QUEZON CITY, Philippines (JGL) – Palm Sunday, a Christian feast, which falls on the Sunday before Easter, is triggering a cottage industry for coconut farmers, who are making brisk sale out of young coconut leaves used as fronds (palaspas) to usher in the Holy Week celebration in the Philippines.
While palm leaves are used as fronds in other countries to celebrate Palm Sunday, they are replaced by coconut leaves, which are native and indigenous in the Philippines.
Arman Espina, 52, an electrician in Metro Manila, takes a few days off before Palm Sunday to prepare for the sale of fronds that earn him from P1,600 (US$35) out of the P700 (US$15) capital for the whole of Sunday.
Fronds business has a short shelf life – in fact only one day. They are no longer in demand the next day or Holy Monday. They could not be bought either a few days before Sunday as they could “dry up” or lose their freshness when they turn a bit brownish that lose its yellowish sheen.
“Binibili ko ang mga murang dahon ng niyog sa Laguna,” (I buy these young coconut leaves from Laguna, an adjoining province to the south of Manila.), Espina said. “Kung minsan, binibili ko rin ang mga ito sa Quiapo (Manila) na nangagaling din sa Laguna.” (Sometimes, I also buy them in Quiapo, which also come from Laguna.) This only reinforces the reputation of Laguna as one of the biggest coconut producing provinces in Southern Tagalog.
Using homespun knowledge of turning the leaves into decorative birds and flowers that are bought by church goers on the way to attend Palm Sunday masses, Espina and other artisans will never stay out of business as long as Catholics are celebrating Palm Sunday.
Each frond pitches from P20 (US$0.4) and up, depending on the “complexity” of making the frond.
But another leaf that is popular during Palm Sunday is the olive branch (oliva), which does not need the dexterity of the hand to tinker with it before it is sold. An olive branch is sold as is, without using decorative imagination to sell it. Each olive branch cut off from an olive tree, pitches at least P10 (US$0.2) up to P15 (US$0.03) depending of the size. The smaller the cheaper.
REMINDER WHEN CHRIST ENTERED JERUSALEM
Both the fronds and the olive branches are reminders to the time when Jesus Christ was welcomed in Jerusalem a few days before Christ was crucified on the cross.
The fronds and olive branches were thrown on the path of Christ as the symbol of Christ as king of peace during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem while riding a donkey. Donkey was chosen as a symbol of peace, in contrast with a horse as symbol of war.
During the Holy Week, communities in the Philippines re-enact Jesus’ triumphal entry with a procession. A statue of Christ astride a donkey (the humenta) or the officiating priest on horseback holds procession around or towards the local church along with congregants bearing ornately woven palaspas (palm/coconut branches).
In some towns, elderly women spread heirloom tapis (“aprons” made for this sole purpose) or large cloths along the route. Children dressed as angels sometimes sing the Osana (“Hosanna”) whilst strewing flowers about.
Once blessed, the palaspas are taken home by the faithful and placed on altars, or hung beside, on, or above doorways and windows. Although the true purpose of this custom is to welcome Christ, many Filipinos hold fronts to be apotropaic, the ability to ward off evil spirits, avert lighting strike or prevent fires.
In some folk traditions, pieces of fronds are fed to roosters as good luck charms for sabong (cockfighting), which is frowned upon by Catholic leaders in the Philippines.
But these fronds are collected by the priests before ash Wednesdays of the following year and the ashes are used to make the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the faithful, reminding them that from ashes they came to ashes they shall return.
And the burning of ashes by the faithful has been prohibited to prevent fronds from turning into big fires. Burning of the fronds into ashes is now left under the care of the Catholic Church.
Around the vicinity of Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, like other Catholic churches in the Philippines, fronds and olive branches are sold to the faithful. But in my parish church in Chicago, Illinois, fronds are given away for free to the faithful by the parish church.