The island of Marinduque has long been known for its Moriones Festival. It is one of the oldest lenten rites in the Philippines where participants wear Moryon (helmet) masks and roam the streets of Marinduque as an act of penitence. During my recent visit to Marinduque, we visited the workshop of one of the known Morion mask makers on the island, Salvador “Buddy” Liwanagan. It was fascinating to witness firsthand how these iconic masks with grimacing Roman faces are made.
A Morion Mask Maker in Mogpog
Buddy Liwanagan’s workshop in Mogpog, Marinduque is a typical humble rural home in the province. We followed a narrow dirt path leading to a 2 – story house partly still under construction. The house is pleasantly surrounded by trees and foliage.
The sound of a chainsaw cutting through some logs and sandpaper brushing on the surface of the wood greeted our arrival. Liwanag’s open-air workshop is littered with sawdust, pieces of wood, sculpting tools, and several wooden sculptures. Liwanagan took a piece of dap-dap wood he had just cut and placed it on top of his wooden work stool. Dap-dap and santol wood are the preferred wood for the Morion mask.
Art and Devotion
Liwanagan started chipping away the wood with his chisel and mallet. Soon the wood would have already formed a shape of a face. Moryon Mask Making for a time, followed the usual design of an angry Roman face in character from the source of its folk story of Longinus. Buddy Liwanagan however, is known for his more elaborate mask faces, sometimes copying the faces of celebrities and political figures by request. A feat that requires a polished skill in sculpting.
Interestingly, Buddy Liwanagan didn’t have formal training in the arts or sculpting. He learned from watching and eventually honing his craft by consistently doing. Now his commissioned masks are worth P4,000 to P8,000 per mask, depending on the work and complexity.
Aside from the usual paper mache or wooden designs of Morion Masks, some versions have more profound significance. In some regions of Marinduque, the plumes or ornaments on the masks may mean how many times a person or a family member has participated in the rite.
Dwindling Generation of Mask Makers
To this day, the tradition is alive and continuously draws tourists and pilgrims to this week-long Lenten rite. But despite this, the number of Morion mask makers is continually dwindling. Liwanagan admits that the younger generation would prefer doing other work or industries. A sad reality but I hope the local government can implement programs to continue the craft and make the locals appreciate this rich tradition. It’s one of the unique practices and characteristics of Marinduque.
We saw a cute toddler with a hard hat and hammer pounding on some wood nearby. He was one of Liwanagan’s grandchildren who enjoyed lingering in the workshop. Perhaps there is still hope for the future of Morion mask makers if we continue to inspire these youngsters by exposing them early on to the vibrant culture of the Moriones.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.