October 2013 – The Phillipines is largely a Christian nation as a result of nearly three hundred years of Spanish occupation followed by a hundred more years of American presence. Language and culture, in addition to religion, are also by products of colonialism. Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines along with English, is heavily influenced by the Spanish language.
With such strong linguistic and cultural ties to Western civilization, Western visitors to the Philippines may experience a sense of familiarity that might be difficult to find elsewhere in Asia. Witnessing Easter Sunday traditions in the Philippines was interesting for me because many elements were familiar yet there were also new and exciting nuances within the rituals.
To celebrate Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday, groups of hymn chanting Filipinos proceed along major streets carrying flower arrangements, Christian ornaments, enormous crosses and leather whips. During these colorful processions, Filipino men show their devotion and repentance by whipping themselves on the back until bloods drips from the lashes. To add to the dramatic scene, the shirtless men cover the entirety of their heads with black cloth wrapped in thorny crowns that blind them throughout the procession. Many men, but not all, douse the whips in red paint in order to avoid the lasting scars created by the painful thrashings. With or without the scars, the message is the same – the Philippines is a Christian nation.