Pag-Akyat sa Kalbaryo: Evolving Local Voices

by: Maria Portia Olenka C. Placino


Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo (Dalitan) is a local community practice of the Lucbanins sponsored by the Dealo Family. The story is centered on the searching for the cross where Jesus Christ was crucified. This practice is a localized story of the crusades wherein the followers of Jesus Christ searched for his relics. After the Holy Week, every May 3, a 9-day vigil for the cross is started culminating in the actual carrying of the cross up in Kalbaryo, a hill near the main house of the Dealo family where an altar was constructed. A mass will then be held followed by feasting.

The story of the pag-akyat sa kalbaryo is told in lyrical narrative song performed by local women of the community. At present, this is mostly performed by elderly women, especially with the lack of younger women to learn and follow the practice of the performance. The song is not annotated in any musical form but is learned by rote. The lyrics are not based on an official document but are learned by passing on, commonly within the family, taught by the elder women to the younger female members of the family. Some performers managed to write the lyrics of the song in personal notebooks. The writing of the lyrics was not a common practice in the past, but with the lack of willing learners, the older women found the need to write down the lyrics.

Existing lyrics of the song are written in Tagalog but often in Spanish-style spelling such as using “c” instead of a “k”, “o” instead of “u”, “y” instead of “i”, “oi” instead of “y” and so on. Because of the lack of an official basis or translation of the song, there are some variations among the existing written down lyrics but the women still perform them collectively during the celebration.

Background of the Study

Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo has been a part if the living memory of most Lucbanins, especially those who are namamanata. The popularity of the Pasyon in literature and studies undermine the existence of the literature of Dalitan. Belen Dayapan, 92 years old, learned the dalit as a young girl and cannot clearly point out how the practice of the dalitan began. Unfortunately, no one has a living memory of how and why the practice began. Performers of the pag-akyat simply know the practice since their childhood days.

The concern for the preservation of the dalitan began when most of the namamanata to the Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo are slowly beginning to grow old and die down. The women who know the dalit learned them as children from their elders, but now, only the elders of the town know the dalit. Some elders have written documents of the dalit from their parents that are almost 100 years old. Yet, such documents are badly preserved. Some are taped together with scotch tape and even electrical tape for the binding.

Clearly, a need for study of a slowly dying yet relevant culture is necessary, not just for the purposes of preservation but also for analysis and understanding of a culture that has survived for at least one hundred years.

Scope and Limitation

The study is limited to the practice and performance of Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo in Lucban, Quezon. The study looks into the performance of the dalitan and the existing written text of the dalitan found. The study also analyze the dalit as a text. The study is based mostly on living memory, personal interviews and existing written texts about the subject.

Significance of the Study

The study largely contributes to the understanding and analysis of previously marginalized cultures that provide a unique insight upon the society where it is located. Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo was largely ignored and marginalized as compared to the Pagbasa ng Pasyon. The study brings into focus other performances and literatures that have been treated almost as non-existent except to the namamanata.

The study will look into the following aspects of Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo:

1.The history of Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo based on existing written accounts, personal interviews and living memory;

2.The basic performance of dalit and the transcription of the existing written down text of the performance; and

3.The analysis of the dalit text.

Research Setting

The study is based on the performance of Pag-Akyat sa Kalbaryo practiced in Lucban, Quezon every May 3 when a cross is brought from the church to Kalbaryo and the nine-day novena that follows after.

Data Source

The data for the study was taken from living memory, personal interviews, private documents existing studies and photographs about the subject.


Pag-Akyat sa Kalbaryo is a cultural practice in Lucban, Quezon shortly after Lent. Every year, on May 3, a procession is held from the Roman Catholic Church towards the Kalbaryo Hill formerly owned by the Dealo family. Upon reaching the bottom of the hill, a dalitan is conducted. The dalitan is a lyrical recitation of stories about the cross of Jesus Christ. The dalit is the main narrative often recited in a lyrical manner by an elderly female. The dalit will be followed by a puga. The puga is a repetitive response to the dalit.

The Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo is a local recreation of the search for the “True Cross” done by Santa Elena, mother of Constantine, the Emperor of Rome. Elena, of lowly background was the concubine of Constantine’s father and remain so until Constantine became the Emperor of Rome and declared his mother as the Empress Elena. It was also at this time that Constantine ended the persecution of Christians and ended the need for the catacombs, the secret meeting place of Christians. Empress Elena is widely represented in literature as a great missionary, though her actions were claimed to be politically motivated. She is credited for the discovery of the “True Cross” while creating the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher (King, online).

The re-enactment starts with the morning mass at the Roman Catholic Church. Afterwhich the namamanata will carry the three crosses to Kalbaryo. The magdadalit joins the procession as well as other namamanata. Various sacrifices are offered by the people, even to the extent of self-punishment that are more commonly seen during Lent. The procession will proceed with the dalitan as well as the praying of the rosary.

Upon reaching Kalbaryo, the dalitan will commence in a particular order as they ascend the staircase leading to the chapel on the hill. There are 59 steps on the staircase reverberating the pattern of the rosary wherein there are also 59 beads. The physical make up of the hill is very reminiscent of the pattern of a rosary. Aside from the 59 steps, there are also 3 turns upon climbing towards the top. A dalit must be performed at each of the 3 turns up on the staircase. For every turn upon the staircase, there is a specific dalit to be performed and recited. These 3 dalits performed is almost patterned upon the three traditional mysteries of the holy rosary—Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious. Upon reaching the open chapel, the cross will be laid on the chapel and the magdadalit should be able to make the “True Cross” rise from the ground. Angeles Palad Escobanas states that once, her father made the “True Cross” rise up from the ground upon the recitation and performance of the dalit. When the performance of the dalit is done, then prayers of three Our Father, three Hail Mary and three Glorias will be recited and performed by the magdadalit.

The dalitan will not end with the prayers. Feasting and drinking will follow the dalit and prayers. After which, the dalit will resume in the descent from the Kalbaryo. Another set of magdadalit will ascend the staircare while the other group descend. When the two groups meet one another in one of the turns up the chapel, they will recite and perform a dalit together as they pass their roles in the dalit.

The ceremony of dalit and novena will continue for nine days. After which, the dalit will again be performed as the cross will be returned to the family who currently owns it—at present time, the Villaverde family headed by Mr. Dubal Villaverde.


As mentioned earlier, dalit is the recitation of the story of Santa Elena finding the “True Cross” from the Cavalry as the various aspects of the celebrations of the cross. The dalit is performed in groups, oftentimes, led by an elderly woman who recites the dalit. She will be answered repetitively by a puga. The exchange is often accompanied with musical intruments particularly the guitar.

The interesting story of Santa Elena starting out as a wench and a concubine and eventually turning not only into a powerful religious icon but also as a politically powerful woman is often glossed over. She is popularly known as the saint who discovered the “True Cross”. Her strength as a woman, her rise as an empress is not considered in the praise for the discovery of the “True Cross”

Aside from the story of Santa Elena, various personages were mentioned in the dalit such as Pope Innocent III. He is among the most powerful popes in history, particularly in the Middle Ages. He ordered three crusades—Fourth crusade, Albigensian crusade and the Fifth crusade (Holt, online). For the dalitan, again, just like Santa Elena, his other contributions and even his mistakes are glossed over to tell the story of his instructions for making the sign of the cross. This factor is the only noted part in the dalit.

Various other religious personalities were mentioned in the dalit such as San Macario, San Domingo and even the four Evangelists, yet they were merely characterized as people or saints that are educated in the holy book and are glorified for the religious contributions as well as in their blessedness. The story of San Macario as the Bishop who helped Santa Elena in the unearthing of the True Cross and the story of San Domingo establishing the Dominican order during the Time of Pope Innocent III are once again glossed over (Marruchi, online; Matamoros, online).

The dalit is also explained in repeated detail the different forms of making the sign of the cross as well as the different reasons why the movement is created in the way that it was. Interestingly, the dalit provides a reading, not just on the intructions on how to make a sign of the cross but also provides analysis of the action. The upwards to downwards movement pertains to the suffering and death of Jesus Christ while the movement of left to right symbolizes the shift from darkness to light or from damnation to glory. The small sign of the cross done on the forehead pertains to the sin that mankind sow since the moment they were born as the descendant of Adam. The movement of the thumb is place over the eyes because the eyes are the ones who saw the fruit of knowledge. The left to right movement done over the shoulders symbolizes the suffering of Jesus Christ when he carried the cross upon his shoulders. The position of the hand upon making the sign of the cross is also given meaning as the three fingers together represent the three god-personas– God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This analysis of bodily movements are explicitly explained in the dalit. It is noteworthy to say that the church did not release any official document for the dalit. The personal documents which are now largely the basis of dalit has been passed on within the family. Belen Dayapan, 92 years old, received the dalit text from her father when she was around 5 years old. They did not learn to recite by reading the dalit text or by referring to a specific notation. The dalit is learned by rote or by listening and mimicking the elder. Belen Dayapan also shows that the intonation in which the dalit is recited can be used in ordinary language as she demonstrated during the interview.

The dalit is not performed alone in the Pag-akyat. There should also be a responder to recite the puga. Compared to the narrative of the dalit, there is much repetitiveness in the responses of the puga. The recitation was often done with accompanying instrument, particularly the guitar. Angeles Palad Escobanas demostrated this by reciting the dalit while Ipe Quebrado recited the puga and played the guitar as an accompanying intrument. The dalit recited by the pair is from about a century-old notebook passed along to them by their parents. The text was unavailable to the researcher until a few days before the release of the study.


The dalit text in the personal documents of the magdadalit displays the pattern of Eights (8s) according to the Poetic Meter followed by the English Hymnody. The lyrics each has four lines to every stanza and eight counts to every line. Eights (8s) must be distinguished from Long Meter (LM) in the analysis. A long meter is a quatrain in iambic tetrameter wherein the second and fourth lines rhymes and at times, also the first and third lines, though it is unnecessary (Hymn, online). Rhyming is absent in the 4 lines of the dalit which makes to Eights instead of a Long Meter.

Though the dalit conforms to the Hymnody pattern, it cannot be considered as a Hymn. A hymn is often defined as a “type of Song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or Prayer, and typically addressed to a God or other religiously significant figure.” (Hymn, online) The dalit is very much different from that. Though the topic of the dalit is on religious iconography and imagery, the actual text of the dalit is very different from it.

The dalit is not particulary focused on praise or glorification of God. Dalit is actually talking to the listeners rather than talking to God or to a higher power or spiritual being. The text and performance is aimed towards teaching and informing the listeners rather than addressing God. The dalit teaches lessons about the Popes and the Saints and the various things that can be learned form them. It also teaches the different meanings behind the actions demanded from the people such as the making of the sign of the cross. Dalit rationalizes the action of making the sign of the cross rather than demanding the worship and awe of the listeners or offering praise and glorification to God.

The language of the dalit is also very localized. The language in Lucban, Quezon is Tagalog similar to the rest of the Southern Tagalog Region. Yet there are certain words and language games that are unfamiliar to the other Tagalog-speaking locations. The text uses words such as papanaog which means to go down or to get out of the house, tuturan which means to speak or to utter and many other localized words. This proves that the narrative and wording of the text is independent of church intervention. Dalit is not patterned after a generalized form of prayer or narrative but a text form that is interpreted by the locals in their local tongue.

Belen Dayapan demonstrated that if the magdadalit follow the rhythm of the dalit, then they can say almost anything and make it appear like they are praying. The dalit also presents the language difficulty in the text. Three languages appear in the dalit text—Tagalog, Kastila and Latin. The speaker in the dalit looks up to Latin as the highest form of language among the three. But the “Latin” within the dalit text is almost indecipherable. The possibility of it being gibberish on purpose is slim as the magdadalit learned the dalit by listening and observing its performance. The tranfer of a language learned by rote into notation must have been very challenging to the original writer of the dalit text. In this case, the parents of 92-year old Belen Dayapan.

Ileto cites that the Pasyon was used by the Filipinos as a medium towards revolution, especially those at the underground or the grassroots (chap. 1). With the dalit posing as a hymn or prayer yet not understandable to the foreign power, is there a possiblity that the Lucbanins used the dalit for other purposes rather than prayers? The dalit text also refers to the translations that were made from the Bible into the dalit. The dalit text also implies that the translations were done by the locals themselves without intervention. The use and transference of language in this case is important into the creation of meaning inside the text and the eventual repetitive performance of the dalit.


The Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo is a living culture in Lucban, Quezon. It has undergone many changes and evolution. There is no clear point in history when the practice was begun. The earliest living memory of the practice dates back almost 100 years. The dalit has been written down but the document is badly preserved yet passionately coveted and protected by the family that owns it. The researcher managed to photocopy and transcribe part of the dalit which has been written down again in a notebook that can be lent to others. But the original document were highly protected. Towards the end of the last interview, the dalit in the old notebook was shown for photographs and performed by the magdadalit.

Though the performers are dying mostly getting old and there are no young magdadalit in the present time, the possiblity of rekindling the interest in the panata is still possible. The very local context of the dalit shows a very deep involvement of the Filipinos in the interpretation of their culture. Certain parts of the dalit points out that the magdadalit is not formally educated on the religious text yet they are the ones in contact with majority of society to share their perspective on religious practices and issues. The power lies more on the magdadalit that are in touch with the Filipinos from the early days of the practice until the present time. Though some of the stories shared by the magdadalit borderline fantastic, they carry a unique perspective on the local history and culture embedded in their dalit.


The researches on the Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo and the dalit are still on the surface. There are a lot more histories, arecultures and beliefs that are buried deep within the consciousness of the Filipinos particularly the Lucbanins that are still namamanata, in this case, the magdadalit.Their age, experience and living memory must be further studied to gain an understanding of one of the many local histories and cultures that are still waiting to be told. The local religious/political text does not end in the pasyon. There are numerous practices around the country that still needed study—Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo and the dalit is one of them.

The preservation of old documents must be done in order to prevent further loss of the disappearing local histories and cultures. The document is almost sacred to the family that holds them yet unknowledgeable mistreatment of ageing documents might result to its unrecoverable loss. Cultural workers and researchers muct look into the preservation of these documents and look deeper for other local histories that are waiting to be unearthed and studied.

Continued interview with the magdadalit must be conducted in order to completely document the entire dalit that is practiced and performed. The existing written dalit must be translated and organized for further studies to be conducted. The text must be analyzed and translations made particularly in the incomprehensible “Latin” and “Spanish” in-text inclusions.

There are still numerous research to be undertaken regarding local histories and culture. Pag-akyat sa Kalbaryo and the dalit is merely one of them. There is no cutural text or practice that is better than the other. Studies and researches in this are must not stop at the pasyon. There are many unique cultural practices that needs attention of researchers and critics.

Works Cited

“Angeles Palad-Escobanas and Ipe Quebrado.” Interview by Portia Placino, Carmelita Placino, Cess Pabellano, and Brian Villaverde. 12 Oct. 2010. Video.

“Belen Dayapan.” Interview by Portia Placino, Carmelita Placino, Cess Pabellano, Bryan Villaverde, and Nicanor Guinto. 5 Oct. 2010. Video.
Cada, Danilo. Lucban: Founded 1578. Quezon: Sangguniang Bayan Ng Lucban, 1978. Print.

Clemens, Blume. “CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Hymnody and Hymnology.” NEW ADVENT: Home. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .

DeBrincat, Christopher. “Mysteries of the Rosary.” RCNet. Jan. 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .

Dela Paz, Cecilia S.M. “Poon at Panata: Sining at Paniniwala Sa Mahal Na Senyor Ng Lucban, Quezon.” Philippine Humanities Review 10 (2008): 105-20. Print.

Elloso, Annie Leth, Ronald Faller, Rhea Nadora, Teddy Boy Orejola, and Stephen Tagbo. Pista Ng Krus Sa Bayan Ng Lucban. 2008. MS. Southern Luzon State University, Lucban.

Gonzales-Villegas, Sydney. “The Myth and Piety in Maytinis: A Ritual of Christmas Celebration in Kawit.” Philippine Humanities Review 10 (2008): 139-70. Print.

Holt, Andrew. “Pope Innocent III.” Crusades-encyclopedia. June 2005. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .

“Hymn.” Information Delight: Information at Your Fingertips. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .

Ileto, Reynaldo Clemena. Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines 1840-1910. Quezon City: Ateneo De Manila UP, 1981. Print.

King, Judy. “Santa Elena, Discoverer of the Holy Cross : Mexico Living.” Access Mexico Connect – Current Issue – The Electronic Magazine All about Mexico. 1 Jan. 2006. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .

King, Judy. “The Day Of The Holy Cross – May 3rd : Mexico Living.” Access Mexico Connect – Current Issue – The Electronic Magazine All about Mexico. 1 Jan. 2006. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .

Marucchi, Orazio. “CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Archaeology of the Cross and Crucifix.” NEW ADVENT: Home. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .

Mascia-Lees, Frances E., and Patricia Sharpe. Taking a Stand in a Postfeminist World: toward an Engaged Cultural Criticism. Albany: State University of New York, 2000. Print.

Matamoros, Fray Diego. “Saint Dominic De Guzman — – Saint Benedict Center, The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” – Saint Benedict Center, The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 24 Sept. 2004. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .

“Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories | Christian Classics Ethereal Library.” Welcome to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library! | Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .

Ungriano, Judeimar A. Calvario: Pandanyan Ng Kultura at Kasaysayan Ng Lukban Isang Panimulang Pagsipat. 2008. MS. Southern Luzon State University, Lucban.


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