THE HARDWOOD PATRIARCH: SAN AGUSTIN DE TANZA [Part 2 of 4]

By JOSE ALAIN AUSTRIA © 2007, 2014

NOTE: This is the second of a four-part series on the history of the centuries-old wooden image and the devotional culture that developed around it.  The original version of this study was published in the UST Graduate School Journal AD VERITATEM (2007) Vol. 7, No. 1: 307-343. Part Two focuses on the various theories regarding the origins of both the statue of San Agustin and the popular devotion.  No part of this essay can be reproduced without permission from the author.

 

THE TREASURE OF BANADERO

Fr. Narciso Manas, the parish priest who allegedly played a role in the establishment of the devotion did not leave any record concerning the image of San Agustin (as well as the miracles associated with it). As a result, oral tradition has been the sole basis of local histories on the image. Of the several variants, there is one oral tradition from the town’s poblacion which is now recognized by the local clergy as the “official history” of the image.

Sometime in 1795, a farmer from barrio Amaya discovered the image of San Agustin lying in the middle of a burnt field called Banadero, near the banks of the Obispo River. The farmer was apparently unaware of the identity of the wooden image and decided to bring it to the town’s gobernadorcillo.  The town head, who knew no better, decided to keep the image under the staircase of the pueblo hall where it was used as a tying post for carabaos and horses. A hook was supposedly attached on the back of the image for this purpose. Appalled by the desecration, San Agustin allegedly appeared in a dream to then parish priest Narciso Manas. He requested him to take the image out of the town hall and to enshrine it at the parish church where it can be properly venerated. Since then, numerous miracles and favors were reported in relation to the image, giving birth to a full-scale popular devotion (Montano 1953: 26-28; Austria 2006).

Although popular imagination has accepted the story as fact, the absence of any document written by credible witnesses does not put to rest the issue of its authenticity. The discovery of miraculous santos (images) in remote places has been a constant in the oral traditions of the Christianized lowlands of the Philippines. In this aspect, the story of Tata Usteng’s ephipany in the plain of Banadero is not unique.

Throughout the Philippines, one can find santos that were reportedly found floating on a river, creek or sea, buried in a cave, hanging on a tree etc. In Cavite alone, everal towns accept as fact that their patron saints came to their locale through such unusual means. The icon of Our Lady of Solitude in Cavite Puerto was supposedly found floating on the sea, and the Candelaria image of Silang was discovered by an indio inside a cave (Mendoza 2002; Puansen 1884).

One will also notice that discovery tales are rare among urban-based popular devotions—like the case of Our Lady of the Rosary in Old Intramuros (now enshrined in Quezon City). In these cases, there are clear historical records. This is in stark contrast with the rural counterparts, the origins of which are attributed to some unexplainable phenomena such as sudden appearances / discoveries via the sea, rivers, streams, caves, mountains etc. The case of San Agustin de Tanza falls into the rural category. The lack of any supporting records seems to affirm the sentiment that the story of San Agustin’s discovery in 1795 is nothing but a legend.

There are three basic issues to resolve: 1) Where did the image come from? 2.) Was it really discovered near the Obispo River in 1795? 3.) When did San Agustin become an object of popular veneration in Tanza?

 

SAN AGUSTIN DE TANZA: PHILIPPINE-MADE

There is a common belief among the people of Tanza that the image of San Agustin came all the way from Spain. In fact, there is a local theory that the image may have been part of the cargo of a sunken galleon in Manila Bay. Although very improbable, the theory suggests that the image floated into the mouth of the Obispo River and eventually found its way to Banadero (Ner, 2001)

It is quite easy to be swayed by this popular conviction. For one, the image is often displayed with full regalia: intricately-embroidered robes (with gold thread), an ornately-designed miter and a silver staff. The sheer bulk of the clothing creates the impression of a stocky, triangular profile very typical of Spanish baroque santos.

Peel away all these trappings of centuries-old devotion and all we have left is a charming wooden statue carved out of a Philippine variety of hardwood: a fine specimen of 18th century Filipino religious art. An ocular study done way back in the 1950’s by historian Esteban de Ocampo suggests that it might be the work of Filipino or Sangley (Chinese) hands (Torres, 2002).

Since the late 16th century, Spanish missionaries employed indio and sangley artisans to embellish their newly-built churches with necessary ornamentation. Primary among these were religious images: santos. Although it is true that the friars brought with them some images from Spain and Mexico, there were not enough to fill the increasing number of churches and religious institutions in the colony. In general, importing images from the peninsula or the New World then was so expensive, time-consuming and wholly-impractical. It was more convenient to employ Filipino and Chinese artisans to produce these votive images.

Philippine santos are divided into two groups: those for home veneration and those for church use. The ones intended for home use were generally small, crude, and often non-realistic. The sheer size of (more than four feet) and the provenance of the San Agustin image in Tanza indicate that this specimen was not intended for a family altar. Images of this kind were made for something bigger—a church retablo (Gatbonton 1979: 78-79).

Apart from the fully-clothed countenance [debulto], there are other details that point to Philippine workmanship. The meticulous rendition of the saint’s beard, the realistic pout of the lips, the large round eyes…all reflects the artist’s scrupulousness in rendering the saint’s face. This concern for detail (especially for the frontal side) seems to be a form of primitive functionalism—a trait that characterized 17th-18th century Philippine santos (Ibid.)

Images intended for church use then were often installed in altar niches, exposing only the front part of the image to the viewer. Because of this, Filipino artisans often sculpted images with the perspective of the viewer in mind. The intention of primitive functionalism is to make the front as pleasing as possible to the devotee. Thus, the unexposed back of the images (often smooth, unadorned and simply vertical in line) receive less attention. After all, this part of the image would only face the wall—-far from the adoring gaze of the Filipino churchgoer. This is true with the Tanza image (Ibid.).

It was earlier mentioned that a hook is attached at the back of the image. This is still considered by many as a proof that the image was used as a tying post for horses and carabaos—and that the account of the 1795 discovery is authentic. It must be clarified however that images made for retablos normally have hooks at their back. The purpose of this hook is to keep it attached to the retablo niche, to prevent the heavy image from falling off the retablo. (Jose 1991: 121). If this hook proves anything, it is this: the image of San Agustin de Tanza was made for a large altar—a retablo.

The image is life-like. It is obvious that the artist made an attempt to render San Agustin in a classical posture, far from the rigid standing type that typified other contemporaneous images. If one ignores the textile cape (which creates an illusion of stockiness and bulk), one can see that the whole body forms a left-leaning vertical curve from the base to the point of the miter. This contrasts sharply with the straight vertical line seen in many santos. The saint for one is not staring straight or slightly downwards to the viewer. Instead, its eyes are focused on a distant point between heaven and the horizon. The legs of the image (especially the right) are slightly bent, creating an illusion of descent on an inclined plane. This effect is further complemented by simple folds, creating an illusion of the saint’s knees pressing against the vestments. But the feet are rendered only slightly apart, firmly standing on a flat base, making the saint’s pose somewhat artificial.

The San Agustin de Tanza fits the accepted prototype of the Philippine school of religious sculpture: a bearded old man dressed in the long robes of an ecclesiastic; a miter to remind the viewer that he was a bishop, a loosely-closed fist to accommodate a staff, a miniature church standing above a book to emphasize the honor of being a Doctor of the Church. Some specimens on display in the San Agustin Museum in Intramuros show the same features. Since the Augustinian Order used to own vast tracts of land in what is now Tanza during the 18th century, it is highly-probable that they kept an image of their spiritual father  in one of their administrative houses (with its own private chapel perhaps).

It is unfortunate that even the identity of the unknown artisan may never be known. It was not the tradition of indio or sangley carvers to sign their works. One cannot help wondering if this unknown artisan ever entertained the thought that this typical San Agustin of his would later be the focal point of a thriving saint-cult?

 

EXAMINING THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE 1795 “DISCOVERY STORY”

On the altar containing the image, one reads: “San Agustin, 1795”. Apparently, local church authorities accept the 1795 discovery story as a fact. They even celebrated the image’s 200th anniversary with much pageantry (Tanza Town Fiesta souvenir program 1995). So it is clear that the 1795 discovery story remains undisputed in popular lore.

The precise year attached to the event however is not at all a proven fact. This was clarified by Mariano Montano, one of the town’s local historians. In an interview with the author (2001) Montano revealed that the year 1795 is a mere approximate and there are no pretensions that it is the exact date of the discovery of the image. The only thing “certain” is that it was found during the term of the town’s first parish priest , Fr. Narciso Manas. The said priest was supposedly the one who took the initiative of exposing the image of San Agustin in his church—after a numinous dream. Presuming that was the case, assigning an exact year or date can be a tall order: Fr. Manas handled the parish from 1780 to 1817—a total of 37 years!.

There is proof however than an image of San Agustin was already enshrined in Tanza even before Fr. Manas was assigned in the pueblo. The clue was a passing reference in Regalado Trota Jose’s conference  paper “Reconstructing the Succession of Secular Priests in Cavite” (published in 2005). The passing reference to an indio-tagalo priest opens a new perspective in the reconstruction of the devotion’s history.

Prior to the arrival of Fr. Narciso Manas in 1780, Fr. Vizente Gavino (parish priest of San Francisco de Malabon) as the acting pastor of the visita of Tanza, wrote a document describing the state of the small chapel that would eventually become Fr. Manas’ parish church. Jose noted that the documents described the small church as made of “thatch, bamboo and wood. There was neither a bell-tower nor a baptistery, and there was only one retablo. An image of San Agustin was mentioned” (Jose 2005).

Is this particular image of San Agustin, and the one venerated in the current church one and the same? The author personally saw this handwritten-document during a visit to the Archdiocesan Archives in Intramuros (sometime in 2008). Part of the document [from the late 18th century Santa Visita bundles] includes an inventory of the furniture and other properties inside the small church. A wooden image of San Agustin was included in this inventory. Gavino however did not elaborate further. There’s no mention of its “discovery”, not a single word on its origins.

The author is convinced that this image is the beloved San Agustin de Tanza. There are two possible scenarios. First, the “miraculous” discovery of the image near the Obispo River happened much earlier than previously thought—probably before the year 1780. Second, the image of San Agustin de Tanza was a legacy of the original owners of the Hacienda de Santa Cruz de Malabon—the Augustinians. The second scenario seems to be more plausible.

 

THE HAZY GENESIS OF A POPULAR DEVOTION

The 1795 oral tradition maintains that it was through a dream that Fr. Manas was “ordered” by San Agustin himself to enshrine the image in the parish church for people to venerate. The above findings however seem to indicate that some form of devotion already exists even before Fr. Manas came to Tanza in 1780. While there is no doubt that there was a devotion to San Agustin prior to 1780, the question now is whether this was “significantly-popular” for the people of Tanza then?

Again, the known facts are meager. There is no record of wide-scale religious practices in honor of the saint in the late 18th or early 19th centuries. But there is one detail that seems to suggest that devotion to San Agustin was of great importance both for the clergy and the people of Tanza prior to the arrival of Fr. Manas.

The Archdiocese of Manila chose a very auspicious day for the elevation of theTanza to full parish status. Records show that Fr. Vizente Gavino officially relinquished his authority as vicar of the visita of Tanza on August 27, 1780. Fr. Narciso Manas was installed as Tanza’s first real parish priest on August 29, 1780. Note that the day between these two important occasions—-August 28, 1780—was in fact the feast of San Agustin.

There were three questions to consider. First, since the proposed parish’s official name is Parroquia de Santa Cruz de Malabon, why did ecclesiastical authorities not schedule the establishment of the parish on the 3rd of May of 1780—the feast of the Holy Cross? Second, what’s the relevance of Saint Augustine’s feast (August 28) for it to be chosen as the proper date for the visita’s elevation to a parish? Third, why was there a one-day gap (a grand fiesta perhaps) between Fr. Gavino’s official farewell to the community and Fr. Manas’ first day as Tanza’s official pastor?

There’s a strong probability that the image of San Agustin was already a venerable object of devotion for the people of the Tanza hacienda—definitely much earlier than the Dominican purchase of 1761, the establishment of the town (1770) and the parish (1780). But still—-more questions: Did the Augustinians directly introduce the devotion to their tenants during their stint as landowners? Was the devotion so strong that it remained an integral part of hacienda life even after the Augustinians lost the estate in the mid-18th century? The author thinks it’s wonderful if local historians in Tanza will conduct further research on this.

How about the story of the image being found in Banadero sometime in 1795? Well, there will always be a lingering thought among historians that the farmer’s “miraculous encounter” with the wooden image of San Agustin is simply a legend—in the mold of “foundling stories” which was very common in colonial towns of the Tagalog region [and the rest of the Christian Philippines]. However, legends do not invalidate the authentic experience of the people re San Agustin’s benevolence. In fact such legends are responsible for the irresistible mystique of Tanza’sTata Usteng

End of Part Two 

PHOTOGRAPHS

Photo No. 1: “Close-up of the face of the original 18th century image of Saint Augustine of Hippo, or more popularly known as Tata Usteng. From an estampita / devotional card (c) Santa Cruz Parish - Tanza, 2014. 

Photo No. 2: “A priest blesses the image of San Agustin with incense (c) Santa Cruz Parish - Tanza, 2014. 

*Special thanks to the Santa Cruz Parish, Tanza, Cavite for giving the author permission to publish these fairly-recent photograps. 

THE HARDWOOD PATRIARCH: SAN AGUSTIN DE TANZA [Part 1 of 4]


By JOSE ALAIN AUSTRIA© 2007, 2014



NOTE: In celebration of the upcoming feast of San Agustin de Tanza or Tata Usteng (28 August, a major religious festival for Cavitenos), the author presents this four-part series on the history of the centuries-old wooden image and the devotional culture that developed around it.   The original version of this study was published in the UST Graduate School Journal AD VERITATEM (2007) Vol. 7, No. 1: 307-343. No part of this essay can be reproduced without permission from the author.


Not much is known about the rich tradition of Caviteno folk-piety, except for its more esoteric manifestations like the use of sacramental as anting-anting. The province however is host to several devotions centered on miraculous images, the origins of which can be traced back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Three are very prominent: Nuestra Senora de la Soledad de Porta Vaga, Santo Nino de Ternate, and San Agustin de Tanza. The last remains relatively-unknown to most people outside the Tagalog province, and the least-explored in terms of serious research.  


This paper focuses on the development of the devotion to San Agustin in the town of Tanza, Cavite. The work is divided into four distinct parts: a brief description of the setting that gave birth to the saint-cult; a critique on the origins of the venerable image and local devotion; its major elements, and a concluding discussion on the role of historical factors, folklore and acculturation in its development. 




A HISTORICAL SKETCH OF A HACIENDA TOWN 


Its very history is etched on the name of this western Caviteno town. Tanza is a corruption of the Spanish word estancia (cattle ranch). For almost 173 years, the friar-owned Hacienda de Santa Cruz de Malabon lorded over the area, acting as the main catalyst for the area’s political, economic and ecclesiastical development. It was a monolithic institution that would influence every aspect of the town’s colonial history and culture (and as the latter part of this work will show, even its religious heritage).


In the 17th century, the Franciscans and the Jesuits conducted missions to the Tagalogs living in the fertile region west of Cavite El Viejo (Kawit) called Malabon. Also known as the Mission of S. Josephi et S.ae Crucis, it was divided into two halves by the Canas River. The sparsely-populated western half of the mission or S.ae. Crucis (corresponding to present-day Tanza) showed much promise. There were vast grasslands ideal for the establishment of an estancia. This eventual became the site of the Hacienda de Santa Cruz de Malabon (Medina, 1994: 36). 


The area was acquired by the Augustinian Order in 1727 from a Spaniard—a certain Juan Esguerra (Escalante, 2000). This acquisition was not a missionary endeavor, but a plain business transaction. The Augustinians role was primarily that of the land-owner. The friars were not given the power to administer the estate as a mission area or parish (the parish was then the turf of the seculars). Even their physical presence in the area was limited to a few donados acting as administrators (and perhaps some occasional visit from some of the friars). They could introduce some of their pious practices to their tenants but the administration of the sacraments then belonged to the nearest diocesan parish. As landowners, the Augustinians raised cattle, earning for the hacienda the name La Estancia or simply Tanza. The friars invested heavily on improving the infrastructure of the hacienda: particularly on irrigation canals. It indeed attracted some natives as tenants, serving as catalyst for permanent settlement. Compared to other Caviteno haciendas during the 18th century however, this particular estate was a demographic failure. Around 1735, the hacienda only had a population of 491 natives (Buzeta 1851: 535). Still this fact debunks the oral tradition re the “Pioneers of Tanza” [four Tagalog couples] who were considered as the first people to inhabit the area ca. 1752. 


The hacienda was not without problems. The friar-estates were a constant source of irritation on the part of the peasantry. It is for this reason that the hacienda became an ideal target of tulisanes and even a full-scale uprising (Tagalog Peasant Rebellion of 1745). Couple this with the near take-over of the Jesuits in the same year, the hacienda had become a source of problems for the Augustinians. Not long after, the estate reverted back to the ownership of successive lay owners, the last of whom was a certain Diego O’Kennedy (Roth 1977: 109). 


The former friar-estate was stagnant under these secular owners. In 1758, the hacienda was formally incorporated within the political jurisdiction of the town of San Francisco de Malabon (now General Trias). Its role in the political set-up was very peripheral. The estate was connected to the mother town by a single dirt-trail. It was described as a sparsely-populated community (1500 souls) of few unfenced huts surrounded by dense forests, a dirt-poor backwater of the pueblo of San Francisco de Malabon (Medina, 1994: 36).


In 1761 the estate was purchased by the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) from Diego O’Kennedy in a public auction. For the amount of 70,000 pesos, the Tanza estate became the main commodity in the 1761 dual land purchase in the province. It was the impetus needed to jumpstart the area’s demographic growth. The Dominicans retained the cattle-ranch, but focused heavily on wet-rice, sugar cane and tobacco cultivation as the hacienda’s main economic activities. New tenants or inquilinos moved in. From that year onwards, the population inside the hacienda steadily grew to reach proportions enough for it to earn the right to be separated from the mother town of San Francisco de Malabon (Roth 1977: 41, 48). 


In the year 1770, just nine years after the Dominican purchase, the area corresponding to the hacienda was elevated to pueblo status. The town of Tanza [or Santa Cruz de Malabon—its formal name] was born. Political independence however did not immediately translate to economic development. It remained one of the poorest towns in the province. Apart from this, the new pueblo lacked one of the major fixtures of a true town—a parish of its own (Cavada 1876: 236). 


Despite being successively owned by two religious orders, the people of pre-1780 Tanza had been dependent on the diocesan parish of San Francisco de Malabon. The parish church of the neighboring town was simply too far that most of the people in Tanza lived and died without the sacraments. There were early efforts on the part of the parish to reach out to the tenants of the Tanza hacienda. As early as 1768, a chaplain was assigned to minister to the area—Fr. Antonio Flores. There were no indications however that he conducted frequent visits to the place (Jose 2005: 102). 


The Dominicans friars were apparently concerned over the “unchurched” status of the inhabitants of the town. Like the Augustinians before them, they were the land-owners and not the missionaries of the area. Fray Joseph Azcarate, O.P., then Procurator General in Manila, lamenting the circumstances that prevents the tenants from receiving the sacraments and religious instruction. He then requested him to make it possible for a diocesan minister to be assigned permanently in Tanza. It was answered—two years later (Dery 2001: 129). 


In response to the Azcarate request, and added pressure on the part of the colonial administration, the Archdiocese of Manila proclaimed Tanza an anejo or visita of San Francisco de Malabon on February 23, 1772. By virtue of this proclamation, the responsibility over the Catholic community of Tanza rested on the parish priest of San Francisco de Malabon. Within eight years it became obvious that the visita has become too large to be served well by the prevailing set-up. So an independent parish was established on August 29, 1780 by the Archdiocese of Manila. It was officially named the Parroquia de Santa Cruz. A secular priest from Bulacan, Bulacan named Narciso Manas was assigned as the first parish priest (Medina 1994: 36; Jose 2005: 102).


The germinal years of the Parroquia de Santa Cruz proved to be very difficult for NarcisoManas. For almost 37 years, he oversaw the laying of the foundations of the parish. The construction of an appropriate house of worship was to be Fr. Manas’ life-long burden. The poverty of the people within the hacienda forced him to shoulder some of the expenses (for he came from a well-to-do family in Bulacan). The parishioners in fact owe him 2000 pesos (a very huge sum at that time). This was made all the more poignant by the fact the priest was chronically-sick since 1810. He died in 1817 in his poor parish, totally dedicated to a dream that he was not destined to see (Ibid.).


Building appropriate houses of worship was not the only problem that the parish faced. More challenging were the social woes confronting this struggling parish. Being an estate-town, Tanza was an attractive game for tulisanes. The period between 1817 until the early 1830’s was one of Tanza’s darkest. It was during this period that Tanza was caught in one of the most intense wave of tulisanismo the province ever experienced in its colonial history (Ereccion de Pueblos – Cavite 1837: exp. 7, fol.18-32b).


The banditry phenomenon in Cavite however cannot be dismissed as a simple criminal wave, but is now interpreted by historians as a reaction against what the peasantry perceived as the oppressive policies of the friar-estates (Bankoff 1996: 62). 


Apart from these, the parish seems to have had problems with curbing local vices during the first half of the 19th century. A former pastor noted that Tanza had three major endemic vices: carabao rustling, usury and gambling. Of the three, it was carabao rustling that proved to be major headache for both the parish priest and local authorities. Frequent theft was also an issue and the parish complex was not spared by local thieves (Medina 1992: 72). 


The Parroquia de Santa Cruz of Tanza was formally given to the Dominicans in 1860, part of the controversial take-over of secular parishes in Cavite during the mid-19th century. This gave the Dominicans complete control over two of the town’s most important institutions: the hacienda and the parish. It was a set-up that would last until 1898 (Calairo 2004: 56-57). 




The Tanza of the latter-half of the 19th century was quite different from the poor pueblo that the secular clergy were familiar with. Tulisanismo has become a thing of the past. The town itself was already politically and economically well-established (although it remained highly-dependent on the hacienda). The Dominicans therefore have more time to improve the infrastructure of the estate and that of the parish.
An earthquake-damaged church complex welcomed Fray Alberto Planas, O.P. in 1860. This and the constant problem of pillaging and theft had prompted the Dominicans to improve the church complex. This new Dominican church (completed a decade later) was small by provincial standards but remarkably sturdy. Although there have been alterations made in the 20th century the structure remains in good condition to this day. This church and its historical convent are the most tangible material legacies of the Dominican Order to the town (Ereccion de Pueblos—Cavite, 1823-1864: 36). 


After the events of 1872, the take-over of the secular parishes and the existence of the Cavite friar-estates had become sensitive issues. The restiveness of the peasantry and even the affluent tenants in the Caviteno haciendas eventually reached its peak in the last decade of the 19th century when the Tagalog provinces openly revolted against Spain. 


By the 1890’s, the town of Tanza had grown relatively-prosperous community dominated by the local new rich, and a sizeable Chinese-mestizo community that practically controlled retail trade in town. Many of Tanza’s prominent residents either sympathized with the revolutionaries or joined them. As the war in Cavite escalated, the Dominicans abandoned both the parish and their estate’s administrative house and fled to the safety of Manila (Calairo 2004: 78-88). 


At this crucial time in Philippine history, the town of Tanza suddenly found itself in the spotlight. The native clergy took over after the Dominicans left. A coadjutor, Fr. CenonVillafranca (1891-1897) became one of the leaders of the people of Tanza. An open supporter of the revolutionary cause, he played host to the party of Emilio Aguinaldo a day after the controversial meeting at Tejeros. On the night of March 23, 1897, with the antique Holy Cross before him, Emilio Aguinaldo took his oath as President of the Revolutionary Government (Gunita 1998: 232-235). 


Although the Spaniards were able to recapture Cavite in that same year, the Dominicans were not able to regain control of the parish and hacienda. The declaration of Philippine independence in 1898, and the escalation of Filipino-American hostilities in 1899 had changed the situation. It became clear that the Dominicans would have to let go of both institutions. 


In the year 1900, the Dominicans, succumbing to the pressure of the new colonial masters, sold the hacienda to the Philippine Sugar Estates Development Company, ending 173 years of the friar-estate’s history. The hacienda was later dissolved and its land holdings divided principally among Tanza’s local elite and other tenants. The parish in turn reverted back to the control of the Filipino clergy. The dissolution of the friar-hacienda ended the Spanish colonial chapter of Tanza’s history. Its legacy however remains tangible to this very day. This was, after all, the era that formed the historical backdrop for the development of a very interesting popular devotion (Escalante 2002: 56). 
End of Part One
Photo Credits: 
Photograph  1: The town of Tanza along the banks of the Canas River. The towns existence for much of its colonial history was dependent on the Hacienda de Santa Cruz de Malabon “Aerial view of Tanza’s core poblacion and the Canas River" (c) P199 Wikipedia Commons, 2012
Photograph 2: The facade of the parish church of Tanza, Cavite. “Church of Santa Cruz / San Agustin de Tanza" (c) Holy Cross Parish  Tanza website, uploaded in southweddingdreams.com, 2014
Photograph 3: The Casa Hacienda in Biwas, Tanza is the one of few remnants of the vast friar-estate that formed the core of the town. The Valencia family [who administered the estate for the Dominicans] now owns this property. “Casa Hacienda de Tanza" (c) Bernard Austria, 2014. 

THE HARDWOOD PATRIARCH: SAN AGUSTIN DE TANZA [Part 1 of 4]

By JOSE ALAIN AUSTRIA© 2007, 2014

NOTE: In celebration of the upcoming feast of San Agustin de Tanza or Tata Usteng (28 August, a major religious festival for Cavitenos), the author presents this four-part series on the history of the centuries-old wooden image and the devotional culture that developed around it.   The original version of this study was published in the UST Graduate School Journal AD VERITATEM (2007) Vol. 7, No. 1: 307-343. No part of this essay can be reproduced without permission from the author.

Not much is known about the rich tradition of Caviteno folk-piety, except for its more esoteric manifestations like the use of sacramental as anting-anting. The province however is host to several devotions centered on miraculous images, the origins of which can be traced back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Three are very prominent: Nuestra Senora de la Soledad de Porta Vaga, Santo Nino de Ternate, and San Agustin de Tanza. The last remains relatively-unknown to most people outside the Tagalog province, and the least-explored in terms of serious research. 

This paper focuses on the development of the devotion to San Agustin in the town of Tanza, Cavite. The work is divided into four distinct parts: a brief description of the setting that gave birth to the saint-cult; a critique on the origins of the venerable image and local devotion; its major elements, and a concluding discussion on the role of historical factors, folklore and acculturation in its development.

A HISTORICAL SKETCH OF A HACIENDA TOWN

Its very history is etched on the name of this western Caviteno town. Tanza is a corruption of the Spanish word estancia (cattle ranch). For almost 173 years, the friar-owned Hacienda de Santa Cruz de Malabon lorded over the area, acting as the main catalyst for the area’s political, economic and ecclesiastical development. It was a monolithic institution that would influence every aspect of the town’s colonial history and culture (and as the latter part of this work will show, even its religious heritage).

In the 17th century, the Franciscans and the Jesuits conducted missions to the Tagalogs living in the fertile region west of Cavite El Viejo (Kawit) called Malabon. Also known as the Mission of S. Josephi et S.ae Crucis, it was divided into two halves by the Canas River. The sparsely-populated western half of the mission or S.ae. Crucis (corresponding to present-day Tanza) showed much promise. There were vast grasslands ideal for the establishment of an estancia. This eventual became the site of the Hacienda de Santa Cruz de Malabon (Medina, 1994: 36).

The area was acquired by the Augustinian Order in 1727 from a Spaniard—a certain Juan Esguerra (Escalante, 2000). This acquisition was not a missionary endeavor, but a plain business transaction. The Augustinians role was primarily that of the land-owner. The friars were not given the power to administer the estate as a mission area or parish (the parish was then the turf of the seculars). Even their physical presence in the area was limited to a few donados acting as administrators (and perhaps some occasional visit from some of the friars). They could introduce some of their pious practices to their tenants but the administration of the sacraments then belonged to the nearest diocesan parish. As landowners, the Augustinians raised cattle, earning for the hacienda the name La Estancia or simply Tanza. The friars invested heavily on improving the infrastructure of the hacienda: particularly on irrigation canals. It indeed attracted some natives as tenants, serving as catalyst for permanent settlement. Compared to other Caviteno haciendas during the 18th century however, this particular estate was a demographic failure. Around 1735, the hacienda only had a population of 491 natives (Buzeta 1851: 535). Still this fact debunks the oral tradition re the “Pioneers of Tanza” [four Tagalog couples] who were considered as the first people to inhabit the area ca. 1752.

The hacienda was not without problems. The friar-estates were a constant source of irritation on the part of the peasantry. It is for this reason that the hacienda became an ideal target of tulisanes and even a full-scale uprising (Tagalog Peasant Rebellion of 1745). Couple this with the near take-over of the Jesuits in the same year, the hacienda had become a source of problems for the Augustinians. Not long after, the estate reverted back to the ownership of successive lay owners, the last of whom was a certain Diego O’Kennedy (Roth 1977: 109).

The former friar-estate was stagnant under these secular owners. In 1758, the hacienda was formally incorporated within the political jurisdiction of the town of San Francisco de Malabon (now General Trias). Its role in the political set-up was very peripheral. The estate was connected to the mother town by a single dirt-trail. It was described as a sparsely-populated community (1500 souls) of few unfenced huts surrounded by dense forests, a dirt-poor backwater of the pueblo of San Francisco de Malabon (Medina, 1994: 36).

In 1761 the estate was purchased by the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) from Diego O’Kennedy in a public auction. For the amount of 70,000 pesos, the Tanza estate became the main commodity in the 1761 dual land purchase in the province. It was the impetus needed to jumpstart the area’s demographic growth. The Dominicans retained the cattle-ranch, but focused heavily on wet-rice, sugar cane and tobacco cultivation as the hacienda’s main economic activities. New tenants or inquilinos moved in. From that year onwards, the population inside the hacienda steadily grew to reach proportions enough for it to earn the right to be separated from the mother town of San Francisco de Malabon (Roth 1977: 41, 48).

In the year 1770, just nine years after the Dominican purchase, the area corresponding to the hacienda was elevated to pueblo status. The town of Tanza [or Santa Cruz de Malabon—its formal name] was born. Political independence however did not immediately translate to economic development. It remained one of the poorest towns in the province. Apart from this, the new pueblo lacked one of the major fixtures of a true town—a parish of its own (Cavada 1876: 236).

Despite being successively owned by two religious orders, the people of pre-1780 Tanza had been dependent on the diocesan parish of San Francisco de Malabon. The parish church of the neighboring town was simply too far that most of the people in Tanza lived and died without the sacraments. There were early efforts on the part of the parish to reach out to the tenants of the Tanza hacienda. As early as 1768, a chaplain was assigned to minister to the area—Fr. Antonio Flores. There were no indications however that he conducted frequent visits to the place (Jose 2005: 102).

The Dominicans friars were apparently concerned over the “unchurched” status of the inhabitants of the town. Like the Augustinians before them, they were the land-owners and not the missionaries of the area. Fray Joseph Azcarate, O.P., then Procurator General in Manila, lamenting the circumstances that prevents the tenants from receiving the sacraments and religious instruction. He then requested him to make it possible for a diocesan minister to be assigned permanently in Tanza. It was answered—two years later (Dery 2001: 129).

In response to the Azcarate request, and added pressure on the part of the colonial administration, the Archdiocese of Manila proclaimed Tanza an anejo or visita of San Francisco de Malabon on February 23, 1772. By virtue of this proclamation, the responsibility over the Catholic community of Tanza rested on the parish priest of San Francisco de Malabon. Within eight years it became obvious that the visita has become too large to be served well by the prevailing set-up. So an independent parish was established on August 29, 1780 by the Archdiocese of Manila. It was officially named the Parroquia de Santa Cruz. A secular priest from Bulacan, Bulacan named Narciso Manas was assigned as the first parish priest (Medina 1994: 36; Jose 2005: 102).

The germinal years of the Parroquia de Santa Cruz proved to be very difficult for NarcisoManas. For almost 37 years, he oversaw the laying of the foundations of the parish. The construction of an appropriate house of worship was to be Fr. Manas’ life-long burden. The poverty of the people within the hacienda forced him to shoulder some of the expenses (for he came from a well-to-do family in Bulacan). The parishioners in fact owe him 2000 pesos (a very huge sum at that time). This was made all the more poignant by the fact the priest was chronically-sick since 1810. He died in 1817 in his poor parish, totally dedicated to a dream that he was not destined to see (Ibid.).

Building appropriate houses of worship was not the only problem that the parish faced. More challenging were the social woes confronting this struggling parish. Being an estate-town, Tanza was an attractive game for tulisanes. The period between 1817 until the early 1830’s was one of Tanza’s darkest. It was during this period that Tanza was caught in one of the most intense wave of tulisanismo the province ever experienced in its colonial history (Ereccion de Pueblos – Cavite 1837: exp. 7, fol.18-32b).

The banditry phenomenon in Cavite however cannot be dismissed as a simple criminal wave, but is now interpreted by historians as a reaction against what the peasantry perceived as the oppressive policies of the friar-estates (Bankoff 1996: 62).

Apart from these, the parish seems to have had problems with curbing local vices during the first half of the 19th century. A former pastor noted that Tanza had three major endemic vices: carabao rustling, usury and gambling. Of the three, it was carabao rustling that proved to be major headache for both the parish priest and local authorities. Frequent theft was also an issue and the parish complex was not spared by local thieves (Medina 1992: 72).

The Parroquia de Santa Cruz of Tanza was formally given to the Dominicans in 1860, part of the controversial take-over of secular parishes in Cavite during the mid-19th century. This gave the Dominicans complete control over two of the town’s most important institutions: the hacienda and the parish. It was a set-up that would last until 1898 (Calairo 2004: 56-57).

The Tanza of the latter-half of the 19th century was quite different from the poor pueblo that the secular clergy were familiar with. Tulisanismo has become a thing of the past. The town itself was already politically and economically well-established (although it remained highly-dependent on the hacienda). The Dominicans therefore have more time to improve the infrastructure of the estate and that of the parish.

An earthquake-damaged church complex welcomed Fray Alberto Planas, O.P. in 1860. This and the constant problem of pillaging and theft had prompted the Dominicans to improve the church complex. This new Dominican church (completed a decade later) was small by provincial standards but remarkably sturdy. Although there have been alterations made in the 20th century the structure remains in good condition to this day. This church and its historical convent are the most tangible material legacies of the Dominican Order to the town (Ereccion de Pueblos—Cavite, 1823-1864: 36).

After the events of 1872, the take-over of the secular parishes and the existence of the Cavite friar-estates had become sensitive issues. The restiveness of the peasantry and even the affluent tenants in the Caviteno haciendas eventually reached its peak in the last decade of the 19th century when the Tagalog provinces openly revolted against Spain.

By the 1890’s, the town of Tanza had grown relatively-prosperous community dominated by the local new rich, and a sizeable Chinese-mestizo community that practically controlled retail trade in town. Many of Tanza’s prominent residents either sympathized with the revolutionaries or joined them. As the war in Cavite escalated, the Dominicans abandoned both the parish and their estate’s administrative house and fled to the safety of Manila (Calairo 2004: 78-88).

At this crucial time in Philippine history, the town of Tanza suddenly found itself in the spotlight. The native clergy took over after the Dominicans left. A coadjutor, Fr. CenonVillafranca (1891-1897) became one of the leaders of the people of Tanza. An open supporter of the revolutionary cause, he played host to the party of Emilio Aguinaldo a day after the controversial meeting at Tejeros. On the night of March 23, 1897, with the antique Holy Cross before him, Emilio Aguinaldo took his oath as President of the Revolutionary Government (Gunita 1998: 232-235).

Although the Spaniards were able to recapture Cavite in that same year, the Dominicans were not able to regain control of the parish and hacienda. The declaration of Philippine independence in 1898, and the escalation of Filipino-American hostilities in 1899 had changed the situation. It became clear that the Dominicans would have to let go of both institutions.

In the year 1900, the Dominicans, succumbing to the pressure of the new colonial masters, sold the hacienda to the Philippine Sugar Estates Development Company, ending 173 years of the friar-estate’s history. The hacienda was later dissolved and its land holdings divided principally among Tanza’s local elite and other tenants. The parish in turn reverted back to the control of the Filipino clergy. The dissolution of the friar-hacienda ended the Spanish colonial chapter of Tanza’s history. Its legacy however remains tangible to this very day. This was, after all, the era that formed the historical backdrop for the development of a very interesting popular devotion (Escalante 2002: 56).

End of Part One

Photo Credits:

Photograph  1: The town of Tanza along the banks of the Canas River. The towns existence for much of its colonial history was dependent on the Hacienda de Santa Cruz de Malabon “Aerial view of Tanza’s core poblacion and the Canas River" (c) P199 Wikipedia Commons, 2012

Photograph 2: The facade of the parish church of Tanza, Cavite. “Church of Santa Cruz / San Agustin de Tanza" (c) Holy Cross Parish  Tanza website, uploaded in southweddingdreams.com, 2014

Photograph 3: The Casa Hacienda in Biwas, Tanza is the one of few remnants of the vast friar-estate that formed the core of the town. The Valencia family [who administered the estate for the Dominicans] now owns this property. “Casa Hacienda de Tanza" (c) Bernard Austria, 2014. 

MUSINGS ON THE “SACRED” NATURE OF TAGALOG BAYBAYIN © 2014 I was searching for specimens of baybayin calligraphy and tattoo via Tumblr when I chanced upon this photograph by Marc Edward Olan, a student of the University of the Philippines. It’s a framed scroll with baybayin calligraphy—now on display at the Casa Boix in Quiapo. It took time before I realized that I’m the one who made this piece—-oh my I’m getting old! When I saw that palaspas accent [normally reserved for altars], I remembered an interesting conversation that I had with some baybayin artists during the Carl Jung Circle conference [Club Filipino, July 2014). These people consider baybayin calligraphy as an integral part of their Filipino spirituality. They even shared a very interesting anecdote: Unknown to many, the great sculptor and national artist Guillermo Tolentino was also an advocate of baybayin calligraphy—and yes an “espiritista”. When he was alive, he told some friends that one time he heard a “voice” that told him that the proper place for baybayin calligraphy is the household altar or shrine—to honor its “sacred” nature. I don’t know whether the great artist was really clairaudient or just imagining things—-who am I to judge such paranormal phenomena. But the anecdote seems to affirm the feeling of many artists: that the baybayin is not just an old pre-colonial syllabary—but a mystical set of ideograms that represent the inner / spiritual values of the Filipino of yore. I guess this is the beauty of baybayin. Whether you put it on paper, bamboo, wood, ink it in your skin [tattoo]…it somehow becomes a catalyst for an inner journey that will reconnect us with our original identity as a people. That journey is sacred enough for me. ARTWORK: “Sa Lupa para nang sa Langit” by J.A. Austria, chinese ink on xuan paper, Casa Boix collection. Photograph by © Marc Edward Olan, 2014.

MUSINGS ON THE “SACRED” NATURE OF TAGALOG BAYBAYIN © 2014

I was searching for specimens of baybayin calligraphy and tattoo via Tumblr when I chanced upon this photograph by Marc Edward Olan, a student of the University of the Philippines. It’s a framed scroll with baybayin calligraphy—now on display at the Casa Boix in Quiapo. It took time before I realized that I’m the one who made this piece—-oh my I’m getting old!

When I saw that palaspas accent [normally reserved for altars], I remembered an interesting conversation that I had with some baybayin artists during the Carl Jung Circle conference [Club Filipino, July 2014). These people consider baybayin calligraphy as an integral part of their Filipino spirituality. They even shared a very interesting anecdote:

Unknown to many, the great sculptor and national artist Guillermo Tolentino was also an advocate of baybayin calligraphy—and yes an “espiritista”. When he was alive, he told some friends that one time he heard a “voice” that told him that the proper place for baybayin calligraphy is the household altar or shrine—to honor its “sacred” nature.

I don’t know whether the great artist was really clairaudient or just imagining things—-who am I to judge such paranormal phenomena. But the anecdote seems to affirm the feeling of many artists: that the baybayin is not just an old pre-colonial syllabary—but a mystical set of ideograms that represent the inner / spiritual values of the Filipino of yore.

I guess this is the beauty of baybayin. Whether you put it on paper, bamboo, wood, ink it in your skin [tattoo]…it somehow becomes a catalyst for an inner journey that will reconnect us with our original identity as a people. That journey is sacred enough for me.

ARTWORK: “Sa Lupa para nang sa Langit” by J.A. Austria, chinese ink on xuan paper, Casa Boix collection. Photograph by © Marc Edward Olan, 2014.


HIJOS DE ENERO NUEVE: THE BLACK NAZARENE PROCESSION AS A MALE RITE OF PASSAGE [Part 4/4]
By JOSE ALAIN AUSTRIA / Manila Studies Association © 2012-2014
NOTE: This is the concluding part of the revised version of an essay that originally appeared in Manila: Selected Papers of the 20th Annual Manila Studies Conference, a book published in 2012 by the Manila Studies Association and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Permission was granted by Manila Studies Association president Dr. Bernardita Churchill to publish the essay on-line to reach a wider audience.
BETWEEN RITUAL AND RIOT 
The last traslacion [January 9, 2014] brought to the forefront the on-going tensions between popular and institutional manifestations of faith. At the middle of the high mass, hundreds [if not thousands] of devotees began pulling the carriage of the Nazareno. The church authorities tried to calm down the crowd, requesting…pleading that they finish the mass first. The overzealous crowd however had already reached the Luneta Grandstand, leaving the organizers with no other choice but to allow the procession to start prematurely. 
The marshals struggled to bring image of the Black Nazarene to the carriage as some devotees jostled with the hijos. One marshal [identified as Mr. Adamrich Sanding—see photo] literally embraced the image to protect it from the mob. Parts of the image—in particular the cross and the tres pontencias were damaged in the scuffle. This was the first time in recent memory that the high mass—the pinnacle of Catholic worship—was disrupted by excited devotees. 
Hours later, hundreds of men overpowered the police, and began removing the barriers at the foot of MacArthur Bridge. What’s deeply-troubling was that the bridge was closed because it was considered unsafe for the procession. However, this particular group of men were unhappy over the change of route [using Jones Bridge] and made an attempt to divert the procession to its traditional course. It actually took a high-ranking official of the Manila city government to convince these men to cooperate and to stop their irrational tantrum. In the end, the procession was able to cross Jones Bridge safely; the organizers were able to breathe a sigh of relief. 
These two incidents sparked a debate among netizens, the mainstream media and the faithful. Some outrightly condemned these men and called them “debobo”. Others are more cautious with their comments, encouraging critics to consider where these “unruly devotees” are coming from [not to mentional avoiding “sweeping generalizations” re the attitudes of Black Nazarene devotees]. Many opted to look at the phenomenon with neutral eyes—refraining from any form of moral judgment. All groups however are unanimous with the observation that the sacred traslacion ritual—given the Dionysian-like passion of devotees—can easily spiral out of control and turn into a riot of sorts. 
The challenge is how to maintain a healthy balance between the institutionalized pieties of the clergy, the veteran Hijos, and the mamamasan, vis-a-vis the often “unchurched”, spontaneous,  fiery folk-devotion of many male [and female] devotees—especially the younger ones. This is indeed a very difficult thing to do, especially in a ritual that is so complex in its dynamics. Organizers need to consider the socio-economic, psychological, geographical, and theological factors that affect the behavior of many devotees. At the same time they have to protect the integrity of the devotion, making it sure that the Black Nazarene’s theological significance is properly understood by the people. 
It is interesting to note that the Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle refused to condemn the people who started the commotion at the Luneta Grandstand. Instead he expressed his belief that this behavior—very rowdy as it may seem to the viewer—- is deeply- rooted in an inexpressible desire to be “touched by the compassionate God”.  The author is really impressed with the Archbishop’s sensitivity to the psychological dynamics of the Nazareno devotee. His stance is not to “suppress” the passionate devotion of the people, but to respect its boundless energy. The challenge now is how to channel / transform this “psycho-spiritual energy” into something more positive and edifying.
 
CONCLUSION: CAN WE TAME WILD MYSTICS? 
It is likely that the traslacion will continue to attract participants from the inner districts of Manila and other parts of the metropolis. Our urban society has literally discarded traditional public rites-of-passage for men. However the inherent need for masculine affirmation, camaraderie and initiation remains strong in the psyche of the Manileno. For almost a century now, that need for ritualized passage has found a legitimate platform, a very tangible stage in the annual traslacion of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. 
It seems that the religious establishment is becoming more open to the folk-Catholic tendencies of the devotees—recognizing the deep faith and sincerity that lies within. The events of recent years suggests that it will be very difficult to “tame” Manila’s wild procession and its equally-wild mystics. But it is possible to channel the raw, adrenaline-filled devotion of the Sons of Enero Nueve into more inspiring and constructive expressions. 
End of Part Four 
Photo Credit: “Weepiing Hijo” (c) Raymond Gappi 2014. 
 
 REFERENCES
Aguinaldo, Milagros. A Study of Filipino Culture: The Devotion to the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. Quezon City: MMA Pulbications, 2002. 
Bulatao, Jaime. “Reflections on the Experience of God among Philippine Folk Catholics”. In Phenomena and their Interpretation: Landmark Essays, 1957-1989, 72-78. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1992. 
Carino, Jose Maria. Jose Honorato Lozano: Filipinas 1847. N.p.: Axis Mundi Philippinae, 2002. 
Gorospe, Vitaliano and Rene Javellana. Virgin of Penafrancia: Mother of Bicol. Manila: Bookmark, 1995. 
Moore, Robert. Care for the Soul: A Guide to Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. New York: Harper and Collins Publishers, 1994. 
Moore, Robert and Douglas Gillette. The Warrior Within: Accessing the Knight in the Male Psyche. New York: Will and Morrow Co., 1992. 
Obusan, Teresita. Mystic or Mistake: Exploring Filipino Mysticism in Quiapo. Quezon City: Institute of Spirituality in Asia, 2008. 
 Odal, Grace. “Mahiwagang Katahimikan sa Pista sa Quiapo”. In Roots of Filipino Spirituality, edited by Teresita Obusan. Manila: Mamathala Inc., 1998. 
 Tremlett, Paul Francois. Power, Invulnerability, Beauty: Producing and Transforming Male Bodies in the Lowland Christian Philippines. London: The School of Oriental and African Studies, 2006.

HIJOS DE ENERO NUEVE: THE BLACK NAZARENE PROCESSION AS A MALE RITE OF PASSAGE [Part 4/4]

By JOSE ALAIN AUSTRIA / Manila Studies Association © 2012-2014

NOTE: This is the concluding part of the revised version of an essay that originally appeared in Manila: Selected Papers of the 20th Annual Manila Studies Conference, a book published in 2012 by the Manila Studies Association and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Permission was granted by Manila Studies Association president Dr. Bernardita Churchill to publish the essay on-line to reach a wider audience.

BETWEEN RITUAL AND RIOT

The last traslacion [January 9, 2014] brought to the forefront the on-going tensions between popular and institutional manifestations of faith. At the middle of the high mass, hundreds [if not thousands] of devotees began pulling the carriage of the Nazareno. The church authorities tried to calm down the crowd, requesting…pleading that they finish the mass first. The overzealous crowd however had already reached the Luneta Grandstand, leaving the organizers with no other choice but to allow the procession to start prematurely.

The marshals struggled to bring image of the Black Nazarene to the carriage as some devotees jostled with the hijos. One marshal [identified as Mr. Adamrich Sanding—see photo] literally embraced the image to protect it from the mob. Parts of the image—in particular the cross and the tres pontencias were damaged in the scuffle. This was the first time in recent memory that the high mass—the pinnacle of Catholic worship—was disrupted by excited devotees.

Hours later, hundreds of men overpowered the police, and began removing the barriers at the foot of MacArthur Bridge. What’s deeply-troubling was that the bridge was closed because it was considered unsafe for the procession. However, this particular group of men were unhappy over the change of route [using Jones Bridge] and made an attempt to divert the procession to its traditional course. It actually took a high-ranking official of the Manila city government to convince these men to cooperate and to stop their irrational tantrum. In the end, the procession was able to cross Jones Bridge safely; the organizers were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

These two incidents sparked a debate among netizens, the mainstream media and the faithful. Some outrightly condemned these men and called them “debobo”. Others are more cautious with their comments, encouraging critics to consider where these “unruly devotees” are coming from [not to mentional avoiding “sweeping generalizations” re the attitudes of Black Nazarene devotees]. Many opted to look at the phenomenon with neutral eyes—refraining from any form of moral judgment. All groups however are unanimous with the observation that the sacred traslacion ritual—given the Dionysian-like passion of devotees—can easily spiral out of control and turn into a riot of sorts. 

The challenge is how to maintain a healthy balance between the institutionalized pieties of the clergy, the veteran Hijos, and the mamamasan, vis-a-vis the often “unchurched”, spontaneous,  fiery folk-devotion of many male [and female] devotees—especially the younger ones. This is indeed a very difficult thing to do, especially in a ritual that is so complex in its dynamics. Organizers need to consider the socio-economic, psychological, geographical, and theological factors that affect the behavior of many devotees. At the same time they have to protect the integrity of the devotion, making it sure that the Black Nazarene’s theological significance is properly understood by the people.

It is interesting to note that the Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle refused to condemn the people who started the commotion at the Luneta Grandstand. Instead he expressed his belief that this behavior—very rowdy as it may seem to the viewer—- is deeply- rooted in an inexpressible desire to be “touched by the compassionate God”.  The author is really impressed with the Archbishop’s sensitivity to the psychological dynamics of the Nazareno devotee. His stance is not to “suppress” the passionate devotion of the people, but to respect its boundless energy. The challenge now is how to channel / transform this “psycho-spiritual energy” into something more positive and edifying.

 

CONCLUSION: CAN WE TAME WILD MYSTICS?

It is likely that the traslacion will continue to attract participants from the inner districts of Manila and other parts of the metropolis. Our urban society has literally discarded traditional public rites-of-passage for men. However the inherent need for masculine affirmation, camaraderie and initiation remains strong in the psyche of the Manileno. For almost a century now, that need for ritualized passage has found a legitimate platform, a very tangible stage in the annual traslacion of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo.

It seems that the religious establishment is becoming more open to the folk-Catholic tendencies of the devotees—recognizing the deep faith and sincerity that lies within. The events of recent years suggests that it will be very difficult to “tame” Manila’s wild procession and its equally-wild mystics. But it is possible to channel the raw, adrenaline-filled devotion of the Sons of Enero Nueve into more inspiring and constructive expressions.

End of Part Four

Photo Credit: “Weepiing Hijo” (c) Raymond Gappi 2014.

 

 REFERENCES

Aguinaldo, Milagros. A Study of Filipino Culture: The Devotion to the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. Quezon City: MMA Pulbications, 2002.

Bulatao, Jaime. “Reflections on the Experience of God among Philippine Folk Catholics”. In Phenomena and their Interpretation: Landmark Essays, 1957-1989, 72-78. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1992.

Carino, Jose Maria. Jose Honorato Lozano: Filipinas 1847. N.p.: Axis Mundi Philippinae, 2002.

Gorospe, Vitaliano and Rene Javellana. Virgin of Penafrancia: Mother of Bicol. Manila: Bookmark, 1995.

Moore, Robert. Care for the Soul: A Guide to Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. New York: Harper and Collins Publishers, 1994.

Moore, Robert and Douglas Gillette. The Warrior Within: Accessing the Knight in the Male Psyche. New York: Will and Morrow Co., 1992.

Obusan, Teresita. Mystic or Mistake: Exploring Filipino Mysticism in Quiapo. Quezon City: Institute of Spirituality in Asia, 2008.

Odal, Grace. “Mahiwagang Katahimikan sa Pista sa Quiapo”. In Roots of Filipino Spirituality, edited by Teresita Obusan. Manila: Mamathala Inc., 1998.

 Tremlett, Paul Francois. Power, Invulnerability, Beauty: Producing and Transforming Male Bodies in the Lowland Christian Philippines. London: The School of Oriental and African Studies, 2006.

HIJOS DE ENERO NUEVE: THE BLACK NAZARENE PROCESSION AS A MALE RITE OF PASSAGE [Part 3 of 4]

 By JOSE ALAIN AUSTRIA/ Manila Studies Association © 2012-2014

NOTE: This is the third installment of the revised version of an essay that originally appeared in Manila: Selected Papers of the 20th Annual Manila Studies Conference, a book published in 2012 by the Manila Studies Association and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Permission was granted by Manila Studies Association president Dr. Bernardita Churchill to publish the essay on-line to reach a wider audience. Part 3 describes the three “initiatory” tasks of the traslacion, and provides a Jungian analysis of the procession’s dynamics.

One of the major component of all rites-of-passage is for the participant to perform tasks which often involves some risk, pain or danger. It is interesting to note that what makes the procession too chaotic [from the point of view of outsiders] are the ardent young men who are performing the traslacion’s unique initiatory / devotional labors. Again, it is very important to remember that it will be too simplistic on our part to view this as the only reason why they participate in the procession. It is with certainty that they have much deeper reasons, some personal intentions in mind too.

Three specific tasks seem to dominate the ritual: 1.) to throw the towel at the image of the Nazareno, 2.) to grab the rope from the mamamasan and to join the pulling phalanx of veterans even for a few seconds; and 3.) to climb the moving carriage of the icon and to personally wipe a towel on the image—-or to kiss it with reverence.

THROWING THE TOWEL

Throwing the towel is considered as the safest task, a way of testing the waters so to speak. One simply needs to come a few meters close to the slow moving carriage and to throw a towel to the Hijos-marshals who protect the image. With right timing and trajectory, it will likely land in the hands of the marshals and they will be nice enough to wipe it on the Nazarene’s statue.

Getting it back is also a struggle. With literally hundreds of towels flying around, the ordinary marshal can only remember so much. More often than not, the marshal will simply throw the towel back to the sea of humanity (of course this is not done indiscriminately). It is virtually-impossible for the marshals to return the towels to their owners with perfect trajectory and precision. The neophyte therefore needs to go deeper into the moving crowd to retrieve his precious towel (now blessed with the healing grace of the Nazareno).

Tremlett (2006) took note of this obsession with touching the image as the major motivation for performing these devotional tasks. In his study, devotees are almost desperate to get lakas (power) from the Black Nazarene. It is for this reason that many devotees will settle for nothing else but the original image. Replicas can be seen everywhere in the procession, but the crowd would prefer to gather like bees around the original Nazareno de los indios. 

PULLING THE SACRED ROPES

As discussed earlier, the long thick ropes are primarily used to pull the carriage. Yet in the male devotee subculture there emerged a belief that the rope is an extension of the miraculous presence of the Nazareno. It is for this reason that many bagitos and even veterans try to grab the rope from the mamamasan. This is one of the most dangerous tasks in the whole ritual complex. The mamamasan who form a long phalanx in front of the carriage are always on the watch for danger signs. Prominent among these is the ocho, the instance wherein ropes twirl around the torso, a leg, an arm, or worse the neck of a poor devotee. One can actually be lynched to death when caught in the knotted rope.

The tug-of-war between the mamamasan and the ordinary devotees may look violent at times. This mimics the struggle between the initiates and elders in many traditional rites of passage. In many of these rites the boys have to “wage war” against the mature males of the community. The traslacion reflects this “ritualized conflict”—but this time sublimated into a pious mayhem of sorts.

The act of grabbing the rope alone can be very painful for both the mamamasan and the ordinary devotee since it is made of rough, thick fibers. Those involved would come out of the ordeal with bruises on their hands and necks. The more experienced mamamasan however would often outpower the newbie, leaving the latter with no other choice but to be content with a very brief contact with the rope. Eventually, the young devotee or neophytee will be whisked away by a new wave of eager beavers).

There were some bagitos / devotees who even brought small scissors or razor blades, with the intention of cutting off a piece of the rope—-as a relic. It is interesting to note that one such devotee posted a message on a Facebook group for Nazareno devotees. Attached to his message was a photo of the rope fiber that he stole from the procession, confessing his deed in cyberspace, explaining that he did it because it was his only his way of getting closer to the Nazareno. He ended his message with these words: “now I have a precious relic in my hands”.

The struggle for the control of the ropes can at times bear the semblance of a riot. There were in fact instances in the past that the ropes snapped or got detached from the carriage—especially in the narrow alleys of Quiapo proper. To survive this ordeal not only gives a young man a real chance to commune with the Nazareno; it also gives him bragging rights—that he survived such a dangerous, bone-breaking experience.

 

THE JUMP OF FAITH

The most courageous of young devotees will go directly to the Nazareno image. These are the young men will risk life and limb just to climb the carroza and wipe / kiss the Black Nazarene personally. It is also in this task that the cooperation of other devotees and the barkadahan / bayanihan spirit is put to the test. More often than not, the mamamasan and the veteran hijos are more than willing to give the young neophyte a boost, hoisting his body above the crowd, and allowing him to literally walk on their shoulders to reach the carriage of the Nazareno. For many onlookers and even some members of the clergy, this act is the pinnacle, one of the highest manifestations of faith in the power of the Nazareno. For a young brotherhood member to do this near acrobatic act is by itself an achievement that many ordinary devotees can only wish for.

The devotee aiming for the Nuestro Padre himself must first make his intention to climb the carriage known to the people around him. Once he has made his decision known, he will be hoisted upwards and will start his balancing act on the shoulders of the people around the carroza (one will notice that the big, burly men stay near the carriage). The towel must be wrapped around his head or tied to his neck.

Once he reaches the carriage, he can aim for the impossible. That is to touch a part of the Nazareno statue, an ideal which rarely happens because the image is completely surrounded by the elite marshals. An alternative is to wipe the towel or handkerchief on the cross, the part of the image that is not well guarded. In most cases, the marshal will be there to stop the bagito from his attempt, to wipe the towel on the image for him, and to ask the young devotee to just go back to his place.

Going back is also a task not for the faint-hearted. Devotees will have to bite the end of the towel and wrap it around their neck. And then they will literally dive on into that vast sea of devotees and “swim their way” above the moving mass of sweat-drenched bodies.

It is primarily the performance of these three tasks by the rank-and-file devotees that slows down the movement of the procession—apart from the ever increasing number of participants. To get an idea of the painstakingly-slow pace of the procession: in 2011, it took the carriage of the Nazarene roughly two-and-a-half hours to navigate the distance between the Quirino Grandstand and the National Museum along Burgos Street. On ordinary days, one can jog or brisk-walk the same stretch in less than four minutes.

 

THE TRASLACION: A JUNGIAN PERSPECTIVE

At this point, the author would like to present some reflections on the traslacion as a masculine ritual. These reflections are the product of several lectures and discussions: with Jungian analysts at the CJCC Center- Makati (2011), graduate students at the Asian Social Institute-Manila 2012, and depth-psychology enthusiasts at recently-concluded Carl Jung Conference (Club Filipino—San Juan, 2014).  The discourse of all these meetings is obviously influenced by the archetypal psychology of Carl Jung and the mytho-poetic framework of the likes of Joseph Campbell, Robert Bly and Thomas Moore.  Here are some of the more interesting insights:

First, like most masculine rites-of-passage, the traslacion activates the warrior archetype within the psyche of the participants. This archetype is inherent in all males but is normally in active state in times of emergencies, or when confronted by physical or psychological challenges. This is best described in this passage from the book The Warrior Within: “We feel the rush of blood and adrenaline, a quickening heartbeat…and a sense of something momentous to happen…ready to charge forward…swept up into a kind of ecstasy in which we see ourselves and the world with sharpened focus and clarity (Moore 1992: 100).

It is not at all surprising that at first glance the traslacion looks like a war-zone of sorts. In sublimated form, the young participants and other devotees are in fact “fighting” for a miracle, a blessing, the affirmation of the Nuestro Padre, and fighting for their dignity as “men” among men. Apart from religious faith and the desperation of poverty (Tremlett, 2006), the author believes that it is the activation of this energy in the male psyche that explains the remarkable single-mindedness and exceptional focus of many bagitos / neophytes. To wipe the image or to grab the rope is very serious business from which they can never be distracted.

Second, once swept in this collective warrior-frenzy, the devotees seem to be strengthened, their courage pumped up to a point that they can ignore the perils / pains of the rite-of-passage. The traslacion compared to other Philippine religious festivals is not necessarily festive. One does not participate in the traslacion to enjoy himself. He’s there to perform a solemn panata, to immerse oneself in the penitential ambiance, to walk barefoot in the hot concrete street of Manila, to brave the crush of the crowd etc.

Every year, thousands of Manila’s young men are willing to suffer an occasional cut, bruises, dislocated bones and other pains—-for they feel that the Nazareno gives them the strength to survive the ordeal. Some Jungian analysts noticed that there seems to be some traces of extreme asceticism (and even a mild shadow of sado-masochism) in the traslacion—-something which can also be observed among the Good Friday flagellants of Central Luzon.

Third, male devotees seem to be drawn or absorbed in a collective frenzy of masculine strength or display of machismo (in this case sublimated into something pious or religious). In this state, the younger participants seem to regal in their overtly aggressive, brusque and rough behavior (not to mention the shouting that resembles war cries) which are essential for them to be able to perform the three ritual tasks.

Based on the author’s personal experience, one cannot be a “gentleman” in the traslacion. If one really wants to perform the ritual tasks, one must literally assert his presence, not to hesitate to box or shove the persons blocking one’s way. The term used in the traslacion is in fact quite accurate—balyahan. Yet despite this display of male aggression, participants seldom take such actions as an offense. This is Quiapo, This is the traslacion. A person has to be physically tough to survive in this procession.

Fourth, many devotees enter into an altered state of consciousness, reporting what others would call as “mystical experiences”. This includes the experience of “hearing” a mysterious voice, or being drawn by an irresistible force, or the feeling of being surrounded by a very strong and “compassionate” sacred energy. The author have seen big burly men breaking down in tears after grabbing the rope. A veteran Hijo del Nazareno told me that these things are “normal” in the traslacion.

This experience seems that this is consistent with similar trance-like states in other rites-of-passage. There is no need to go far: young men often fall into altered states of consciousness in all-male religious rites in Hindu Bali and Buddhist Thailand. Once they entered into a trance, these young men perform very dangerous tasks— such as piercing their bodies with daggers—with such ease, as if they do not feel any pain at all. It seems that the young devotee has transcended physical pain, enabling him to enter into an authentic experience of the sacred. 

Fifth, the icon of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo is a powerful archetype of wholeness. It is therefore not surprising that men and women are drawn to it. For it is the natural tendency of man to be strongly-attracted to symbols / images that will make him whole as a person.

Of course we have to remember that the Church-sanctioned interpretation of the Black Nazarene icon remains valid. Most devotees [including the so-called “unchurched”] are aware that the image is a representation of the passion of Christ, a visual catechesis of the salvific sacrifice of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. But the Black Nazarene can also be seen as powerful archetypal symbol that resonates deep in the psyche of the Filipino.

In Jungian psychoanalysis, the image of Christ [whether he appears in sacred art or even personal dreams] is a perfect symbol of psychological wholeness. The Black Nazarene as an artistic representation magnifies this natural [often unconscious] attraction to Christ as a symbol—for the statue is a perfect combination of numinous symbols. The black color of the statue evokes sacred mystery and the potential that lies within the unconscious. The red / maroon robe is a psychological symbol for the fullness of life. The golden flowers and other lush ornamentations represents the fruitful life. In fact the icon of Christ bearing the cross is a perfect symbol of man’s potential to transform his own personal suffering into the very instrument of his own individuation (or in religious parlance—salvation).

From the Jungian perspective, the Black Nazarene is an icon that empowers the devotee to transcend / overcome the challenges of life. The young hijo need not be conscious of this before jumping into the maelstrom that is the traslacion: his inner self knows this truth all the while. And this maybe one of the factors behind the unusual surge of strength, courage, stamina, and that “indescribable happiness” that devotees experience during the traslacion.

 End of Part Three

Photographs: “Swimming” & “The Standard Bearer” (c) J.A. Austria, 2012-2013.

HIJOS DE ENERO NUEVE: THE BLACK NAZARENE PROCESSION AS A MALE RITE OF PASSAGE [Part 2 of 4] 
By JOSE ALAIN AUSTRIA/ Manila Studies Association © 2012-2014

NOTE: This is the second installment of the revised version of an essay that originally appeared in Manila: Selected Papers of the 20th Annual Manila Studies Conference, a book published in 2012 by the Manila Studies Association and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Permission was granted by Manila Studies Association president Dr. Bernardita Churchill to publish the essay on-line to reach a wider audience.Part 2 describes the geographic ritual field of the traslacion, and the hierarchy of male devotees / participants. 

Church authorities definitely want the procession to fulfill its original purpose; to remind Catholic Christians that life is a pilgrimage. It is also a way to instruct the faithful of the doctrines of their faith using a holy image. Of course the procession also commemorates a historical event: the transfer of the sacred image to Quiapo more than two centuries ago. To view the procession however with only these two basic functions is to ignore its complexity—especially in its current form.
The author will discuss another function that was already observed by other researchers, including Francois Tremlett (2006): that of the traslacion as a male rite-of-passage for the men of Manila—-in particular those who belong to the masses. The author was already aware of this dimension of the traslacion. But it was only after a Carl Jung men’s workshop (Makati, 2008) that the author became interested in the significance of such symbolic and often grueling rituals. It is for this reason that this essay’s interpretation of the traslacion is heavily-influenced by Jungian psychology and Joseph Campbell mytho-poetic framework.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE RITUAL FIELD
One important element of a male rite-of-passage is the designation of a ritual field, a geographical space considered as sacred. To enter its boundaries is interpreted as a manifestation of a desire to participate in initiation. It can be as small as the sweat lodges of Native Americans, or the initiation houses of college fraternities. Or it can be as vast as the Siberian wilderness for young men who wanted to become shamans or medicine men. Having a concretely-drawn sacred space allows the participants of the ritual to switch to serious mode: no more play, no more pranks—-this is serious business boys!
The ritual field for the traslacion used to be coterminous with the whole district of Quiapo. However, since 2006, church and city officials decided it would be more appropriate to start the procession at the Quirino Grandstand at the Rizal Park. After all, it was presumed that the Nazareno was originally venerated in the church of old Bagumbayan. Many thought it was a practical move since Rizal Park will help decongest Quiapo of devotees on January 9. This was supposed to allow the procession to reach Plaza Miranda before evening falls—at least in theory.
The reality on the ground is the opposite. The enlarged ritual field is an invitation for thousands more to join the procession. Since 2011, it takes an average of 16-17 hours for the procession to traverse the route [excluding the record-breaking 2012 traslacion that almost took one whole day to complete].
The new ritual field is divided into two distinct planes by a natural boundary—the Pasig River. The extended plane is the northern part of Ermita’s civic center (which includes the whole of Luneta, the City Hall area and Plaza Lawton). The core plane of course is good old Quiapo with its dangerously narrow streets and alleys. But the ritual-field is still constantly-expanding. For safety reasons, portions of Santa Cruz and Binondo districts are now included in the route of the procession.
In the old days, crossing the Pasig River was never the concern of traslacion organizers. But the enlarged ritual field [since 2006] required a bridge that would connect the two main centers of devotional activity. The Quezon Bridge which leads directly to Quiapo is considered too steep that it might even contribute to the possibility of a large-scale stampede. Traslacion organizers found a more practical alternative: the McArthur Bridge which leads straight to the Carriedo-Palanca area, and is just a few blocks west of Plaza Miranda. Somehow, devotees got used to this set-up. McArthur Bridge has become the crucial link, the one that unites the two distinct phases of the traslacion.
During the traslacion of 2014, McArthur Bridge was found to be in a precarious state. To avoid a major accident, the whole procession was diverted to the sturdier Jones Bridge further downstream. Some overzealous devotees tried to “hijack” the procession, removing all the barriers, insisting that “tradition” must be followed [that means the traslacion must cross McArthur Bridge despite all the warnings!]. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and a full-riot was prevented. The procession proceeded to Jones Bridge as planned. It is likely that this bridge will play a major role in future traslacions until McArthur Bridge is properly repaired.
 
THE TRASLACION’S HIERARCHY OF DEVOTEES
One distinct characteristic of rites-of-passage is the presence of a well-defined hierarchy. Those participating in the traslacion will encounter a three-layered hierarchal system. At the very top of this pyramid are the elite-core members of the Hijos del Nazareno, a large network of religious brotherhoods established to promote devotion to the Nazarene, to protect the original image and to put some semblance of order in the procession [the organizational structure of the Hijos is in fact very complex—it would require another essay to discuss it in full]. 
This elite-core of marshals are mostly veterans of the traslacion [in their late twenties up to their senior years] and are well-versed in the art of the procession and its unique jargon. They are also closely-affiliated with the Basilica Minore of Quiapo. They represent in a way—the Church’s authority over the image and the procession.
It is very easy to distinguish these members for they are literally riding at the very center the numinous center of the ritual field, the special carriage of the Nuestro Padre. It will not be an exaggeration to say that they function like a cordon of security aides, jealously protecting the sacred image of Jesus from attempts to desecrate it—whether done consciously or unconsciously by some overzealous devotees.
Second in the pyramid are the mamamasan. The term traces its roots from the old practice of putting the Nazareno on a silver andas and borne on the shoulders of able-bodied devotees. Tied to this rather small silver andas were ropes which serves as an extension of the sacred vessel of the Nazarene. It also has a more practical purpose: it is through these ropes that the devotees can maneuver the andas which floats like a boat amidst the sea of humanity. Sometime in the late 1990’s, it was already deemed to risky to use the andas. They replaced it with several custom-made carriages [including the famous “torre”].
The mamamasanare masters of their own art, in this case the difficult task of pulling and protecting very long ropes. This task is made difficult by the eagerness of ordinary devotees to grab the rope, believing that it is a mystical extension cord of sorts. The act of touching or holding on to these ropes is as good as touching the Nazareno himself.
The mamamasan are in-fact trained to face these challenges head-on. Without the hardy mamamasan [who are formally-trained by the various Nazareno brotherhoods] the procession will be entirely at the mercy of a direction-less mob of devotees.
At this point, the author would like to focus a little on the interdependence of the elite-marshals and the mamamasan. Like an orchestra, the mamamasan needs a competent “conductor” to ensure that every action is done properly. On the otherhand, the carriage of the Nazarene [together with the elite Hijos] will not move without the cooperation of the mamamasan. The expertise and competence of these two higher groups are some of the factors behind the remarkable success of traslacion as a mass ritual. Against all odds, this seemingly very chaotic procession—for some reason—still finds its way home to Quiapo Church. Indeed a miracle of “organized chaos”.
At the bottom of this hierarchy are the rank-and-file devotees—mostly the bagitos(neophytes). These are made mostly of younger male devotees who are also members of local balangays / chapters of the Hijos brothers. Older neophytes and non-affiliated devotees can also be considered as part of this group. Most of these young people belong to a loose barkada of sorts, a group of devotees bound together by a common desire to pay homage to the Nazareno. And as experience attests, they can also be very zealous and unruly in their devotion. In fact the traslacion is in a way, a giant tug-of-war between the elite-marshals/mamamasan [the vanguards of discipline] and the rowdy bagitos / ordinary devotees [the advocates of emotional piety and spontaneity].
Many of these young men belong to inner-city neighborhoods. Nazareno balangays from places such as Quiapo, Del Pan, Santa Cruz, Sampaloc, Santa Mesa, San Nicolas, Tondo, Santa Ana, Pandacan, the “Projects” [Quezon City], and Pasay dominate these procession.  Although the devotion itself transcends the economic divide [appealing to all sectors of society], one can hardly see balangays representing the posh enclaves of the metropolis joining the traslacion. In general, the fiery traslacionappeals most strongly to the kinesthetic piety of Manila’s young men—especially those who consider themselves as part of the masa.
End of Part Two
Photograph: “The Angry Rope Marshal”, Traslacion 2012 (c) J.A. Austria

HIJOS DE ENERO NUEVE: THE BLACK NAZARENE PROCESSION AS A MALE RITE OF PASSAGE [Part 2 of 4]

By JOSE ALAIN AUSTRIA/ Manila Studies Association © 2012-2014

NOTE: This is the second installment of the revised version of an essay that originally appeared in Manila: Selected Papers of the 20th Annual Manila Studies Conference, a book published in 2012 by the Manila Studies Association and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Permission was granted by Manila Studies Association president Dr. Bernardita Churchill to publish the essay on-line to reach a wider audience.Part 2 describes the geographic ritual field of the traslacion, and the hierarchy of male devotees / participants. 

Church authorities definitely want the procession to fulfill its original purpose; to remind Catholic Christians that life is a pilgrimage. It is also a way to instruct the faithful of the doctrines of their faith using a holy image. Of course the procession also commemorates a historical event: the transfer of the sacred image to Quiapo more than two centuries ago. To view the procession however with only these two basic functions is to ignore its complexity—especially in its current form.

The author will discuss another function that was already observed by other researchers, including Francois Tremlett (2006): that of the traslacion as a male rite-of-passage for the men of Manila—-in particular those who belong to the masses. The author was already aware of this dimension of the traslacion. But it was only after a Carl Jung men’s workshop (Makati, 2008) that the author became interested in the significance of such symbolic and often grueling rituals. It is for this reason that this essay’s interpretation of the traslacion is heavily-influenced by Jungian psychology and Joseph Campbell mytho-poetic framework.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE RITUAL FIELD

One important element of a male rite-of-passage is the designation of a ritual field, a geographical space considered as sacred. To enter its boundaries is interpreted as a manifestation of a desire to participate in initiation. It can be as small as the sweat lodges of Native Americans, or the initiation houses of college fraternities. Or it can be as vast as the Siberian wilderness for young men who wanted to become shamans or medicine men. Having a concretely-drawn sacred space allows the participants of the ritual to switch to serious mode: no more play, no more pranks—-this is serious business boys!

The ritual field for the traslacion used to be coterminous with the whole district of Quiapo. However, since 2006, church and city officials decided it would be more appropriate to start the procession at the Quirino Grandstand at the Rizal Park. After all, it was presumed that the Nazareno was originally venerated in the church of old Bagumbayan. Many thought it was a practical move since Rizal Park will help decongest Quiapo of devotees on January 9. This was supposed to allow the procession to reach Plaza Miranda before evening falls—at least in theory.

The reality on the ground is the opposite. The enlarged ritual field is an invitation for thousands more to join the procession. Since 2011, it takes an average of 16-17 hours for the procession to traverse the route [excluding the record-breaking 2012 traslacion that almost took one whole day to complete].

The new ritual field is divided into two distinct planes by a natural boundary—the Pasig River. The extended plane is the northern part of Ermita’s civic center (which includes the whole of Luneta, the City Hall area and Plaza Lawton). The core plane of course is good old Quiapo with its dangerously narrow streets and alleys. But the ritual-field is still constantly-expanding. For safety reasons, portions of Santa Cruz and Binondo districts are now included in the route of the procession.

In the old days, crossing the Pasig River was never the concern of traslacion organizers. But the enlarged ritual field [since 2006] required a bridge that would connect the two main centers of devotional activity. The Quezon Bridge which leads directly to Quiapo is considered too steep that it might even contribute to the possibility of a large-scale stampede. Traslacion organizers found a more practical alternative: the McArthur Bridge which leads straight to the Carriedo-Palanca area, and is just a few blocks west of Plaza Miranda. Somehow, devotees got used to this set-up. McArthur Bridge has become the crucial link, the one that unites the two distinct phases of the traslacion.

During the traslacion of 2014, McArthur Bridge was found to be in a precarious state. To avoid a major accident, the whole procession was diverted to the sturdier Jones Bridge further downstream. Some overzealous devotees tried to “hijack” the procession, removing all the barriers, insisting that “tradition” must be followed [that means the traslacion must cross McArthur Bridge despite all the warnings!]. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and a full-riot was prevented. The procession proceeded to Jones Bridge as planned. It is likely that this bridge will play a major role in future traslacions until McArthur Bridge is properly repaired.

 

THE TRASLACION’S HIERARCHY OF DEVOTEES

One distinct characteristic of rites-of-passage is the presence of a well-defined hierarchy. Those participating in the traslacion will encounter a three-layered hierarchal system. At the very top of this pyramid are the elite-core members of the Hijos del Nazareno, a large network of religious brotherhoods established to promote devotion to the Nazarene, to protect the original image and to put some semblance of order in the procession [the organizational structure of the Hijos is in fact very complex—it would require another essay to discuss it in full]. 

This elite-core of marshals are mostly veterans of the traslacion [in their late twenties up to their senior years] and are well-versed in the art of the procession and its unique jargon. They are also closely-affiliated with the Basilica Minore of Quiapo. They represent in a way—the Church’s authority over the image and the procession.

It is very easy to distinguish these members for they are literally riding at the very center the numinous center of the ritual field, the special carriage of the Nuestro Padre. It will not be an exaggeration to say that they function like a cordon of security aides, jealously protecting the sacred image of Jesus from attempts to desecrate it—whether done consciously or unconsciously by some overzealous devotees.

Second in the pyramid are the mamamasan. The term traces its roots from the old practice of putting the Nazareno on a silver andas and borne on the shoulders of able-bodied devotees. Tied to this rather small silver andas were ropes which serves as an extension of the sacred vessel of the Nazarene. It also has a more practical purpose: it is through these ropes that the devotees can maneuver the andas which floats like a boat amidst the sea of humanity. Sometime in the late 1990’s, it was already deemed to risky to use the andas. They replaced it with several custom-made carriages [including the famous “torre”].

The mamamasanare masters of their own art, in this case the difficult task of pulling and protecting very long ropes. This task is made difficult by the eagerness of ordinary devotees to grab the rope, believing that it is a mystical extension cord of sorts. The act of touching or holding on to these ropes is as good as touching the Nazareno himself.

The mamamasan are in-fact trained to face these challenges head-on. Without the hardy mamamasan [who are formally-trained by the various Nazareno brotherhoods] the procession will be entirely at the mercy of a direction-less mob of devotees.

At this point, the author would like to focus a little on the interdependence of the elite-marshals and the mamamasan. Like an orchestra, the mamamasan needs a competent “conductor” to ensure that every action is done properly. On the otherhand, the carriage of the Nazarene [together with the elite Hijos] will not move without the cooperation of the mamamasan. The expertise and competence of these two higher groups are some of the factors behind the remarkable success of traslacion as a mass ritual. Against all odds, this seemingly very chaotic procession—for some reason—still finds its way home to Quiapo Church. Indeed a miracle of “organized chaos”.

At the bottom of this hierarchy are the rank-and-file devotees—mostly the bagitos(neophytes). These are made mostly of younger male devotees who are also members of local balangays / chapters of the Hijos brothers. Older neophytes and non-affiliated devotees can also be considered as part of this group. Most of these young people belong to a loose barkada of sorts, a group of devotees bound together by a common desire to pay homage to the Nazareno. And as experience attests, they can also be very zealous and unruly in their devotion. In fact the traslacion is in a way, a giant tug-of-war between the elite-marshals/mamamasan [the vanguards of discipline] and the rowdy bagitos / ordinary devotees [the advocates of emotional piety and spontaneity].

Many of these young men belong to inner-city neighborhoods. Nazareno balangays from places such as Quiapo, Del Pan, Santa Cruz, Sampaloc, Santa Mesa, San Nicolas, Tondo, Santa Ana, Pandacan, the “Projects” [Quezon City], and Pasay dominate these procession.  Although the devotion itself transcends the economic divide [appealing to all sectors of society], one can hardly see balangays representing the posh enclaves of the metropolis joining the traslacion. In general, the fiery traslacionappeals most strongly to the kinesthetic piety of Manila’s young men—especially those who consider themselves as part of the masa.

End of Part Two

Photograph: “The Angry Rope Marshal”, Traslacion 2012 (c) J.A. Austria

HIJOS DE ENERO NUEVE: THE BLACK NAZARENE PROCESSION AS A MALE RITE OF PASSAGE [Part 1 of 4]

By JOSE ALAIN AUSTRIA/ Manila Studies Association © 2012-2014

NOTE: This is the first installment of the revised version of an essay that originally appeared in Manila: Selected Papers of the 20th Annual Manila Studies Conference, a book published in 2012 by the Manila Studies Association and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Permission was granted by Manila Studies Association president Dr. Bernardita Churchill to publish the essay on-line to reach a wider audience. Part 1 provides an introduction to the complex nature of the Black Nazarene devotion, and provides a historical sketch of the traslacion.

The January 9 procession [or traslacion] is known for its extremely-passionate air—a very-risky ritual not for the faint-hearted, and an annual security nightmare. Not surprising, the Catholic hierarchy has repeatedly tried to exert its authority over the whole ritual to make it fit the template of a conventional procession: orderly, peaceful, not so “folk Catholic”. Yet it seems that the adrenalin-filled procession refuses to be tamed.

Although it started out centuries-ago as a purely-religious practice, it eventually acquired a semblance of traditional male rites-of-passage and even traces of painful initiation. The ecstasy of worship is now accompanied by the elation of being able to prove one’s manhood and the feeling of belonging, of being affirmed by a wider community of brothers and fathers; and just like the rest of Cristo negro cults, the grace of being blessed by a male God with a dark face.

THE COMPLEXITY OF THE BLACK NAZARENE PROCESSION

Since its presumed arrival from Mexico in the year 1606, the image of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno has become the focal point of popular devotion. The rituals that emerged out of the conviction that the image was miraculous are too numerous to mention. The seminal works of Bulatao (1992), Odal (1993), Aguinaldo (2002) and Obusan (2008) among others, are very helpful in helping us understand the “psychology” behind this rather brusque expression of male piety. The reality however is that social scientists can only touch the surface of the most audacious showcase of Filipino religiosity. After all, researchers [the author included] can only describe the externals of religiosity and, to some extent, can try in vain to express in words the experience of the sacred. Therefore, this study should not be read as definitive explanation—but simply another reading of the traslacion from the Jungian / mytho-poetic perspective.

With this in mind, the author would like to lay down three points before proceeding to the history of the procession:

First, the traslacion is just one of the several external manifestations of devotion to the Black Nazarene. Quiapense pieties are a 24/7 year-round affair. It can be expressed through the most simple of gestures such as gazing, to the more standard Catholic practices of offering novenas and votive masses. The traslacion happens to be the most massive expression of personal devotion to the Black Christ, but it does not necessarily represent the totality of the Quiapo phenomenon. Indeed roughly 2-3 million participate in the traslacion. Yet even a greater number of devotees prefer to pay homage to the Nazareno through other, less-tiring means outside the January peak season. Nor is it an exclusively-male devotion. As a whole, women in fact form the greater bulk of Nazareno devotees [Obusan, 2008: 63]

Second, the motivating factors for participating in the traslacion are too varied. If there are 2-3 million participants in the procession, there are 2-3 million various reasons for being there. We can categorize these motivations if we want to but obviously the list can go on—political leverage [for some personalities], desire for economic or financial blessing, physical healing, personal conversions, amulet activation, business opportunities, communion with the sacred etc. The rite-of-passage aspect of the procession discussed in this essay is just one item in this very long list (Aguinaldo 2002: 26-32, Obusan, 65-67, 82-88).

Third, not only are these motivations for participating numerous and varied; these are often interconnected. For this research the author tried to isolate the “rites-of-passage” function of the procession from other motivational factors. Yet it must be stressed that initiation to manhood and the wider masculine world is not the exclusive reason why these men are there. What are the other deep intentions and prayers in their hearts? We can only guess.

 

THE TRASLACION OF JANUARY 9: A BRIEF HISTORICAL SKETCH

 Contrary to popular belief, January 9 is not the feast day of Quiapo Church (which is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist). In fact, the Mexican Black Christ does not have a feast of its own, for it is deemed inappropriate to indulge in merrymaking in honor of an image depicting the suffering of Christ. The Church sets aside Good Friday as the appropriate day to remember with solemnity the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno (Aguinaldo:20).

The image of the Black Christ carrying the cross “presumably” arrived with the first batch of Recollection missionaries in 1606 and was enshrined first in the church of Bagumbayan. A few years later, it was transferred inside the Walled City—at the Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino— where it became a venerable object of devotion (Aguinaldo: 22; Janolino, 2014).

Oral traditions suggest that there were two images of the Black Nazarene. The older and more grandiose image enshrined at the main altar of the Recoletos Church (destroyed during the Battle of Manila 1945), and a dusky variant near the entrance of the church. The latter became very popular to the indios (Janolino, 2014) .

Sometime in the mid-eighteenth century, Archbishop Basilio Sancho de Santa Justa (1767-1787) ordered the transfer of the second image to the church of San Juan Bautista in the prosperous pueblo of Quiapo. The venerable image arrived in Quiapo on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus—January 9—and was enshrined in the eastern chapel of the church (Aguinaldo 22-23).

It is this event, the traslacion or transfer of the image from Intramuros to Quiapo that is being commemorated every year. Finally, the people of Manila found a valid excuse for a pompous fiesta for the Nazareno. Since then the figure of San Juan Bautista faded into oblivion. And what is properly the traslacion anniversary has become synonymous with Quiapo’s town fiesta.

Was the traslacion of yesteryears the same bone-breaking ordeal that the Manilenos see today?

It seems that the procession then was a more orderly affair. One can conjecture that it is similar to the pageantry of the Jesus Nazareno processions of Seville. Probably the oldest visual depiction of the famous procession is YglesiaParroquial de Quiapo, a fine watercolor painting by Jose Honorato Lozano from his famous aquarelle album, Filipinas 1847 (Carino, 2002: 135).

Lozano’s traslacion [see photograph 1 above] reflects the importance that the people of Manila and the surrounding towns attached to the Black Nazarene. From the roofs of the old houses to the east of the church, one can see the orderly procession: the image of Christ very much visible above the throng of worshippers. Judging from the clothes worn by the devotees, they seem to come from every walk of colonial society: Spaniards, mestizos, mostly indios. Lozano painted the procession on its way to back to the east entrance of the church, since the Plaza Mayor (now Plaza Miranda) was turned into a feria, the very same fair that would be immortalized in the seventeenth chapter of Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo (Carino: 135).

There seems to be a strong Spanish flavor in this procession –the genteel devotees and the middle-class mestizaje flair of the Quiapense seem to be the rule of the day. The devotees in the picture are mostly content with gazing at the image from afar. No men riding the andas, no twirling of towels or handkerchiefs, and the crowd seems to be dressed in their Sunday’s best. And while everybody knows that a religious brotherhood, the Cofradia de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno was in existence as early as 1621, there is no indication of the dominance of male devotees, much less any sign of sublimated aggressiveness or raucous zeal.

Long-time residents of Quiapo consistently point to the so-called “Peace Time” (the two decade interval between the world wars) as the period wherein the working class men of Manila began to dominate the procession and its dynamics. From the late 1920’s through the 1930’s, Quiapo experienced a dramatic demographic shift. The old prominent families began to move southwards to the idyllic suburbs of Ermita and Malate. Quiapo slowly began to shed its bourgeoisie persona as it was swallowed by Manila’s downtown area.

As old Quiapenses left the district, working class migrants from neighboring areas and the countryside moved in—seeing their fortune in the big city. These men and their families found solace in the figure of the Nuestro Padre; it was to him that they entrusted their daily concerns and struggles. They also brought with them their own brand of piety and mysticism. This shift was dramatically caught on canvas by the early modernist RicartePurugganan in his masterpiece Ang Nazareno sa Quiapo (1937), now part of the National Museum collection [see photograph 2].

In contrast to Lozano’s orderly composition a century before, Purugganan’s opus is filled with energy and movement—the adrenalin rush is very palpable. The composition’s focal point is not so much the Black Nazarene but the massive flow of male devotees on which the image literally floats. Of particular interest, the devotees are dressed in clothes which at that time were considered as inappropriate church wear: ordinary pants, white sando undershirts, and white towels—the working man’s garb.

The painting is divided into two distinct fields. The right part of the composition shows veiled women with lighted candles and clerics trying to put some semblance of order to the procession [albeit in vain]. The left side contrasts sharply with the serene mien of the women. Purugganan threw in male devotees with contorted expressions being swept by a near-stampede force. They are not the genteel male devotees of the nineteenth century but mostly able-bodied men: laborers, coolies, neighborhood toughies. The foreground show two interesting details: toppled church pews and a father whisking his boy away from the scene. Purugganan seems to emphasize what he observed then: the traslacion of the 1930’s had turned to something risky to life and limb.

The post-war years witnessed the consolidation of thedistinct inner city male subculture within the traslacion. By the 1960’s, the Quiapo procession’s reputation as a mammoth zealous mass was fully affirmed as reports of serious injuries and deaths entered the picture. It is for this reason that the traslacion has earned to this day a legion of critics. Groups as diverse as conservative Catholics and non-religious freethinkers dismiss the whole procession as a showcase of Filipino superstition, fanaticism and mass hysteria.

Yet the criticisms failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the devotees. The mystique of the ritual is simply so irresistible—almost numinous—inspiring photographers, artists, film-makers and socio-anthropologists to probe deeper into its dynamics. The decade after the 400th anniversary of the the Black Nazarene devotion (2006) saw a very dramatic increase in the number of participants in the traslacion, proof that this religious phenomenon is very much alive and dynamic. In fact the traslacion of the Nazareno has become so big an event that the national government has to step in to ensure the security of the devotees. The presence of the military, the national police, the coast guard and the Red Cross is now an intrinsic element of the traslacion.Media coverage is also not wanting as international and national television crews vie for the best vantage points. It is indeed the most audacious show of Filipino folk piety.

But what is often overlooked in the coverage is the fact that the traslacion is also an annual rite of passage for the young men of Manila’s inner-city districts. What seems to be pure mayhem [for the critic] or pure faith [for the devout], is also a complex of herculean tasks that the young man must perform not only to gain graces, but also to earn the approval of his peers, the elder male devotees, and most important, the benevolent gaze of the compassionate Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno.

End of Part One

PHOTO CREDITS: [Photo No.1] “Yglesia Parroquial de Quiapo”, 1847 from Jose Maria Carino. Jose Honorato Lozano: Filipinas 1847. Axis Mundi Philippinae, 2002, pp. 135; [Photo No. 2] “Ang Nazareno sa Quiapo” 1937 by Ricarte Purugganan, photographed by the author with permission from the Arts Division of the National Museum of the Philippines © 2012.

Special thanks to Mr. Juan Paolo Janolino for pointing out the fact that there used to be two images of the Black Nazarene venerated in Manila—something that I was not aware of when this essay was first published in 2012.

VIRGEN DE LOS DESAMPARADOS / DEL POZO © J.A. Austria, pen-and-ink on paper, framed piece [dimensions not recorded], 2012, private collection. 

VIRGEN DE LOS DESAMPARADOS / DEL POZO © J.A. Austria, pen-and-ink on paper, framed piece [dimensions not recorded], 2012, private collection. 

LOVERS © J.A. Austria, pen-and-ink on paper, framed piece [dimensions not recorded], 2013, Collection of One Manila Gallery - QC. 

LOVERS © J.A. Austria, pen-and-ink on paper, framed piece [dimensions not recorded], 2013, Collection of One Manila Gallery - QC. 

INA NIN KABIKOLAN / OUR LADY OF PENAFRANCIA © J.A. Austria, color marker and ink on paper, approximately 12 x 9 inches, 2013, Collection of Mrs. Sonia Roco. 

INA NIN KABIKOLAN / OUR LADY OF PENAFRANCIA © J.A. Austria, color marker and ink on paper, approximately 12 x 9 inches, 2013, Collection of Mrs. Sonia Roco.