish God’s Kingdom). In this same sense, the practice of lakaran is an expression of one’s damay with Christ.

[14] In an interview held by Fr. Leonardo Mercado, SVD with Dr. Teresita Obusan on the 6th of February 2002, Dr. Obusan claims that the word lakaran was never used by the cofrades as a technical term referring to mission-driven long treks undertaken to proselytize and recruit new members of the Cofradía. According still to Obusan, although the cofrades practiced lakaran, they nevertheless did not use the term. Whether lakaran already existed then as a technical term or whether lakaran was first used by Agapito Illlustre as Obusan claims is beside the point. What is essential is (a) to see the wanderings which Hermano Pule actually undertook as a participation or damay with Christ who too wandered around in his public life, and (b) to realize how these wanderings in turn inspired the cofrades to undertake the task or mission of proselytization even if this entailed long dangerous treks to be covered on foot. Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution, 56; Mercado, “Lakaran,” 309n9.

[15] Lakaran connotes a “pilgrimage tied in with a personal mission.” It was highly popular among Ileto’s revolutionary culture-bearers who upheld that such a journey often coincided with suffering for a noble cause. The actual task for a pilgrim, however, is to bring on this journey a latent inner strength (lakas ng loob) to overcome any obstacle. Guia, Kapwa, 20.

[16] For a more detailed discussion on the Aritao phenomenon and how the turn of events was perceived by the confrades in terms of the nearing fulfillment of all their hopes and ideals, see Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution, 56-63.

[17] Ibid., 62.

[18] Mercado, “Lakaran,” 311; Obusan, “Lakaran,” 25-26.

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