09 July 2017

Colorum: from Cult in Nasugbu, Cavite & Quezon to Unregistered Vehicles in the Present

Image credit:  The Luther Parker Collection at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
Just like any other teenager back in the seventies, every once in a while I loved belting out the rock songs that were the anthems of our era. The music that my parents were accustomed to, of course, were the gentler songs of the pre-rock age.

This was why, whenever I sang out loud these rock anthems, my mother would always complain, “You sound like the colorums of my youth in Nasugbu!” Naturally, I did not have a clue what these were. If I asked her, she would always answer something vague about the colorums being members of a cult who from time to time went to Nasugbu, presumably to proselytize.

Segue to the eighties or nineties, and for reasons I have never fully understood, the word colorum started to be used in reference to public vehicles either not registered to a franchise or without a legitimate registered route1. These days, as slang, the word can be used to mean anything illegitimate or fake.

This week, I accidentally stumbled upon a classic article that finally shed some light on the colorums that my mother used to refer to back in the seventies. The article was written in 1916 by a Ramona S. Tirona and is part of the H. Otley Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collection. The article’s title is “The Kolorum and the Spiritismo2.”

The Kolorum/Colorum, according to Tirona, was a “secret religious organization” which played “a very important part in the social lives of the native peasants, especially those living in certain towns of Cavite Province.” My mother was right, after all. The colorums that she used to tease me about were members of a cult.

Nasugbu is, of course, right next door to Cavite. It is not farfetched to imagine that the colorums that my mother alluded to were in Nasugbu to proselytize among the townsfolk; and that they had songs of worship that my mother haughtily likened to my singing.

The religious group, Tirona wrote, was founded “ten years ago.” Since the paper was written in 1916, that made the founding date 1906. We shall return to this later. Central to the group’s belief was that “salvation could be insured by being in good terms with the Amang Dios.”

To the colorums, the Amang Dios was not at all a supreme supernatural being. Although regarded as a deity, he was a human being who served as intermediary between God and the people. He was known to his followers, and what set him apart was that he possessed “extraordinary power that was conferred by God in order to rule the people for the good of their souls.”

The Amang Dios was supposed to have lived in Mount San Cristobal, which is close to Mount Banahaw and right next door to the town of Dolores in Quezon3. There, he had a shrine built in one of the mountain’s underground caves. Tirona wrote: “The way to his place was very dangerous and difficult; one had to crawl on all fours between huge boulders below dirty precipices and then through subterranean paths.”

Pilgrims, many of whom were peasants, went on pilgrimage to visit the Amang Dios there to seek his counsel. They left amazed by his “powers,” particularly in how he greeted each by their names although he had never laid eyes on them before; and how he would immediately start talking about their problems as though he knew them all individually.

Tirona wrote, however, that all pilgrims were met at the gate leading to the shrine by a keeper. Here, they were supplied candles and fleeced for personal information which, we are left to conclude, the keeper somehow managed to convey to the Amang Dios before the pilgrims arrived. Bear in mind that the latter had to go through a laborious route to get to his shrine.

This was not the only bit of theatricality involved. Tirona described the Amang Dios as “wearing his white wig, his long moustache and his beautiful robes” in performing “his mysterious ceremonies.” The pilgrims were kept entranced by promises of a “reward, the assurances of escaping Hell and Purgatory” along with other earthly troubles.

Before sending the pilgrims on their way, he made them participate in ceremonies such as bathing in the waters of an underground spring so that they could wash all their sins away; and pretending to eat bread and drink wine such as Jesus Christ did with his Apostles during the Last Supper.

A fee was collected from each pilgrim, who paid either with money or jewelry; and remember that most of the Amang Dios’ followers were peasants. Before they left, the Amang Dios instructed each of these Colorum pilgrims to convert “other wayward sheep.”

This explains, I suppose, how some of them got to Nasugbu – and likely other towns in Batangas – and why my mother saw and heard them, probably preaching to “the wayward sheep.”

While Tirona might have placed the founding of the Colorum organization at 1906, in fact the group existed as far back as the previous century – 1870 to be exact. A Juanario Labios revived Apolinario de la Cruz’s – a.k.a. Hermano Pule/Puli – Cofradio de San Jose (Confraternity of St. Joseph) in Quezon. He was regarded as “Profeta y Pontifice” (Prophet and Pope) by his followers.

He was banished after a year to Mindoro and the Calamian Islands; but his followers in the Mount San Cristobal area continued with the group’s religious activities. These were a blend of Catholicism with the worship of heroes and Filipino superstition such as the belief in the anting-anting or amulets.

During the American colonial era, the term Colorum was generally used to refer to cults or other groups with similar beliefs. The word was apparently corrupted from the Latin phrase “in saecula saeculorum” (unto the ages of ages) which was used during Masses to end prayers4.

It is certainly open to conjecture how the term “colorum” in the modern day came to mean unregistered or illegitimate vehicles. It is well worth noting, however, that the group founded by Hermano Pule and revived by Labios was never given recognition by the Catholic Church and was, from Catholicism’s point of view, therefore illegitimate.

Notes and references:
1Colorum,” Wikipedia.
2 “The Kolorum and the Spiritismo,” 1916 by Ramona S. Tirona, part of the H. Otley Beyer Collection at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collection.
3Mount San Cristobal,” Wikipedia.
4Hermano Pule,” Wikipedia.

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