Exotifying Bodies: Self-Flagellation, Abjection, and Social Memory

Noel Christian A. Moratilla

University of the Philippines, University of the Philippines Campus, Diliman, Quezon City. Orcid: 0000-0002-2798-2337. Email:

 Volume 10, Number 3, 2018 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v10n3.12

Received September 03, 2018; Revised October 09, 2018: Accepted October 27, 2018; Published November 02, 2018.


During the Lenten ritual known in the Philippines as penitensya, hooded peninents whip themselves publicly as they walk.  While some Church and government officials have repeatedly expressed disapproval of the practice, self-flagellation has persisted with characteristic obduracy to this day.  Through mass media and social media, it has caught the attention of other parts of the world.  A cursory search on the internet, for example, would yield not a few visual and textual materials on penitensya.   Some of these materials are analyzed in this paper, using critical frameworks based on Kristeva’s concept of abjection and Jameson’s delineation of third-world literature as national allegories.  One would encounter such abjection in the decontextualized foregrounding of the grisliness, violence, and horror associated with this form of corporal mortification.  As a practice rooted in colonial history, penitensya evokes colonial traumas, but contemporized, it also serves as an allegorical embodiment of collective hopes and possibilities.

Keywords: penitensya; self-flagellation; abjection; Lent in the Philippines; national allegories; Roman Catholicism in the Philippines