Note: A slightly different version of this photo essay was published in the 24-30 Jan 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star ("The newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America")." The blogger is the Special Photo/News Correspondent of the said weekly, which is based in San Francisco, CA.
|The Sto. Niño de Tondo (center) surrounded by other Child Jesus images in various costumes.|
January in the year of iconic Roman Catholic folk rituals and traditions opens with two faces: that of the suffering Nazarene during the fiesta of Quiapo, Manila on the ninth day of the month, and that of the innocent Child Jesus during the Sto. Niño festivals on the third Sunday held in many towns and cities nationwide, the most popular being the Sinulog (Pit, Senyor!) of Cebu City and the Ati-Atihan (Hala, Bira!) of Kalibo, both in the Visayas. The Ati carnival, in fact, did not start as a folk religious festival but more of a commemorative celebration of a popular lore - the barter of Panay between the Bornean datus and the native Atis before the Spaniards arrived. There’s a fourth crowd-drawer, the Dinagyang of Iloilo, but this one is held on the fourth Sunday.
The original Sto. Niño image in residence at the Cebu cathedral reminds that Christianized Philippines will be 500 years old in 2021. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) prepared a “nine-year journey for the new evangelization”, which started last year, for the fifth centenary of the conversion of Rajah Humabon, Rajah Kolambu and 400 other Filipinos.
|Devotees carry their own images during the fiesta.|
According to Pigafetta , the queen of Cebu, after her baptism as Johanna, was shown the images of Our Lady, the Child Jesus and a cross. She expressed interest to keep the Child Jesus to replace her idols, and Magellan gave it to her on 14 April 1521. It is believed that this was the same image that the Mexican soldiers of Legazpi found in one of the abandoned houses when they arrived in Cebu on 27 April 1565.
Replicate copies of that image are in the Kalibo and Iloilo churches, but with regard to the festivals, the Ati-Atihan was the original street dancing celebration centuries before Dinagyang and Sinulog festivals were organized as tourist attractions in 1967 and1981, respectively.
The proletarian district of Tondo of Manila city also celebrates the feast of their Sto. Niño on the third Sunday (Viva El Sto. Niño!).
For the first time after so many years, we visited Tondo to witness their fiesta. We took the Divisoria route, the church being four blocks from Claro M. Recto through Ilaya Street, hemmed on both sides by market stalls.
There used to be a fluvial procession at Manila Bay on the eve of the fiesta. Old timers remember that the image was borne through the streets of the district, accompanied by a dancing crowd to North Harbor where it was mounted on a pagoda. Fishing boats escorted the pagoda as it sailed along the bay.
The fluvial procesion was stopped in 1983. What we witnessed last Sunday was the morning procession of the Sto. Niño de Tondo on a carriage adorned by loaves of bread and flowers, followed by a legion of similar images clad in various costumes mounted on tricycles and other vehicles, or carried by young and old, male and female devotees. There were two processions through all the barangays of the district, one in the afternoon of the eve of the fiesta, and the other after the early morning mass celebrated by Cardinal Antonio Tagle on the feast day.
Gone too is the street dancing that the late National Artist Nick Joaquin described as being performed by women in pastora hats or dressed like katipuneras in white kamiseta and red saya. There was dancing called lakbayaw for two hours in front of the church in the morning of Saturday, but it was only for show.