‘Panunuluyan’ | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back


/ 12:10 AM December 24, 2014

Traffic in the past week has discouraged me from venturing out on any trip that requires a car. The upside of this situation is that I finally found time to reclaim my desk from clutter, reshelve books, and, most important, sort out papers.

Some of the things that emerged from the depths were notes on a Philippine drama class I took almost three decades ago under the late Doreen G. Fernandez, who said that all forms of drama developed from ancient religion and ritual. Come to think of it, the Christmas Eve Mass we have to endure before the feasting and exchange of gifts is also a form of drama. I remind myself often that we should not only see but also notice things in everyday life.


Doreen’s drama class made me seek out folk plays like the “Sinakulo” during Lent and even the playlets that usher in the “Salubong” of Easter. Most memorable for me were the komedya performed in San Dionisio, Parañaque, that had fantastic sets that included lights, fireworks and a papier mache whale that devoured the main character. Watching the komedya made me wonder why the Cristianos were always bida, in contrast to the Moros who were always kontrabida. Then I realized that those words were rooted in the Spanish “vida” (life). That’s why the rubber tube we use when swimming is called “salbabida” (from the Spanish “salvar” (to save) and “vida”) or life-preserver.

Some of the drama types and festivals we studied in Doreen’s class are still in my bucket list, like the “Moriones” of Marinduque and an odd festival in Nueva Ecija where people walk about costumed as trees. I did not know that one of the items on my bucket list, “Panunuluyan,” has been revived in the Poblacion de Makati. Like many other people, I associate modern Makati with the Zobel de Ayala family, with skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls in the commercial and business district. Not many are aware of an older part of town—the poblacion, on a hill with many small streets that radiate from a 17th-century Jesuit church once known as San Pedro de Makati or “Sampiro.” As the navel of the city (pusod ng Makati), it is the place to catch folk Lenten rituals like the “Pasyon,” processions, “Salubong,” etc. in an urban setting. There is something in this old part of town, aside from history and heritage, that valiantly tries to survive the changes that come with the Rockwell development, the girlie bars, as well as the Korean restaurants. My dream of living in the poblacion with a view of the Pasig River remains an illusion because property prices even in this part of Makati are beyond me.


According to Nick Joaquin’s “Almanac for Manileños,” there is a Christmas playlet performed in Makati called the “Panunuluyan”—literally “seeking entry”—that reenacts the first Christmas Eve when Joseph and Mary could not find room in any of the inns of Bethlehem. They had to rough it in a stable, where the Christ child was born and placed in a manger to be worshipped, first, by the farm animals and shepherds, and, later, by the Magi or Three Kings, whose names have been handed down to us, not through the Bible, but through tradition, as Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar.

The playlet moves about town, with a couple dressed as Joseph (a bearded youth in white with a staff) and Mary (a pregnant maiden in robes of blue and white) knocking on the doors of preselected houses and singing or reciting verse seeking a room at the inn. Sometimes images of Joseph and Mary are placed on a carroza and taken to the houses, and someone sings their lines for them. They stop in front of the first house, knock and seek entry, then from the balconies or closed gates the people inside will refuse them because the inn is full. They bid the house owners goodbye, move to the next one, seek and be refused a room again and again till they reach the church where they are let in—and there, during the “Gloria,” the Christ is born in a manger or a cave, whichever the parishioners built that year.

I guess if Mary and Joseph knocked on your door today you would turn them away, too, because they are described as: “Isang lalaking marungis, isang babaeng buntis (One grimy man, one pregnant woman).” These, declared Nick Joaquin, are “two of the most moving lines in Philippine folk poetry.”

Our “Simbang Gabi” and “Panunuluyan” were imported from the “Posadas” of Mexico during the days of the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. The “Posadas” are sung on the nine days before Christmas, hence “Simbang Gabi,” while the “Panunuluyan” is performed only on Christmas Eve. The playlet is also known as “Panawagan” (calling out) in Tagalog provinces; in Bicol it is known as “Kagharong” or “Panharong-harong” (going from house to house).

The most elaborate “Panunuluyan” is known in Cavite as “Maytines” (from the early-morning prayers known as “matins”). Here the couple ride on a carroza and are accompanied by a band, plus a dozen other carrozas carrying characters and scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

All these may seem primitive to members of a generation that can find better entertainment in their cell phones and tablets, but folk theater like the “Panunuluyan” still has a place in the 21st century, especially for children who can yet find wonder in something adults find corny. These traditions are heritage at risk and should be preserved in some way.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Almanac for Manileños, Baltazar, Christ child, Christmas Eve Mass, Cristianos, Doreen g. Fernandez, Easter, Gaspar, Jesus Christ, Joseph, Kagharong, komedya, Lent, magi, Makati, Mary, Maytines, Melchor, Moros, nick joaquin, Nueva Ecija, Panawagan, Panharong-harong, Panunuluyan, Pasig River, pasyon, Rockwell, Salubong, Sampiro, San Pedro de Makati, Simbang Gabi, Sinakulo, Three Kings, traffic, Zobel de Ayala
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