Penance at Holy Week – A Photo Essay

I’ve been a bit out of touch the last few days as I’ve been hunkering down through a typhoon in a place with minimal (i.e., really slow) internet access. I’m currently enroute to Taiwan so I might end up a day or two behind again. Hopefully not, though.
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A word of CAUTION: This post contains images that, while I don’t consider to be overly graphic, do contain blood and scenes that some may find disturbing. If this might be you, click here now.

One of the side ‘events’ that took place during the Moriones Festival in Marinduque, Philippines, was a self-flagellation gathering at the Boac cemetery. Similar to the volunteers who carried crosses in the Via Cruces procession, the flagellant participants join in this activity as an act of penance. Contrary to what I expected, the participants did not use whips to thrash themselves. Rather, an assistant would use a razor blade to place a series of small nicks in the skin in order to draw blood. A bundle of smooth, round sticks was then repeatedly beat over the area. This serves to spread the blood around and likely draws more out of the wounds. One might start on the upper arms, thrash them for a while, and then have nicks put in the chest and then thrash that area for a while.

Getting the Nicks

Getting the Nicks - Boac, Marinduque

I spoke briefly with one young man, asking him if this was his first time and why he did it. At 20 years old, he had done this several times since he was 15. Doing so, he said, gave his life direction and meaning. Coming from a different culture, it’s easy to be judgmental, look at these images and say: “This is wrong. They shouldn’t be doing this to themselves.” It’s certainly not my cup of tea nor something that I think most people, including most Filipinos, would find necessary. But who am I to argue if it keeps some young man on the straight and narrow?

Portrait of a Flagellant

Portrait of a Flagellant - Boac, Marinduque

While I’m sure it wasn’t painless, I don’t think it was as damaging or as painful as it looks. Although I’m sure stoicism abounded, none of the guys appeared to be experiencing much discomfort and many of them were smiling and laughing. As far as my discomfort, although I tend to have a bit of a weak stomach when it comes to blood and guts, I was not bothered much by seeing this at the time. I was actually a bit more disturbed later when I looked at the pictures for the first time. While watching, it was mostly a trick to walk around and avoid getting splattered with flying blood.

Hey, This Has Been Fun

Hey, This Has Been Fun - Boac, Marinduque

At the Task

At the Task - Boac, Marinduque

The Tools

The Tools - Boac, Marinduque

A Younger Participant

A Younger Participant - Boac, Marinduque

Walking With the Ghosts

Walking With the Ghosts - Boac, Marinduque

The Arm is Ready

The Arm is Ready - Boac, Marinduque

In Front of the Grave

In Front of the Grave - Boac, Marinduque

Smiling Observer

Smiling Observer - Boac, Marinduque

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