European culture and Roman Catholic religion were introduced to Filipinos during the establishment of the Spanish colonial government over four centuries ago. The religious orders’ monopoly of printing presses during the early 19th century published predominantly religious materials aimed to teaching the Catholic religion to the natives.
One of the most popular forms of religious poetry since the Spanish period is the Pasyon which presents a narrative of life and sufferings of Jesus Christ. The earliest of which was written in 1703 by Gaspar Aquino de Belen entitled Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong P. Natin na Tola (The Sacred Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord in Verse).
The most popular of the pasyon (and with the longest title) is the Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinumang Babasa (A Account of the Sacred Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord which Should Inflame the Heart of Anyone Who Reads It). Another kind of Pasyon is the Pasyong Pilapil or Pasyong Henesis. Written in 1814, it narrates stories from the Creation of Adam and Eve. This Pasyon was widely translated into various dialects.
The pasyon was traditionally sung and chanted antiphonally in homes and chapels throughout the Lenten season. Nowadays, the pasyon is sung and chanted only during the Holy Week.
In Poblacion Makati temporary shelters known as kubol were built to hold readers and audience. Readers recite the pasyon before a holy image that goes along with the season like the crucifix or the Nazareno (image of Christ carrying the Cross).
The reading of the pasyon continues unabated lasting for days until completed at 3 in the afternoon of Good Friday thus, the readers take turns or in teams. The eerie manner of which it is sung makes the pasyon distinct. The “singers” usually chant the pasyon in a capella or with the accompaniment of an instrument such as a guitar.
The pasyon is also enacted in costume during the staging of the cenkulo, the religious drama performed during the Holy Week.