Bayanihan and order in the Black Nazarene procession



ORDER and bayanihan are words that people will not easily associate with the Black Nazarene “Traslación” held every January 9 in Manila.

“Traslación” is the Spanish word for transfer. The procession of the Señor from Luneta’s Quirino Grandstand back to Quiapo commemorates how the original Mexican image of the suffering Lord carrying His cross, which was once housed at what used to be the Church of St. John the Baptist at the Luneta, was transferred after some time to the Recoletos Church in Intramuros (this original burned during World War 2). A replica of this original was made and was “handed over” to the present church in Quiapo during the time of Archbishop Basilio de Santa Justa y Rufina in 1767 or 1787 depending on what article you are reading.

It must be clarified that although the procession of the Black Nazarene around Quiapo is already a 200-year or so tradition, the “Traslación” itself is a recent invention that only started in 2007 to commemorate the 400 years of the coming of the Recollect priests who introduced the image, and then again in 2009, after which it had become an annual event.

Contrary to popular legend that the Nazarene is black because it survived a fire, a kind of dark wood was used to carve it. Its color made it even more attractive because in this representation the Lord looks like us, who suffered the humiliation of crucifixion as we also suffered the yoke of colonialism. But each of us know that this is not the end of the story. Just as the Lord was resurrected after three days, we too will find an end to suffering towards healing and redemption.

Television footage seems to show us hundreds of thousands of fanatical devotees at one time scrambling to get near the “andas” of the señor. They wanted to have their hankies be touched to the image to acquire power and healing as our ancestors did to their anitos. Some people noticed how selfish some devotees are as they stepped on others just to get near the image. Devotees are quickly judged as illogical, chaotic and crazy.

But Msgr. José Clemente Ignacio, the former Rector of Quiapo Church who developed the “Traslación” as we know it today, said that “to understand the devotion, one must be a devotee.”

Victor Turner described in his articulation of the ritual process that devotees at a certain stage of devotion enter liminality—a phenomenon that takes us away from our daily lives where the notion of time, class and divisions are suspended. In this, we re-enact the crisis and struggles that brought us together in the faith. In the Black Nazarene Traslación, everyone around the andas seems to be in a trance in a semblance of unity and equality where everyone is barefoot. Communitas is achieved.

As a visual people with a penchant for drama and soap opera, the procession of the Black Nazarene has become a way for Filipinos to visually dramatize their faith. Crowd management expert Martin Aguda dubbed the procession a “simulated choreographed craze.” Seeming chaos that is created by the calculated and collective action of the people.

Certain hand signs are used by the hijos to direct the devotees in pushing the andas forward. There is a “coda” that devotees understand. The word “salya” is shouted and devotees run together and use the force of their bodies to slam the andas to move forward or to put it into order. Also, the people around the andas allowed themselves to be stepped upon as a form of penitence as they help others climb as well. And despite hundreds of thousands of “namamasans” wanting to climb the andas, there are on average less than 500 injuries annually, and for many years, zero procession-related deaths. Because there actually exists a system—a certain way of going to the throng or going under the rope to avoid being injured and to avoid injuring others, putting your two hands in front of your chest area. A certain way to go with the flow of the crowd which are like waves in a river reminiscent of the fluvial processions in this maritime nation. A way of calling for help by raising one’s hand if one wants to be removed from the throng. They will be swiftly raised up by their fellow devotees to safety. A way for a hankie that is thrown to a member of the hijos to return to the person who owns it after being wiped on the image.

With this we see that the concept of “salya” and the whole procession itself encapsulate both our concepts of order and bayanihan. If we put it on a macro level, the whole traslacion itself is a phenomenon that is animated by the people, the church and the government, “sinasalya ng buong bayan,” to its intended orderly and safe conclusion.

Michael Charleston ‘Xiao’ Chua teaches history at the De La Salle University Manila. He is finishing his doctorate in anthropology at the University of the Philippines. He is one of the most active historians in Philippine television.


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