A book on the history of Senyor Sto. Niño


Last August 6, 2011, there was a book launching at the Museo Sugbo of a new book written by Julius J. Bautista entitled “Figuring Catholicism: An Ethno history of the Santo Niño de Cebu” published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press. My readers know that I have a special place for history in my heart and this is the first complete book I have ever read about the Sto. Niño as I only read a smattering of articles written about this Cebuano icon.

 Though the book is a bit scholarly, which means it is not really easy reading, it is a complete book about the love affair of Cebuanos for our beloved Senyor Sto. Niño. This book even gives us details of our ancestry prior to the Spanish colonial times when we were linked with the Sri Visjaya Empire. If at all, we Cebuanos are fiercely clannish, perhaps it is because we can trace our roots all the way back to the Sir Visjaya Empire. Back then Cebuanos already had their own language and the ancient Babayin script.

 Cebuanos were already literate when Ferdinand Magellan came as we had what is known as the Ancient Babayin Script, which is closely linked to the southern islands of Borneo and even as far as Sumatra. This is the language of the Malays, although some of them were converted into Islam, while we in Cebu were still under the influence of the Sri Visjaya Empire, which had links to Hinduism. Eventually, the Babayin Script made its way up north to Luzon. Hence, pre-Hispanic Filipinos wrote the Babayin using different materials with writing tools called “panulat,” which were sharp objects made of bamboo or iron.

 Perhaps the most intriguing part of Julius Bautista’s book is when he talked about the Aginid: Bayok sa Atong Tawarik by noted author Jovito Abellana. As the author wrote, “The Aginid is a Cebuano folk song performed with the use of various native instruments such as small cymbals and bells, native drums, flute, and guitar. When performed, it tells the epic story of Cebuanos and the extent of their connection with the kingdom of Sri Visjaya, from where a splinter group had migrated into the archipelago in the fifteenth century. According to the Aginid, a group of warriors and noblemen departed Sumatra and settled in the central islands of what is now the Philippines.”

 In the second text, he mentions the “Bisaya Patronymesis Sri Visjaya” a manuscript now in the archives of the Cebuano Studies Center at the University of San Carlos (USC) that depicts how our forefathers in Cebu always brought their thoughts of the glory days of their land of heritage in the kingdom called “Sri Visjaya.” This was about the time when Ferdinand Magellan, the Commander General of the Armada de Moluccas arrived in Cebu.

 In the Cebuano language, we refer to God as “Bathala” and I’ve often wondered where did that word come from? On page 196 of Julius Bautista’s book, the author wrote, “The Santo Niño is depicted as a symbol that bears testament to their allegory. The story of Cebuano (dis)connection is represented most prominently through an association with an entity known as “Bata nga Allah” (literally “Allah as Child”). As demonstrated in the first section of this chapter, the Santo Niño had been appropriated as the facilitator of “national” discourse informed by a Pantayon Pananaw.”

 In my readings from the biography of Ferdinand Magellan in the book, “Over the Edge of the World,” the biography of Ferdinand Magellan by author Laurence Bergreen, it confirmed my belief that first of all, Magellan did not come to our shores on sacred mission to Christianize the new lands that they would discover. Rather, they brought along with them Fr. Valderama to say the Holy Mass for the ships’ crew and minister to their souls.

 What Magellan learned is that the Cebuanos under Rajah Humabon and Queen Juana worshipped wooden idols called “Anitos” which were small blackened wooden statuettes. We can only surmise that when the Holy Child Jesus was presented to her as her baptismal gift, it was an icon beyond her wildest dreams because, compared to her small blackened idols, the Sto. Niño was so elegantly and lavishly dressed or adorned. Naturally, she immediately embraced this idol and Christianity with it. But I doubt if she was even catechized at all or knew who our Lord Jesus Christ really was?

 Of course Magellan found a new calling and asked all the Cebuanos to be baptized. Only Lapu-Lapu refused to be subjugated and the rest is history. Meanwhile, I’d like to mention that the book of Julius Bautista has been named as one of the finalists in the 30th National Book Awards and it is also a finalist for the Cardinal Sin Book Award to be awarded at the 33rd Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in Manila. If you want to know more about our Senyor Sto. Niño, I suggest that you get hold of a copy of this book.


Email: [email protected].

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