Wenceslao: Precolonial past

Bong O. Wenceslao

WE ARE on the latter part of what can be considered a long stretch of successive events in Cebu, starting on All Saints and All Soul’s Days down to Christmas and New Year, Fiesta Señor and to a lesser extent Valentine’s Day. In a highly commercialized setup, we are smack into hectic days.

I was recently invited by Palm Grass for an event next week about the Fiesta Señor and it includes talks that would also feature my friend and fellow columnist Jobers Bersales, who writes for Cebu Daily News digital. Jobers, if I remember right, is with the Sociology-Anthropology department of the University of San Carlos and has done works that helped deepen our knowledge in our history.

The Fiesta Señor and the Cebu City Government-led Sinulog festivities are the city’s biggest events for the year. The religious and cultural activities are popular globally and are crowd drawers, notably the holy procession and the Sinulog grand parade on the third weekend of January. What makes this year’s fiesta more noteworthy is that it moves us closer to the 500th year since the arrival to Cebu of the Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.

So the Palm Grass activity is timely in the context of enlightenment. The danger in repetitive activities is that they become events that are done for mere compliance rather than meant to remind us of our past and the lessons they offer. And here’s one misgiving that I harbor: It misleads us about Cebu’s past. The fiesta señor and the Sinulog festivities more often than not downplay our existence before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Filipino historians have correctly noted the error in the long-held notion that “Magellan discovered the Philippines.” We were a people already with our own culture and beliefs when the Spaniards arrived. We were eventually subjugated and colonized, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on one’s perspective. An extension to that is our supposed admiration for the Spaniards for bringing the Catholic belief to the Philippines. That too can be good or bad depending on one’s perspective.

I say we already have enough materials and knowledge of our history starting from our colonization by the Spaniards down to our present. What we collectively missed out is the deeper understanding of the peoples and their interactions throughout the Philippine archipelago and beyond before the Spaniards colonized us. There is instead a certain level of disrespect because we could not understand why our ancestors wore “bahag.”

I remember former mayor Tomas Osmeña floating the idea of Cebu having an event in the middle of the year that would be akin to the Sinulog. That didn’t fly because it could not be anchored on something worthwhile. But for a while it caught my fancy. Why won’t Cebu come up with a major event that would pay homage to our precolonial past? One that would not make us sadists for celebrating our subjugation by a colonial power?

I am just thinking aloud, though.