Caesar would despair at the performance of these subjects.
April started a few days ago. THE friend – the Northeast monsoon and the dry season of the Philippine archipelago – it's halfway through.
The sun shines without mercy, but the heat is not enough to demotivate an unruly battalion of centurions with high-pitched voices that fight for everything and for nothing and provoke the spectators of Boac, the capital of the island that hosts the Festival dos Moriones.
The Historical Genesis of the Festival dos Moriones
The event was named after the adaptation of morion, the Castilian term for the helmets of Castilian soldiers that continues to define those worn by revelers. We only need to advance to the Age of Discovery to understand the connection.
In 1521, Fernão de Magalhães arrived in the Philippines in the service of Carlos V. Despite being mortally wounded on the neighboring island of Mactan, his sacrifice opened the door to the Spanish conquerors. Soon, these would colonize the archipelago while the missionaries who joined them, took charge of converting it to Christianity.
Marinduque did not escape his action.
In 1807, the island was already divided into several parishes and each priest was free to train new faithful as he pleased, as long as in accordance with the Bible.
It is said that, in Mogpog, Friar Dionísio Santiago was particularly pleased with the popular dramatizations and the character of Longinus.
And the Biblical Basis of the Long Plot
According to the Gospel accounts,
Longinus would have been the centurion responsible for satisfying the Jews to ensure that Jesus and the others crucified died and were removed from the Calvary before sunset, to avoid desecrating the Sabbath.
According to superior instructions, the legs of those who were still alive were to be broken.
When Longinus approached Jesus, he looked dead, but to be sure, the centurion, who could only see with one eye, decided to pierce the body with his spear.
Drops of blood fell on her blind eye and healed her.
Thereafter, Longinus and two other centurions witnessed various divine manifestations, including the Resurrection.
These manifestations led them to accept, with remorse, that Jesus was indeed the son of God.
His unexpected conversion provoked the wrath of both Jews and Romans. He forced Longinus to flee to Cappadocia where he began to profess Christianity.
But the slanders of the Jews urged Pilate to send soldiers to capture and decapitate him.
The persecuted ended up submitting to this fate.
When Roman Moriones Invade Marinduque Island
Over the years, in Marinduque, the story has been simplified.
The drama is treated with a combination of respect and the famous lightheartedness of the most Latin people in Asia.
All week Mogpog, Boac, Gasan and Santa Cruz are plagued by restless legions.
Groups of anachronistic centurions cross them, roam the beaches and take over weddings, where they dare to kidnap the bride and groom.
They form colored military columns. They invade stores with demands for generous donations that most merchants are happy to indulge.
The Craftsmen Who Shape the Masks Moriones
Some natives contribute their art.
This is the case of Regis and his nephews, who carve with dedication and mastery the most realistic morion masks on the island.
"We live and work in United States for most of the year…” confess the boys who wear the gear of their favorite American basketball teams. “…when we reach this point, we always find a way to come here…”
Still others prefer to work and play at the same time. They do it masked.
We found drivers from jeepneys (Philippine folk buses) and tricycles, but also civil servants, waiters and even gardeners.
Inside the uniforms and masks, the heat is atrocious and many see their participation in the festival as penance.
Seen things in a comparative way, they are nothing but jokes.
The Via Crucis Tropical of the Moriones Festival
When Good Friday afternoon arrives, the Way of the cross.
Devout volunteers play the roles of Jesus and the two thieves and, under a relentless sun, carry the crosses to a local golgotha.
Also during the procession the moriones do their thing.
Under the pretext of realism, they send violent lashes to the crosses and, too often, to the martyrs, who have to appeal to divine help not to fight back and remain faithful to the representation.
At the same time, the sadistic grimaces of the centurions – who display the best Marinduque masks there – and the pain they inflict impress and distress, out of solidarity, the most sensitive spectators.
No Calvary, continue, without exaggeration, the historical events. Instead of being nailed, Jesus and the two thieves are tied to crosses by Roman soldiers and revered by the crowd.
The miracle of Longinus is represented. Shortly thereafter, Jesus is brought to the ground and given to women who mourn his death.
Once the ropes that delimit the set are removed, the audience rushes to photograph themselves in the company of their favorite actors and extras.
The Mask and Dance Competitions and the Persecution of Longinus
Come the weekend, the moriones return to the charge. Longinus assumes a leading role absent from the celebrations.
We find them at a school in Mogpog – the birthplace of the festival – where a competition is held that rewards the best masks and costumes, according to different categories.
From the top of a stage, in Tagalog (the national dialect) the service presenter thanks a number of entities and people. Soon, he explains to the competitors the rules of the competition.
The test begins and the view from that same stage proves to be surreal.
On an improvised track over the school yard, hundreds of crazy moriones "twist” side by side the choreography of “I'm ok“, the soundtrack of a television show then idolized in the Philippines.
A panel of juries observes them with rapt attention, confers and elaborates mysterious assessments.
The exhibitions last an eternity and leave the participants to their knees, but the verdict is finally reached and the winners receive their prizes.
When spectators least expect it, Longinus appears out of nowhere. He is chased by a crowd of centurions who strive to delay the ever-imminent capture.
There follows a dramatic beheading that arrives that thrills and splashes the audience.
And leaves the Roman's head in a puddle of pink paint.