Sunday, March 24, 2013


It is customary for the majority of Filipinos who are Catholics to bring with them coconut palm leaves and fronds to church today in celebration of Palm Sunday which itself commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem and marks the beginning of the celebration of the Holy Week.  This custom is so ingrained in Filipino religious tradition that no self-respecting Catholic would dare to appear in church today empty handed especially in the more rural and provincial areas like here in Lianga where religious conservatism is the always the norm.

The fronds are blessed with holy water during the Mass and them brought back home for safekeeping.  Many Filipinos believe that lukay that have been consecrated are sacred objects which if pinned to doors, windows and walls have the ability to protect homes from evil spirits, fire and lightning.

Early this morning I saw a clump of young coconut leaf fronds on the wooden table in the lanai at the back of the house which someone had thoughtfully provided for my mother and the rest of our household to make use of.  I immediately asked if any of the household help knew anything about making the often elaborately woven palm branches that churchgoers bring to Mass and was surprised to receive negative replies to my inquiry.

Weaving coconut leaves into useful and decorative objects is an art in it self and as a young boy I was always fascinated if not exceeding envious of those among my childhood playmates who were proficient in it. Those who had that skill were often the ones born and raised on rural farming communities where the use of indigenous materials to craft things for use in the house and elsewhere was second nature.  Our companions in the house at present were all rural bred and the fact that they had no idea to make the so called "lukay" or ceremonial palm fronds made me shake my head in disbelief.

The truth is that many of our traditional skills and crafts particularly those related to the use of native raw materials are gradually dying out and being lost as a consequence of the gradual encroachment of the modern and consumer oriented mindset of the 21st century into traditional, indigenous cultures.  In Lianga nowadays, a Catholic going to church on Palm Sunday would rather buy his obligatory palm fronds from a vendor rather than spend time or make the effort at learning how to make them himself at home.

The elaborate artistry and consummate skill that goes into the creation of the more elaborate lukay or palaspas can be a wonder to behold.  I have seen palm leaves and branches sculpted to depict flying doves circling around nests of budding flowers or cut and shaped to resemble falling, wispy, ribbon like, creamy-colored streamers that flutter in the wind like the curly tresses of young girls. Even the more ordinary ones are objets d'art in themselves.  The most common ones are those where long leaf strands are simply but ingeniously cut and folded to form crosses standing on simulated bouquets of flowers or just like zigzagging swords topped with tufts curled and twisted to look like small pointed petaled blossoms.

Spurred by the memories of my young childhood, I picked up a few of the coconut leaves and tried my hand at making a traditional lukay. I remembered the advice of a young girl , a house helper, who had worked for my mother more than 40 years ago who had, graciously and with great patience and plenty of peasant humor, taught me as a very young lad the basics of weaving coconut leaves.

Perhaps leaf weaving like bicycle riding is something you never forget after you have learned the basics.  After a few false starts and with much unsure and hesitant finger movements, I finally managed to make a few simple items and even as a pièce de résistance conjured into existence a small coconut leaf ball like the ones that as a small child I used with playmates to play dodge ball with.

I felt elated and rejuvenated when I had finished and even the girls in the house were dumbfounded at the irony of my being able to upstage them at something that logically they should have been better at. I then happily shared with them what the young lady so long ago had told me about the art of leaf weaving. "Always be gentle with your material," she had murmured in a soft voice. "Never bruise the leaves.  Fold firmly and with surety and finesse.  Cut only when necessary and never waste what can be used elsewhere."

"And lastly," she had finished with a wink and a twinkle in the eye, "have fun while you are making something.  Anything you make with your hands reflects your mood at the time you are creating it.  Anything made in anger, spite or impatience will never be beautiful."

Come to think of it, it is only now that I have suddenly realized how timelessly appropriate the same advice would be for the way we live our lives and the way we work.  Perhaps in leaf weaving and other handcrafts just as in everything else we do, it is really not the skill or inherent ability that matters in the end. It could all be a matter of attitude.


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