There’s More To This Mysterious Island Than The Moriones Festival
Many visit Marinduque for its famous Holy Week festival, but the MIMAROPA island is a treasure trove of heritage homes, artistry, and delicious food.
Marinduque is synonymous with the Moriones Festival, arguably the most animated Lenten reenactment of the Passion of Christ in the country. The story centers on the one-eyed Roman centurion Longinus who regained sight when a drop of blood from the crucified Christ spurted into his blind eye.
Longinus’s conversion into Christianity and his consequent beheading is reenacted in a rowdy and flamboyant Holy Week street theater complete with wooden masks and colorful garb in the towns of Mogpog, Boac, and Gasan every year. Spectators crowd the piers, and this island province becomes a little harder to reach at this time.
But when the yearly Moriones Festival ends on Easter, Marinduque becomes a sleepy island once again.
Marinduque is a volcanic landmass located between Mindoro Island and Quezon Province’s Bondoc Peninsula. It is reached via a four-hour ride by bus from Manila to Lucena’s Dalahican Pier, and then by another three-hour ferry to Balanacan port. Those visiting Marinduque can combine religious and cultural fulfillment by participating in the Moriones Festival and at the same time by taking side trips to heritage houses in Boac, try out local delicacies in Gasan and observe the Moriones mask-makers in Mogpog. Here’s what to see:
The Heritage Houses in Boac
Boac—Marinduque’s provincial capital—has an endearing blend of old-fashioned charm and practical modernity.
Take a gentle stroll along Boac’s narrow streets at the town center, and you’ll encounter ancestral houses that were restored or repainted. Some were rebuilt following their original pre-war bahay-na-bato configurations, and some have obvious Art Deco design elements (above).
These heritage houses fit in perfectly both as dwellings for its old-time residents on the upper floor, and stores filled with modern conveniences at the ground level.
You can take a jeep from Balanacan Port in Mogpog to Boac
Casa de Don Emilio
The ancestral house of Don Emilio Lardizabal was converted for adaptive reuse as a restaurant conveniently located right in front of the old town plaza in Boac (the restaurateur of Kusina sa Plaza eventually bought this property—Ed.). The house has a floor plan of a typical wealthy landlord’s residence during the Spanish period.
The lower floor or silong that was used for storing grains was converted into a modern café. The upper floor had a caida (second-floor entrance area) with doors that lead to the sala mayor and comedor (formal living and dining room). With its vintage-looking furniture and artifacts on display, the restaurant gives its diners a romantic portrayal of Marinduque during its olden days.
Mercader St., Boac, Marinduque, tel. (042) 332-1699
Kusina sa Plaza
In Marinduque, people love to eat and that love is extended to its visitors at Kusina sa Plaza. One of their specialties is a hearty, sour soup with shrimp and buko (young coconut) strips called ulang-ulang (above, far left).
The restaurant’s kare-kare (above) is not the comfort food with peanut sauce we know of. In Marinduque, this dish has the similar texture and taste of sizzling dinuguan. They also serve adobo sa dilaw sa gata (top photo) that tastes heavenly paired with fragrant rice. All have a coconut cream flavor.
Mercader St., Boac, Marinduque, or follow them on their Facebook page
Kagang Crab in Gasan
Traveling south to the seaside town of Gasan to Barangay Pinggan, you can feast on freshly caught violet-colored crabs locally called kagang. Locals can prepare these paluto-style by cracking the shell and flaking the kagang crabmeat. It is mixed with buko strips, spiced with onion and salt, and the entire mixture is stuffed back into the ube-colored crab shells.
Nothing is wasted because the rest of the mixture is wrapped in banana leaf—suman-style—and is tied to the crab. All this is cooked in a big vat of coconut cream.
(Another attraction around Gasan area are the Tres Reyes Islands, with its beautiful white sand beaches.—Ed.)
The Moriones mask-maker
It is said that Spanish sailors from Mexico who were using the coast of the Marinduque as a repair station for galleons introduced the first Moriones mask to the locals. Morion is Mexican for helmet.
In Mogpog, sculpting wooden masks of Roman centurions with fierce facial expressions for the Moriones Festival begins as early as December. But all-year-round, the sound of a chisel tapping on fragrant santol wood fills the workshop of Dick Malapote, who has been carving Morion masks since 1979.
Masks are worn by the menfolk in Marinduque during the staging of the Moriones as a life-long vow or panata. The first Morion actor was a kampanero from Mogpog named Tata Bentong. Later, the tradition flourished in Boac and Gasan. During World War II, Moriones masks were placed at the beachfront to trick the Japanese invaders of fierce warriors that are guarding the island.
To save the first Morion masks, some were buried in earth along with santos while others were kept in the silong. Those that were buried in soil did not last the next century. Upon reaching old age, a Morion actor has the option to pass the mask onto an heir in order to continue the family ritual, or have the mask buried with him upon death to signify the end of a life-long panata.
Dick Malapote’s workshop is in Brgy. Janagdong (you can ask the locals where it is)
Marinduque as an all-year-round destination
There are some who say that Moriones is not a genuine Filipino tradition, and that it was Hispanic.
But whether it is the Moriones Festival that made Marinduque a popular Lenten destination, or Marinduque that made this festival famous, one thing is certain—remove the mask, and one can expect this island to be an all-year-round destination of romantic towns, heritage food, and unmatched kindness from its people.
Glenn Martinez is a heritage enthusiast and a travel blogger. Follow him on his artistic and cultural adventures in his blog Traveler on Foot.
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