Saturday, January 16, 2016

Children of the Sto. Niño

IN the land of eternal rush hour, my fellow passengers and I had time to meditate while waiting for our jeepney to move in the sludge-like flow of uptown traffic. At the end of a work day, no one perhaps had the interest or energy to comment on the traffic, swelled by the fiesta for the Sto. Niño.

When two young boys clambered on, passengers checked their belongings before lapsing back into traffic-induced stupor.

The boys started to sing. The kid hanging on to the right side of the jeepney could definitely carry a melody.

He turned heads, though, with his clear enunciation of the lyrics. A family in a parallel lane became part of his audience, with a teenaged son mouthing the lyrics.

This young troubadour turned Kurt Fick ft Paola Sandiego’s popular Cebuano hit, “HAHAHA Hasula,” into a poem of the streets, transforming a daily encumbrance into a moment of clarity, self-mockery and musical appreciation.

At the heart of the devotion to the Sto. Niño is a love for children. For nine days, the sons and I heard dawn mass at the Basilica Minore. Even among the devotees hearing mass on the streets surrounding the church, where one either stands the whole time or brings a chair, many parents and grandparents brought their children.

The patience and perseverance to carry a sleeping infant, quiet a fussy tot, or teach one’s child to wave while singing the traditional “gozos (hymn of praise)” attest that the church is right in trusting the Filipino family to be its frontline vanguards. More than one homilist recalled the childhood start of his devotion to Cebu’s Patron.

Looking at the posters and tarpaulin displays promoting the Sinulog, the older son questioned the popular depiction of a woman carrying the icon. Why the bias for the feminine when many fathers also sacrifice for their children?

The portrayals can be traced to history (Hara Humamay, queen of Humabon, converted and received Magellan’s baptismal gift of the Sto. Niño), culture (only women offer candles and the “Sinug (traditional dance prayer)” outside the Basilica), and aesthetics (winsome and graceful, women remain the favorite choices of choreographers to lead Sinulog street-dancing contingents).

If there is a blind spot in the fiesta of the Sto. Niño, it is for the other children, the ones not borne for hours on their father’s shoulders as the solemn procession winds down city streets, for the youths who are, in the unforgettable euphemism of one writer, “other men’s children”.

A friend recalled, while having a staycation in one of Cebu’s hotels, sharing the elevator with an elderly foreigner and two prepubescent girls whose manner of dressing and talking was “incongruous in the setting”. Both groups were heading to their rooms.

My friend and her partner encountered the girls on other occasions. These elevator rides marked a contrast of moods: between the young girls who always “looked so happy” and my friend and her partner, depressed by this star-crossed realignment of young girls and elderly foreigners during the world’s longest holiday centered on children.

One novena homilist waxed rhapsodically over the virtues of children: their innocence, smiles, obedience, joy. May the Holy Child shield the young, including those who, in some men’s eyes, remain “other men’s children”.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s January 17, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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