Saturday, June 03, 2006

The "Ritual of Judas"

The "Ritual of Judas" in the Philippines' Panay Island is interesting. Professor Rosario C. Lucero of the University of the Philippines, in his article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, describes the Holy Week ritual in this way:

[T]he giant effigy of Judas -- with a giant wooden phallus sticking out through a slit in his robe -- is paraded around the barrio with much noise and fanfare. The parade ends at the barrio plaza, where a tripod of tall bamboo poles has been erected and from which dangles a noose of abaca rope. The noose is slipped around Judas's neck, a fuse sticking out of one shoe is lighted, and he explodes in a burst of firecrackers .

The scene apparently reenacts the death of Judas who "went and hanged himself" (Matthew 27:5). But the ritual does not settle for a too quiet death of Judas. Judas, the traitor, must perish in an outrageous and outlandish way. Thus,

firecrackers were stuffed inside the effigy, along with flammable materials of rice straw and abaca cloth. His head, being the biggest part of the effigy, took the longest to explode because it was stuffed with the largest and most numerous firecrackers. But the loudest blast occurred in his testicles, which were also disproportionately large so as to hold the strongest explosives.

The "gruesome" scene is similar to the account of the Gospel writer, Luke, in Acts 1:18:

"Falling headlong, he [Judas] burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out."

Interpreting this passage, a second century A.D. Christian writer, Papias says:

[Judas'] flesh swelled so much that he could not pass where a cart could easily. His eyelids swelled so much that he could not see any light at all, and his eyes could not be seen even with a doctor's instruments, because they had sunken so far from the surface of his face. His genitals were more enlarged and unsightly than any other deformity, while blood and worms flowed from all over his body, necessarily doing great harm just by themselves.

Both Panay's Ritual of Judas, Luke and Papias agree to shame and humiliate the traitor by reducing to futility his private parts--the male symbol of power.

In the Panay ritual, that power is transmitted to the follower who gets what remains of the blasted Judas. Professor Lucero writes:

The effigy is consumed by the fire but the phallus, carved out of moist, fresh wood, drops unscathed to the ground, and there is a mad scramble among the boys for the prized symbol.

Here, the ritual differs from Papias'. Whereas Judas' burnt relic recreates to a phallic symbol of power, for Papias, whatever is left of Judas, even his odor, must be avoided by all means:

on account of the stench the place is desolate and uninhabited even until now, and that today no one can go through that place without stopping up his nose with his hands, because the stench of his flesh spread out over the land so much.

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