These were taken two years ago. I was still working as a copywriter in an ad agency and my friend, Guido, had messaged me on Facebook, asking if I had any plans for the Holy Week. He wanted to go to Marinduque for the Moriones Festival. The details were hazy – we didn’t even have a place to stay yet – but I was going through a tough time that year, so I said yes, although a bit reluctantly. We needed one more person to go with us and luckily, one of my closest friends from high school (Hi Pat!), was all for it. And so, we found ourselves in the heart-shaped island of Marinduque, in its busiest, most crowded time of the year.
It was a fascinating experience, one grounded in the rich culture and traditions of the province. We met a mask maker named Refine Janda, who talked about the process of making the mask or morion; a man who discovered a new species of insect (on a side note: Marinduque is apparently the butterfly capital of the Philippines!); and a medicine man who makes tawak, a drink made from mint leaves, spices, herbs, and local vodka, which is meant to protect the drinker from venomous bites.
Aside from the parades, processions, and religious plays, we also experienced first-hand the warmth and hospitality of Marinduqueños. There was the putong or tubong, wherein local women dressed in pink welcomed us with songs and dancing as we sat in chairs with crowns on our head and stems of roses in our hands. They sprinkled confetti over us, and pulled us into a circle, inviting us to celebrate with them.
Later that night, we awoke to the strumming of a guitar and the voices of men outside our window. Our host, Guido’s tita, told us that they wanted to serenade us – what we Filipinos call harana. She handed us a candle and instructed us to place it on the window sill. It was around one in the morning; at the time, all we wanted to do was go back to sleep (we had to wake up at 7AM the next day), but we sat patiently and listened as they poured out their hearts in song. They looked like they were enjoying it, and they joked among themselves that they would keep singing until 4AM. To our relief, they finished after a couple of songs and bid us good night. Guido’s tita said that they did it out of nostalgia – they never get to do that anymore and they wanted us to get a feel of what the real harana was like, as they experienced it in the old days.
On the last day of the festival, after the Easter mass, we witnessed the Gasang-Gasang Street Dancing, wherein groups from the different barangays performed in the plaza, showcasing their colorful costumes and hand-made props.
There were plenty of other things that happened on this trip. But those events and encounters were the ones that really stood out for me. Aside from those, it was the little things that made it worthwhile. When I think of Marinduque, I remember walking around with my friends under the heat of the sun, getting lost in a parade of people, entering a church for the first time and making a wish, finding an interesting cart of local snacks, eating as much street food as we can, trying on a morion mask and armor, and sleeping on the floor of the RORO (it was packed with people), on the way home.
All in all, the trip was exhausting. But it was a great and fulfilling experience; looking back, I’m glad I had said yes.