Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Santonilyo as portrayed by Kyle Jimenez
GMA Network's INDIO, 2013
Photo Credit: Dencio Isungga
Santonilyo is both an old god and a new god to the visayans. He was worshipped as one of the anitos in community and when the spanish came, this anito evolved and took on the name derived from the Christian St.Nino. In pre-spanish times, each community had their very own anito of various names who is supposed to dispense blessings and abundance on a family or a society. These anitos or spirits is usually an old ancestor who was known to have lived a virtuous life when they were alive, and due to the fact that they were known in life, they were venerated after death. Each house in ancient visayas was supposed to carry a wooden "larawan" (wooden idols) with tusks whom the family pay honor and pag-anito (worship) daily to ensure a continuous flow of blessings upon them.

When Magellan came to the Philippines and landed in Cebu in April 1521, he was received by Rajah Humabon and his wife Humamay (some sources say her name was Amihan) and requested them to pledge allegiance to Spain and to allow the catechists to do their work and spread the tenets of Christian faith. Within a week, the Rajah and the Queen were baptized and were given the Christian names Carlos(after Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) and Juana(after Joane of Castile) and one of the Scribes, Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian Chronicler presented to the Queen an image of the St.Nino, to which she fell in love with immediately and said she was ready to renounce her animist ways and accept the Child Jesus, it was even reported that as she received the figure, she was overjoyed and wept, bathing the statue with her tears as she is hugging it, and after her baptism, 800 other Cebuanos were also baptized and were given an image of the Virgin Mary and Ecce Homo, a depiction of Jesus before Pontus Pilate and a crucifix.

Santonilyo in GMA Network's Indio, 2013
Sketch artist: James/Squeegool
But the Spaniards underestimated the power of the animist faith, as it is deeply ingrained within the people, a few days later, Magellan was shocked to discover that Rajah Humabon still kept his idols and was astounded by the discovery that not only are animist shrines present in every homes but can also be found in fields and even in grave sites. It was thought that the Queen readily accepted the Sto. Nino because it looked more regal, refined, and decked out in foreign finery unlike her wooden larawans with tusks that looked old and grimy, coupled with the fact that the natives were in awe of their Spanish visitors. Nonetheless, sources say that Magellan became a champion of Rajah Humabon and requested all the other chiefs of Cebu to surrender, and he personally sailed to Mactan and unbeknownst to him, Lapu Lapu was ready and waiting to strike them. Magellan died in that encounter, the Spanish forces retreated back to Humabon, but were unaware that the repudiation of the newfound faith has already started among Humabon's people, abandoning the Catholic faith once more in favor of the old religion. On May 1, 1521, Humabon ordered the massacre of the Spanish Survivors during a banquet, and some of them (Pigafetta included), escaped back to Europe, and nothing was documented about what happened to the Sto. Nino image.

Santonilyo as portrayed by Kyle Jimenez
GMA Network's INDIO, 2013
According to Nicomedes Marquez Joaquin, a Filipino historian, as stated in his works in 1980… when the Spanish conquistadores came once more 44 years later, they discovered that there was a new god in the pantheon of the visayans. A native version of the Sto. Nino whom they call Santonilyo. The new god is in the form of a child and was said to have reached the islands when a fisherman caught a piece of Agipo (a stump or driftwood) and when he tried to burn it, the driftwood would not burn and instead started to form in the shape of the St. Nino or Santonilyo
and blessed the fisherman with abundance and a better life. Santonilyo was also worshipped as a rain god for 4 decades since the spanish first arrived, blessing the natives with rain to the land during times of drought, as shown by this passage and ritual:

During drought, the ancient Cebuanos would bathe the image in the sea, just as mentioned in the Sto. Niño’s gozos published in an 1888 novena:

Santonilyo as portrayed by Kyle Jimenez
GMA Network's INDIO, 2013
“Cun ulan ang pangayoon
Ug imong pagadugayon
Dadad-on ca sa baybayon
Ug sa dagat pasalomon,
Ug dayon nila macuha
Ang ulan nga guitinguha”

(If they seek rain
And you delay it
You’d be brought to the shore
And bathed in the sea,
And they then obtain
The rain they desire.
—Translation by author)

The image regained it's Christian significance when Juan de Camuz, a soldier in Legazpi's fleet found the image inside a wooden chest in one of the burnt houses. It's rediscovery was later construed as an auspicious sign by Legazpi to continue subjugating Cebu and the entire archipelago for the Spanish crown. However, Santonilyo's fame is already widespread among the other islands of the Visayas, reaching as far as Mindoro, Panay, Negros, Bohol, Siquijor, Samar and Leyte. And even if, the Sto. Nino's devotion as a Catholic figure flourished and thrived in the Philippine archipelago, Visayans who were untouched by the Spanish rule continue to offer pag-anito to their beloved Santonilyo even to this day.

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