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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sinulog and Sto Niño, Through the Pagan Limelight

It's been a long time coming. Last week was the celebration of the grandest annual Filipino mardi gras, the Sinulog festival. Streets were colorful, congested streets with millions of crowds coming from around the world just to celebrate the feast of this iconic image of the child Jesus.

But, there maybe some curious minds out there who are asking similar types of questions same as below:
1. The image was brought by Spaniards, how come Cebuanos was able to put a festival for a Western image.
2. Isn't this image a sign that Cebuano is had lost their identity towards Western colonialism and culture?

Nick Joaquin said in a 1980 paper delivered before Cebuanos that Sto. Niño is part or shall we say "has become" a part of Philippine history.

“Because it came with Magellan, became a native pagan idol, was reestablished as a Christian icon by Legazpi, and has become so Filipino that native legends annul its European origin by declaring it to have arisen in this land and to have been of this land since time immemorial."-Joaquin mentioned.

The Sto. Niño Church last Sinulog 2012


In 1521 Ferdinand Magellan expedition, they discovered the Zubu Island (now Cebu) for Spain and gifted the Image of Santo Niño to the island queen. King Humabon and Queen Humamai of Cebu gave him a warm reception. Queen Humamai was the wife of King Humabon of Cebu.  When Ferdinand Magellan landed in Cebu, the queen embraced Christianity.  Humamai was the first Filipina, Cebuana at that, who became a Christian in the entire Philippine Archipelago, and most probably the first native woman in the Far East who became a catholic.

On April 24, 1521, together with some 800 Cebuanos, Queen Humamai received the sacrament of baptism from the hands of Fr. Pedro Valderrama, Chaplain of Magellan’s expedition.  The name Juana was given to her as her Christian name in memory of Queen Juana of Castille, mother of King Carlos V.  And King Humabon was christened Carlos in memory of Spanish King Carlos V., father of King Philip II, whence came the nomenclature Philippines.

On his death at the hands of Lapulapu’s Mactan warriors, his surviving men escaped and fled back to Spain, leaving the image behind. In its new environment, where Pagans or the sun-revering people, the image ceased to be a Christian symbol. After some vain efforts on the part of the natives to destroy it, as legends has them, it endured its new setting and prevailed to become a pagan idol.


During those 44 years when the Cross had vanished from our land, this is in between the Magellan men left and before the next Spanish expedition came under Miguel Lopez de Legazpi – all 44 unaccounted years, the wondrous miracle happened: we accepted the Santo Niño as part of our land, part of our culture, part of our history and became part of Cebuano life. When asked about the Image, as it was found in 1565 by the Legazpi expedition in one of the village houses, the natives refused to relate it to the gift of Magellan. They said it was there at the beginning, since ancient times, which is historically incorrect.

Writer Dr. Resil Mojares, also in a1980 paper, said that the claim of the 1565 Cebuanos that the Image was native and ancient in the land was probably because they were afraid to admit that it was a Spanish property or else it would be taken away from them.


The natives’ version of the origin of the Santo Niño is in the “Agipo” (stump or driftwood) legend about magical driftwood caught in the fishhook of an ancient native fisherman. Everytime he throw it away, it reappeared until decided to keep it. Then, oi! The fish catch became so plentiful for the fisherman that day. The agipo, brought to the settlement, would later manifest its powers to the people – guard the people’s harvest, protect them from pestilence.

Writer Mojares says this legend of the magical driftwood would only be natural to the folk mind. “The folk mind cannot completely conceive of a God that is manufactured in a workshop somewhere in a country called Belgium but it can believe that a God can rise out of the sea and bring on the rains by being submerged again in it”.

Street dancers of the Sinulog mardi gras/festival


Thus, the unaccounted 44 years of the stay of the Image in the hands of the natives has become part of Philippine history. The Sto. Niño, as writer Joaquin put it, “connected, he linked, he joined together our pagan and our Christian culture; he, belonging to both.”

In the way we celebrate Sinulog, it seems that life began only when we were colonized by the Spanish people. With this to ponder, it is no wonder that it is hard for us to get away from colonial mentality and losing our very identity. Or maybe because of the commercialization of the festival that we are also losing the real deal of celebrating the feast? To sum this all up, I have nothing against Christianity being instituted in Cebu and I respect all religion as me being a Universalist but this is to tackle and speak about this matter in a cultural and historical perspective.

Thank you very much and please feel free to comment below.


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