by MARYANNE M. IBAÑEZ
(Originally published on SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE, March 22, 1964 issue)
Holy Week festivities in this town center around precious family heirlooms that are about a century old.
BANTAYAN is only a small island located on the northernmost tip of Cebu. Buit one finds here a rich tradition of folk art that recalls the glorious era of the galleon trade and the early stages of Spanish evangelical conquest. A wide variety of religious images mostly depicting the passion an death of Christ is found in the possession of the different families in this town. Most of these figures are reputed to have been ordered from Barcelona.
One of the 1st galleons that came to the Philippines borught with it the 1st Spanish inhabitants who later settled with their families or intermarried with natives.
It is said that whenever the “padre de familia” would leave for a long voyage back to his native Spain, he would ask what his children would like as homecoming gift. The fad in those days was, so runs the story, to ask for an ivory religious image of a patron saint or another “paso” of Christ’s crucifixion for the Holy Week procession. In time, the image or images (for this was a frequent occurence) became regular participants in the annual Holy Week processions.
But not all families had relatives who could order images from the motherland.
Seeing this demand for Holy Week images, Ma Piyano Carabio, a native sculptor, began to fashion his own pieces. Patiently and painstakingly, Ma Piyano Carabio worked on his images, and was so good at it that he became popular and his woodcarving talent became much in demand.
When Ma Piyano died, his son, Ma Binoy took over his job. He depended solely on stampitas for details, and form these, he would attempt to etch an exact replica in wood or ivory. He has to his credit an extensive array of sculptural pieces which helped to complete the 21 existing processional cars which are now being used for the traditional Holy Week festivities.
Besides Ma Binoy, another contributor has also contributed much to the Bantayan folk art. He is Antonio Tinga, a graduate of the Cebu School of Arts and Trade who has been carving image and santos for the ‘carrozas’ in response to his mother’s wish to be an active participant in the Holy Week devotions.
These carved religious images in Bantayan can be classified as predominantly of the informal style which art critics will no doubt evaluate as “products of relatively uneducated, unsophisticated…sculptors”. Indeed, the works of the three sculptors, Ma Piyano, Ma Binoy and the young Antonio Tinga lack style and professional technique; but they possess the expressive power and liveliness of shape which is one of the outstanding characteristics of Filipino folk art. For example, in the figures of the Jews, the facial details reflect a craftsmanship peculiar to folk art: the expressionless countenance. But each of the faces in the different episodes of the crucifixion of Christ portray different facial expressions: of tiredness, pain, patience and thirst.
Most, if not all of the owners of religious images in Bantayan have stories to tell. Of these, the one that is most spectacular is linked with an old-possibly the oldest-religious image in Bantayan, the ‘paso’ of the Santo Intierro, or the scene of Christ in the tomb, owned by the late Mr. and Mrs. Ruperto Maderazo. Believed to have been handed down to the third generation, the statue has a head made of ivory, which came from Barcelona, Spain. Its body was ordered from an anonymous sculptor in Manila more than one hundred years ago. Its hands and feet are detachable. It is said that once, while the statute was at procession, it caught fire. The entire processional car was afire but the pillow on which the blessed head rested was not the least scorched nor touched by the flames.
The family who owns this makes it a tradition to bathe the wounds of the statue with expensive perfume before it is dressed for the procession.
Another image which is a few years younger than the Santo Intierro is that named “La Paciencia”. Jesus is shown sitting down wearing a crown of thorns. He is cupping his face as if patiently awaiting his fate. It is now in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. Silvino Du.
Third in rank in antiquity is the ‘paso’ owned by the Mabug-at family. It depicts the blessed Lady holding Christ in her arms after he had been taken down from the cross. This shows clearly the evidence of age especially in the arm and knee joints of the figures. It is interesting to note the expression on the faces of the Mother and Son. The family claims that the original set of this ‘paso’ which consists the Mother and Son came from Spain. One of the children of the owners had sold the statue of the Blessed Mother to an Aglipayan in Negros. The family tried to buy it back but failed because the new owner would not sell it back to them. They decided to as Ma Binoy to make a new blessed Mother for this ‘paso’. The statute of Christ is more than 80 years old, while that of the statue of the Lady is approximately 30 to 40 years younger.
The family of Mr. and Mrs. Florencio Arcenas also owns one of the oldest Holy Week images. The scene represents our Lord being scourged. In these images, estimated to be 80 to 90 years old, the craftsmanship and art of Ma Piyano Carabio is very evident especially in the etching of Christ’s ribs and collar bone.
In most of these pieces, the variety of wood used was ‘tanghas’, a variety chosen because of its durability and fineness of texture. Second choices was the wood from the santol tree.
The respective family owners are responsible for the upkeep of the statues. They provide the vestments and decorations of the cars especially during the Lenten processions.
An interesting feature of the Bantayan Holy Week procession is the custom of dressing up the children as saints, to represent a Santa Maria, a San Juan, a Santa Teresita, or a San Antonio. The custom, an upshot of individual promises or vows made by the parents for one of other favor granted to them by any of the saints, makes for a colorful aspect which provides a striking contrast betweem the antiquity of the statues and the youth of children.
This year, these treasured heirlooms will once more join in th Holy Week celebrations. We, the Bantayanons are proud of what we have. Ours is a small town, but it has undoubtedly one of the richest reservoirs of religious and antique images.