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A Ritual of Faith

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Senakulo (1378)


Amidst the backdrop of Makati’s high rise towers, a rich religious tradition has survived. Done yearly at the periphery of the country’s financial district, the almost 80 year old Senakulo (Cenacle or Lenten passion play) has been played out in the vicinities of what is now Brgy. Pio del Pilar alternating in Evangelista and Washington Sts.

The week prior to Holy Week, the street is blocked, to the chagrin of drivers and commuters, and a big stage is set up. On the eve of Palm Sunday, the passion play begins starting with the Creation story. For the entire week until midnight of Easter Sunday, the Senakulo is played out nightly to local audiences accompanied by a brass band with key scenes of Christ’s life, passion and resurrection.

The performers are local community volunteers. Cast members range from a few veterans who have been doing specific roles for quite a number of years while majority are tyros. The current Kristo (Christ), Bobbie Garcia, is one such veteran who has been doing the Senakulo for almost 50 years now starting as the Child Jesus doing bit parts in the first few days and gradually growing into his role.

It’s no mean feat to mount a Senakulo. There is the stage to set up. Huge painted canvasses that are used as backdrops for the many scenes. Costumes to wear. Food and snacks for the performers and payment for the brass band. Its a logistical nightmare and one has to be a master of improvisation to pull it all off. In an interview I did with Bobbie, he said that the production must have at least about P100,000 and that’s for the basic setup with recycled backdrops and costumes from previous years’ plays. Good thing that there are sponsors who support this kind of community activity.

Tagulaylay is how the rythmic singing is called. It sounds like an archaic song and the rythm isn’t varied much. However, as Bobbie said, it takes skill to master it and is only limited to two roles: the Kristo (Christ) and Maria (Virgin Mary). The rest speak their lines.

Most of the young performers are students of the Kristo at a local high school where he teaches. Practices start as early as January during weekends and rehearsals intensify as Holy Week draws near. As for the audience, it is not always permanent as nightly perfomances can be as short as three hours to as long as four. Some drop by to watch and observe. There are no seats unless one will bring his.
The Makati Senakulo has survived through the decades mainly through the dedication and commitment of its actors and through the generosity of sponsors. There was a time when it nearly stopped as the original director passed away and with him, the sole copy of the script. What the cast did was to write down the lines of each actor as far as they can remember!

Despite the modernity and sophistication of Makati, this religious tradition is very much alive.