Santisima Cruz de Mayo - 23rd May, 2015 - Lopinot, Trinidad and Tobago

The following Cruz de Mayo announcement/explanation is republished from the calendar of the website of The Lopinot Tourism Action Committee [LTAC].

Cruz de Mayo - 23rd May, 2015 - LOPINOT

Cruz de Mayo ( veye kwa )

On Saturday, 23rd May at 4 p.m. the Community of Lopinot in collaboration with the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the National Parang Association of Trinidad & Tobago will be hosting the Cruz de Mayo celebrations or May Cross. The celebration forms part of our Hispanic heritage that has almost been forgotten.

The month of May is traditionally held to be the month of Fertility and honour is given to God’s magnificent creation. If you don’t believe us, go to the Savannah and observe the sea of pink and yellow flowers.

Promises made to the Cross that have been fulfilled are also offered up and new promises will be presented. Not to be left out are the invocations of God’s protection and a good harvest along with health. This is an interesting mix of the strict Spanish sense of religion and the wonderfully vibrant Indigenous culture and rites. To illuminate this point, the first image is the solemn May Cross celebration in Spain with very somber colours and street processions accompanied by priests and the faithful. The second image is the highly colourful and decorated cross indicative of Latin America and more importantly, Trinidad & Venezuela.

Decorated Crosses are placed on an altar. On the steps of the altar itself, the faithful would place fruits of the harvest, candles, flowers and whatever decorative theme they may see as fitting the sacred Cross. It is supposed that this ritual was especially essential as the inhabitants of most of our rural communities of Spanish inheritance viewed everything in the light of religion.

The difference between our May Cross and that of Spain is the accompaniment of music. In this hemisphere, the May Cross does not necessarily have to engage the services of priests and ecclesiastic officials. It is done in homes at times. It is accompanied by music (Rosarios a la Cruz) instead of recited verses.

They would sing rosaries to the Cross and engage in prayer. Then, there would Décimas in honour of the Blessed Virgin or in honour of the Sacrifice made by Christ for humankind. In various parts of South America, dependent on the region, they would sing Fulias, Décimas or Galerones. However, in Trinidad, because of the strong Venezuelan influence on our Hispanic heritage, our peoples tended towards the Galerón and Rosarios a la Cruz, along with Parang.

After the Velorio de la Cruz is completed, the participants would either cover the Cross or step outside, a reverent distance from the Cross. This covering or self distancing is because the ritual is a solemn one and they do this to show respect. And they would like to start the celebrative elements in the festivity.

The members of the family or friends would start singing songs, creating verses in honour of Christ or the Blessed Virgin (La Virgin del Valle). In la Pastora, just a few hundred metres above Lopinot Settlement, this reverence to the Mother of Christ is especially important as their patron saint is the Virgin Mother of the Christ. (the La Pastora Shrine)

Singers would start the festive side of the May Cross with Galerón music. Galerón music is a creation of the people of Margarita. How it reached Trinidad as part of our heritage is another story. But the Galeron was invented like this: one day, a Spanish sailor was working alongside a Margaritan sailor on a Galleon ship. Perhaps they were doing repairs. The Spaniard was reciting Décimas (you know we Spanish know how to pray!) and the Margariteno liked what he heard and memorized a number of verses. He decided to put music to accompany these verses and thus the Galerón - music born of the Galleon – came into being. This is a perfect example of Iberian culture reaching us after the filtering process in Venezuela.

This genre entailed extemporaneous verses in the form of Décimas, forty word verses. This music is supremely beautiful and interesting. In some areas, after an individual sings his verse, he usually passes a flower to any other person he may choose. That person in turn will have to sing a verse and then pass on the flower. Be prepared at any time to be handed a flower and to be thrown in the ring, so to speak. All this was amazingly done in Spanish. This revelry can go on until midnight when everybody closes off the festivity until another time. In some places, again dependent on the region in Venezuela from which the estate worker has his roots, the singing would go until dawn, outined in these lines from a Rosario a la Cruz (sung Rosary) “Cantemos todos, al pie de tu altar, santísima Cruz de Mayo, hasta el amanecer.” We all sing at the foot of your altar (Christ’s altar being the cross), most sacred May Cross, until the dawn.

The community of Lopinot and the IVCC have recognized for some time that our Hispanic inheritance has been dormant for too long and is now under threat of disappearing entirely if no one takes the responsibility of keeping it alive and relevant. There is no denying the Parang season is very vibrant.

However, in these rural communities, music, especially Spanish music was an essential part of the daily routine. When cocoa estate workers “danced the Cocoa’ to give the beans that needed shine, it was not done to the tune of Britney Spears or Bennie Man for that matter. The ranchero would have his mandolin or cuatro, or even now and again, a violin or a bandolina. The song “Moliendo Café” means “Grinding Coffee.” But it’s a song!

Music played an important part in the life of our forefathers. The principle that we become what we think about and that words have power can be explained by the daily routine of the payol: Spaniards are generally considered to be rather devout and love their prayers. They therefore think about the divine very often. Put these prayers into music (Parang) and it becomes enjoyable and easy to remember, thus reinforcing your inclination to be prayerful. When you continue in that vein even your other songs are of noble content. You start praising God for the beauty of the Poui, the Immortelle, the rivers and the lush green mountains. You sing this thinking and you give almost divine status to the landscape. Would you now destroy this ambience? You can’t, because you’ve internalized respect for nature through your singing. We are, therefore, what we think about, in this case what we sing about.

There was also Glorious Saturday Night Parang. Believe it or not, according to one of the ancient voices of Parang, the late Pedro Marcano of Matelot, Parang was never restricted to the Nativity and Christmas. It stretched as far as the Ascension of the Christ into Heaven and many times to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. We all remember house to house Parang which is bringing the blessings of God into the house of a loved one.

Then, there is the May Cross where the communities and their families would pray for God’s blessing, especially in the crop. They would sing about the beauty of the landscape and praise God for Creation itself. This Spanish music was a way of life for the rural “payols. “

One interesting fact about the May Cross in Trinidad is that it’s not isolated as an event but part of a greater Trilogy or story in three parts.

The Proponents, generally the fathers of the family, would offer prayers to God for a good crop and make promises. This is the essential format of the Velorio de la Cruz de Mayo. The actual day for this celebration throughout the world is the 3rd May.

The second part of the story is something we are already familiar with but did not fully understand its role in the cycle: Corpus Christi. The phrase Corpus Christi means “ The Body of Christ “ and because culture somehow seeps into religious practices, the culture of the indigenous peoples found its way into the celebration of the body of Christ. They believed that God’s body was not only the Host, but also the Earth. To plant seeds in the body of God ( The earth ) especially on this occasion where the body is consecrated in a unique way, would inevitably mean that the crop would be bountiful.

The third part of this beautiful story is found in our celebration of the Harvest, where thanks to the Creator is given for his bounty. There is the Marine equivalent celebrated in Trinidad & Tobago and this is called The Feast of St. Peter or Fishermen’s Festival. This is also known as a type of Harvest.

May Cross, then, prays for a magnificent crop, Corpus Christi is when you plant and the Harvest is where you reap and give thanks.

The two aforementioned organizations have put together the May Cross so that our citizens may know that there was much more to our culture than what is being passed off as culture today. We have a magnificent inheritance to be proud of.

Parang bands are invited to come and participate. Even if they are not familiar with Galerón music, they can come and help restore the heritage of Lopinot that is now boasting 206 years since its founding in 1806.

The Origins of the May Cross Festivity

It is believed in some circles that the celebration of the May Cross, which appears officially on the 3rd May on the Catholic Calendar, is primordially of pagan origin. The peoples of old Europe would adorn a young girl with flowers in commemoration of the goddess maya or maia (May) the goddess responsible for the splendour of nature. She was also called Flora in some cultures. This goddess represented eternity as spring is the time of renewal and it occurs every year brand new again without fail. They would celebrate, dancing around a log which was eventually replaced by the Christian Cross and its accompanying rites. However, the pagan May Pole celebration still survives today and research has pointed to Catalonian origins, not English. The fact that the Catalonians and Basque people were there even before the Romans lends credence to this postulation. But this does not explain the tremendous Christian adoration of the cross.

The Christian legends behind the Santa Cruz are many. The first one points to the discovery of the true cross by Constantine’s mother, Saint Helen. Constantine, the Emperor that allowed Christians to practice their religion freely, had a dream one night before the battle for the Danube, which took place during the sixth year of his reign. In the dream he kept seeing the Cross and the words” with this sign is your victory.” The very next day he had a cross made and set out to battle, defeating the barbarian horde that vastly outnumbered his army.

He then entrusted his mother with the mission to find the true cross of The Christ and she immediately set out to Jerusalem. Upon arriving at the sacred city she consulted the wise men who took her to the place where Christ was crucified.

They performed excavations in search of this Cross. However, there were three crosses there covered in blood. To find out which was the true cross, she had the ill, the broken and even the dead brought in, who were all cured and restored to life upon coming into contact with the true cross. Veneration of the cross was born from there. Recent documentation and research into the claims of the Gospel Stories have put this to be the true site of the Crucifixion and perhaps in time there would be no denial of the authenticity of the Cross preserved in Rome, Jerusalem and Spain.

Another story tells of the sacking of Jerusalem and the theft of the sacred relics by the Persians. The emperor at that time, Heracles, defeated the Persians and rescued the Cross. He attempted to restore it to its place on the place of the skull and summoned his entourage. They were all in magnificent robes and finery and with every step forward, the Cross became progressively heavier. Consulting the Patriarch of Jerusalem he was advised to go as Christ did, humble and likened unto a beggar. This advise he took and managed with consummate ease to place the cross back into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a church erected on the site.

It is said that in order to avoid the theft of the cross and to avoid this power in the hands of one person, it was divided up. One log sent to Rome, one to be kept in Jerusalem, one in Constantinople and various pieces to churches worldwide in places that carry the name “Veracruz.”

Spain herself is purported to have two pieces in Merida and Guadix, hence the special devotion to the Santa Cruz (sounds familiar?) by Spaniards.

When the celebration of the May Cross reached the Spanish Americas, notably Venezuela and Trinidad, it was mixed with the Amerindian and African joy of life and reverence for nature to become the colourful and beautiful Velorio de la Cruz de Mayo or Cruz de Mayo which we will be celebrating in Lopinot on the 23rd May, 2015. SOURCE
A Note From The Gull

I want to wish all who are observing this festival this month, a Holy and Joyful Cruz de Mayo. I also want to thank the author of the article above. I particularly liked his or her expression of these insights:
"Put these prayers into music (Parang) and it becomes enjoyable and easy to remember, thus reinforcing your inclination to be prayerful. When you continue in that vein even your other songs are of noble content. You start praising God for the beauty of the Poui, the Immortelle, the rivers and the lush green mountains. You sing this thinking and you give almost divine status to the landscape. Would you now destroy this ambience? You can’t, because you’ve internalized respect for nature through your singing. We are, therefore, what we think about, in this case what we sing about."
I am in complete agreement. I remember a while back, seeing a comment beneath one of the YouTube videos featuring the praise singing of the Spiritual Baptist [Shouter Baptist], which cautioned the faithful to focus more on "The Word" and maybe not so much on the almost continuous singing. Speaking from my own experience of being raised in the religion into which I was born, I believe that my appreciation of "community" and "church" and "religion" would have been significantly improved if we had sung more, or at the very least, sung the few joyful hymns available to us with half the conviction and gusto of the Spiritual Baptists. So this comment about the Word left me perplexed. What do you think these Christians are singing, if not The Word? Please read Singing Scripture, if you need assistance to appreciate how in their singing, the Spiritual Baptists are in fact memorising, internalising, reinforcing and sharing the good news that is The Word.

When American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry composed the hymn "How Can I Keep From Singing?" in 1868,  he would have been convinced of the beauty and rallying power of the human voice raised in praise. The verses have changed over the years but below are his original words.

Composed by Minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry.

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What tho' my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night He giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?
How can we keep from singing?

Thank you, Minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry.

How Can I Keep From Singing? | Performed by James Loynes
Uploaded by ElsieBird68

"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!