Silang Series

Pre-colonial Treasure: Erihiya as Intangible Cultural Resource

One of the earliest records of history about Silang dates back in 1600s with the account of Pedro Chirino, SJ of the early Jesuit missions. This account gave valuable insight on the social structure and social belief system of the locals.

This new field of Silan was assigned to the Society of Jesus from the year 1599, as the people of those villages, among whom were some Christians, were without a priest to minister to them, although they were but a day’s journey from Manila. There are five villages, which contain about one thousand five hundred inhabitants, besides the many other people who, as is their custom, are separated and dispersed through the country districts, in their cultivated lands. These villages are in the tingues, as they call them, of Cavite, among some mountains; the climate there is very moderate, and in no season of the year is there excessive heat–rather, the mountains render it cooler.

The people are simple, tractable, and well inclined toward
all good things.

The Jesuits settled there in 1601 and started their mission of evangelization and conversion. The locals easily converted to faith and practiced the new teachings. Naturally superstitious, the locals viewed non-observance of these new religious practices as providence punishment.

Through the teaching and good example of those fathers they abandoned some of their evil practices, and applied themselves to the Christian customs with good will and pleasure; and many (for there were no Christians among them) received holy baptism.

Not only do they attend their own mass and sermon on Sundays (never missing one of these services), but on Saturdays they go to hear that in honor of our Lady, which is said for them with as much solemnity as that on Sundays. They were greatly encouraged in the observance of these masses and feasts by the following incident which occurred at that time: A woman, who was very eager to finish the weaving of a piece of cloth, sat down at her loom one Sunday to work thereon; afterward, upon returning to her task, she found the cloth all eaten away by moths. She herself made this known, with the full knowledge that it had been a chastisement and penalty for that offense of hers.

The mission capitalized on the natives’ superstitions by inculcating new rituals as part of daily living.  The Jesuits even convinced a local pagan priest to be their arm in local catechism.

To assist us in instructing the large number of catechumens in those villages, and in teaching the doctrine to the innumerable children who assemble at the mission from all the settlements, our Lord provided for that work an Indian blind in body but truly enlightened of soul, who, with great faith, charity, and love for the things of God, instructs those who wish to be baptized, catechizing them morning and night in the church. He is so expert in the catechism that none of us could excel him therein.

Consequently, they come from his charge marvelously well instructed; and, although he is blind, he is so watchful over the large number of catechumens in his charge, that he notes if even one person is absent, and reports it to the father. The first time when he received communion, which was on the feast of our Lady, he displayed such profound respect and reverence that his body trembled while receiving the holy sacrament, and so great devotion that the sight of it inspired that emotion in others.

This man deserves all the greater credit for what he is doing,
for having gone from one extreme to another; formerly he was one of the heathen priests, whom they here call catalones, and now he has become a preacher of our holy faith. This he relates, while uttering fervent thanks and exalting the great favors and benefits which God has bestowed upon him.

The Jesuit Fathers had used social beliefs like superstitions and a native pagan priest as envoys of the new faith, creating a fusion of indigenous and colonial culture.

Despite Chirino’s chapter-long account, vividly showing the activities of the locals it made no further effort to discuss the material culture of the period. One notes that no material evidence has survived to prove pre-colonial existence in Silang. No architectural remnants or any ancient remains have been found to prove such civilization of 1,500 inhabitants, but Chirino’s account had identified sites of active pre-Hispanic settlements. But this absence of tangible material culture is not surprising at all. No archeological studies have been conducted in the area to excavate points of early settlements and other ancient grounds. Apart from the Chirino account, no other material offers a view of pre-colonial Silang. Moreover, our indigenous material culture is very organic and prone to decay. Samples of tau-tauhan or idols have rotten if made of wood or if not, in case of stone, have traveled along the river banks as large boulders have rolled upon these during the monsoon season.  Furthermore, points of early settlements have been largely cultivated to agricultural purposes and to date for large-scale residential developments. Years of cultivation and successive developments have unknowingly damaged valuable artifacts. And if some still remains buried, it will remain hidden until scholarly excavation will take place.

Such is a dilemma in gathering tangible indigenous material for the community museum. Traditionally, a museum consists of display of objects for examination— a notion of a “museum set”, as a treasure house, educational instrument, a secular temple (Baxandall, 1991) to accommodate objects of importance and interests. Following Svetlana Alpers, museums are inherently of visual interests. Objects are turned into works of art or importance when strategically placed, producing the so-called “museum effect” (Alpers, 1991:26). Such “effect” will not be achieved without any object for visual presentation.

From the traditional function of collection, research, conservation and display of physical objects from the past, modern definitions of museum activities have transformed to recognize not just tangible materials as heritage resources but also intangible ones. Through the 7th Asia Pacific Regional Assembly of ICOM in Shanghai, China in 2002, the charter emphasized the museum’s role as facilitators of constructive partnership in safeguarding intangible heritage of the humanity. This initiative is further strengthened in 2003 with the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage which gave normative standards for safeguarding efforts and furthermore in2004 with ICOM’s “Museum and Intangible Heritage” as theme for the International Museum Day. Further deliberation has been made to fully explore the concept in the 20th ICOM Triennial in Seoul in the same year (Yin, 2007).

According to the UNESCO Convention, intangible cultural heritage is defined as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skill—as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities, groups and, in some cases, individual recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” Hence, language in its mundane or poetic art form can be considered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Rosella Moya-Torrecampo explored on the intricacies of a genre of folklore in Silang and coined it erihiya. Her study described the lexical variations of erihiya as a language art form stating countless folk wisdom connoting heritage of local beliefs and at the same time, loaned from the Spanish word ‘heresy’ as such wisdom is contrary to the colonial faith teachings. It is believed that origin of the erihiya is really pagan or pre-colonial, subsequently modified and assimilated to fit in the changing social structures.

Erihiya is not just folklore, folktale, household saying or proverb, magic, superstition, spell or folk wisdom alone, but a combination of all (Torrecampo, 2007:45). It is a set of values which can be categorized as milestones and activities of the human cycle: from birth to death and even beyond (Torrecampo, 2007:50) Also, it is reflective of values centrally moving around kinship or relationship system between self and others, self and family, self and others (friends, neighbors, strangers, enemies, the old, the young, male and female and even to the unknown).  Usually, it is spoken in a poetic manner.

Samples of erihiya are the following (Torrecampo, 2007:48):

Sample A. “Ayon sa matatanda, huwag magtuturo, / baka ka manuno”
(‘Don’t point around with your finger, lest arouse an elemental to anger’) [free translation in poetic form by Torrecampo]

Sample B. “Ay ang sabi ng matatanda, kakain ng matatamis ang bagong kasal pagnagpang-akyat na sa kabahayan,”
(‘Oh, the elders say that the newlyweds should eat sweets as they go up the house together’)

Sample C. “Ay nakow, ayon sa matatanda, huwag kang magpanuro sa pulo kapag kagat na ang dilim nang gayan,”
(‘Don’t point around with your finger when you are out in the fields at dusk’)

Torrecampo notes that erihiya adopts a form of a pattern. It usually starts with an opening formula of a respectful allusion to elders, followed by expression of lore or wisdom, either as affirmatives (kailangan ang… or dapat…), or negatives (huwag… or bawal ang…).  Such pattern and poetic delivery, guides members of society in its social relations; it teaches, even warns, nonetheless, its efficacious effect is highly valued, sometimes unconsciously by the local Silang society, even to date.

Moreover, Torrecampo notes that birth seems to be a central motif in the Silang cultural paradigm as many existing erihiya are still practiced, usually to the letter, to this day. Also, as the child is reared for growth, numerous erihiya are said and done for the child’s welfare.

Bago pangalanan ang anak, ikonsulta muna sa maniningin ang
napiling ‘alan.”
(‘Before naming the child, consult the shaman on the name
that has been chosen’

Huwag na huwag babati ng bata kapag ika’y galing sa arawan.
(‘Do not greet a child if you have just come in from the sun.’)

More so, erihiya binds family together. Numerous sayings and advises are part of family rituals. The term kaputol, or more commonly used now as utol (cut from the same umbilical cord) has ritualistic erihiya prescriptions to some extreme cannibalistic extent:

Sa isang pamilya, ang pusod ng bawat batang inianak
ay kinukuha’t isinasabit sa ibabaw ng kalanan
at pinauusukan hanggang sa matuyo.
Kapag ang pinakahuling anak
ay nariyan na’t buo na ang magkakapatid,
iyong mga pusod ng magkakapatid ay iniihaw
at dinidikdik na parang pulbos at saka ibinubudbod sa lugaw.
Siyang ipinakakain ito sa magkakapatid.
Di nila dapat malaman kung ano ang nasa nilugaw.

(‘Within a family, a portion of each child’s umbilical cord is
taken and hung over the stove and exposed to smoke until it dries out. As each new child is added to the family, so is his/her portion of the umbilical cord added. When the last child is born and the siblings are complete, the pieces of cord are then roasted and pounded into powder, which is then sprinkled over rice gruel. This is fed to each of the siblings. And they must not know what is in the gruel they are eating.’)

(Torrecampo, 2007:52)

Such practice affirms that siblings will be bonded forever. Also it should be noted that social rituals like drinking from the same glass makes one katropa or friends or when dined on the same private feasts, table or plate, one makes a kaangkan, angkan, kapamilya or part of the clan.

It is very interesting to have a record of all erihiya accounts. Such list captures indigenous consciousness—a valuable treasure for museum display and studies. To “safeguard” this intangible resource is an effort. Going back to UNESCO’s definition, safeguarding means “adopting measures to ensure the viability of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, including the identification, documentation, protection, promotion, and transmission of such heritage.” Local cultural workers must find ways to cooperate and gather these materials for preservation, study and dissemination for future generation. Torrecampo has made great endeavor in recording some of these and gave insightful notes on its structure, purpose and origin. In the absence of a pre-colonial tangible cultural heritage, erihiya as a poetic folk wisdom gives Silang a glimpse of something indigenous, inherent and close to their hearts.

TWO. Colonial Heritage: The Town’s Bastion of Faith

All over the country, the plaza complex as a colonial town center system is the most vivid contribution of the period. Space has become a colonial tool as it defines the level of economic access, prestige and social security while architecture is a symbol of colonial power. Note that the bell tower is always the highest structure in any rural town. According to Gerard Lico, bell towers were panoptical devices for surveillance, gazing into the affairs of the native population arranged conveniently along the cuadricula (plaza grid system) for easy identification of the colonized body (22).

The church was the largest and most grandiose structure of a town. Its area and volume are correlated to the extent of jurisdiction. Its decoration, motifs and treasures are reflections of affluence. Overall, it was definitive of the values and aspirations of the colonial institution —that is to impress and control. Even until now, It is the center of rural social activity: mass, feasts, processions. For town folks: to be near the center is most prestigious, closer to heavenly aspirations and earthly desires.

The town was the center of the Society of Jesus’ Mission in Cavite from the beginning of the 1600s until their expulsion in late 1700s. Most of upland Cavite’s towns having Silang as their center of faith seceded eventually as they rise with prominence and grew in population.

The country is scattered with colonial architecture jewels. Each province may have a century or two old cathedrals or churches. Silang is blessed with a massive stone church which was built by Fr. Juan de Salazar in 1645. Through arguably date of construction can be earlier, as provided by other Jesuit accounts:

According to Repetti, a stone church as built under Fr. Juan de Salazar. Certainly there was a substantial church completed around 1643 because Murillo reports this tale: In 1640 an indio of Silang names Andres found a box containing an image of the blessed of the Blessed Virgin in the mountains of Silang. A friend who saw the image was enraptured by its beauty asked if he could have the image, and Andres without any hesitation gave it to him. The image became very popular among the Indios who had recourse to it in moments of need. A tabernacle was built for the image and the people would gather around it daily to pray the rosary. On 30 January 1643, the Indio left on a journey forgetting a vow inherited from his ancestors to keep Fridays scared. On returning home he found the tabernacle empty. Repentant and distraught he searched for the image and found it …he begged for forgiveness and returned home. Nine times the image disappeared and was found again…he sought the advice of a Jesuit rector …[and] ordered the congregantes to make vigil…brought to the church, accompanied by a festive procession of dancing, music and other manifestations of joy. The image was placed on the retablo of the gospel side. Devotion to the Virgin increased so that the image received gifts of jewelry, a gold crown, a vesture of chased silver and other ornaments—votive offerings to the Virgin. (qtd. Javellana 204)

In any date it was constructed and finished, it is a fact that the Silang church is indeed old, still functional and structurally strong. However, the exterior of the structure is not noteworthy as well as compared to the baroque splendor of the Morong Church and that of Miagao in Iloilo . In fact in Father Rene Javellana’s book, Wood and Stone: The Philippine Jesuit Churches published in 1991, he noted that “Silang’s façade is simple…lacks grace [as] the façade is low and squat. Like its exterior, Silang’s interior is simple. No ornaments on the pilasters, windows placed high along the walls” (58). But the Jesuit scholar made it as a cover of his book, showcasing one of the three exquisite retablos intricately carved in hardwood of almost three-storey high.

No one is sure when these retablos where made. Fr. Javellanas cue for dates are the image of the Sto. Nino de Ternate adorned by two Jesuit saints at the main altar. “The depiction of the Ternate Nino would place the main altar’s completion sometime after 1663, when the Merdeka refugees arrived with their santo.” (116)

Furthermore, Fr. Javellana scholarly identifies each part of the retablo’s grand sculptural ornamentation and plan in full detail:

…the altars at the transepts are mirror image of each other. Both are triple-storied. All employ relieves except at the central niche of the second story. First and second stories contain three sections each, the third a single section. Both utilized fluted Ionic columns for the first story and Corinthian columns for the second and third. The central niche is surmounted by a triangular pediment where stands a putto with a shield. Pineapple finials flank the crowning pediment and above the second story on either side stand putti in the attitude as the higher one. A cascade of volutes and bunches of fruits resembling papayas link the third story of the retablo to the lower ones. These end in volutes reminiscent of coiled millipedes. Volutes flank the first and second stories. Again coiled millipede-like designs appear at the first story. Angel faces jut out of the center of the second. Horizontals are divided by repetitive bands of flora, angel faces in front view, and crenalations resembling acanthus leaves. (116)

Father Javellana further expounds on the side altars. The epistle transept or the right wing altar is dedicated to the Jesuit saints depicted in various bas-reliefs and single statuary. In the middle of the second story niche is a polychrome statue of St. Ignatius de Loyola. This flanked on the left by Aloysius Gonzaga holding a lily of virginity and on the right by Stanislaus Kotska holding a Christ child with a image of the Blessed Mary on the side. On the third level are the Japanese martyrs Paul Miki and companions. Their martyrdom in Japan reached Manila in sixteenth century and was immortalized in the altar with great jubilation (116). The first level starting the bottom left stands St. Francis Xavier with crucifix in hand and a tropical background of palm. Francis Borgia is on the other side with a hat of grandee and a crowned skull at his feet. Xavier and Borgia flanks the image of a bound Jesus Christ ready for trial reechoing the martyrdom theme of the epistle transept. (116)

The gospel transept or the left wing altar is dedicated predominantly to women saints. The top levels show Mary Magdalene at the foot of the crucified Christ. At the second level, the male saint relief on the left is attributed by Unabia in her 2000 book as St. Bartolomew but identified by Fr. Javellana as “probably Paul’. The central niche is the polychrome statue St. Anthony of Padua holding the child Jesus. The right relief is Helena holding the true cross. On the lower levels are St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Therese of Avila and lastly questionably representing St. Agnes, according to Unabia (177) or Martha, according to Fr. Javellana (116).

Certainly, the focus of this magnum opus is the center altar retablo, the largest of the three solid wood edifice. Sections of the main retablo were described by Fr. Javellana in intricate detail in his book:

…The same divisions into verticals and horizontals found at side altars are repeated. But instead of fluted Corinthians, garlanded Corinthians and solomonicas separate the different members of the retablo…of three stories, the lower two being divided into seven sections of alternating niches, relieves, niches…similar to the top most division. The whole ensemble ends in a split semicircular pediment which displays the Jesus colophon. Again, lush tropical foliage links the floors together. Garlands of fruits and flowers cascade from pediment to second story, fruits peer out of split triangular pediments that serve as bases of the vase-like finials of the second story. Decorative motifs found at the transept altars are repeated: foliage, angel heads, acanthus crenelations, cartouches, and empty rectangles… (117).

The retablos served as a catechetical material of the Jesuits with the life of Mary and the birth of Jesus depicted in all the relieves. The six-panel relieves depicts the life of the Virgin as drawn from the Scriptures. On the second level, she is shown crowned by the Trinity followed by Nativity scene with all the visiting shepherds and the adoration of the Magi. The first level still shows a Nativity scene followed by Annunciation. Central niche on the first level is dedicated to the patroness, Nuestra Senora de Candelaria. Statues in niches of Sts. Joachim, Anne, Paul among others adorn the relieves alternately. Statuary saints served as a reminder of Mary’s and Jesus’ earthly lineage and as Catholics’ models of faith. One interesting note of Fr. Javellana is that the “scenes are rendered in a folksy manner rather than historical accuracy…a structure resembling a mosquito net hangs in the Annunciation scene” which perhaps to better lead the parishioners to accept this Nazareth woman as one of their own (117).

Way back in the 80s and early 90s, the church had a stark white interior with a golden-like hue of columns, niches, pediments, saints and foliage of the altar’s retablo. The plainness of white serves as a perfect background for an almost zen-like interior of a church showcasing in all its glory the golden glow vividness of the three retablo display. Such color of the retablos where done by the restoration activities made by Talleres de Maximo Vicente sometime in the 70s (116) amazingly with just an application of varnish and not gilding. It was revarnished in 1989 (204) to protect the wood from soot, wax and insects, thus the golden glow. But in 2002, it was decided to restore the retablo in its original color— pastels. Years and even centuries of lacquer, modern varnish, paraffin and soot were carefully removed to reveal the true color of the masterpiece. In 2004, the golden pillars are now beige with avocado green hints, rouge flowers now pale pink complementing the modern-day adobe wall cladding. Ceiling height has been restored to its original height with small planks of varied-color wood as material and wood appliqués as motif.

In the course of this 21st century restoration, tragedy struck. Not similar to the 1880 earthquake which damaged the bell tower but with theft during restoration. The right-most saint holding a sword (attributed to St. Paul) on the first level was stolen and was never recovered. A replica now stands in its place.

Church regalia like antique holy vestments, precious jewelries and vessels are often considered treasures worthy for a church museum display. Amassed through centuries of parishioners’ donation for petitions and gratuity gifts for an answered prayer, the church can surely collect valuable material artifacts. One record in the National Archives is the Temporalidades or the inventory of the Jesuit religious treasures confiscated during their expulsion in 1768. In one of its volumes, it recorded the property of the Silang Church:

Jurisdiction of Cavite

Third and Fourth Class

Folder 6 Number 26

Folder 20 Number 28

Town of Silan

One image of Our Lady a cuarta y media vara in height with face and wooden hands dressed up completely in silver wrought, with imperial crown of gold inlaid with various ordinary stones and supported on both sides by two small angels and a small golden face made with inlaid gold filigrees and adorned with various ordinary stones, and fine pearls, and on both ends a golden pendant, four pieces each, with a two-string necklace of pearls and on the hands are two two-string bracelets of fine pearls.

One hallow cross of silver a cuarta vara in height.

Two small faces and two knives of silver, one big and one small of the Virgin of Sorrrows

One image of Our Lady with face and ivory hands two tercia varas in height, with crown and a small face of silver, adorned with various ordinary stones, a pair of golden hoes embossed with ordinary stones, with fine pearls; a fine two-string gold chain in antique workmanship of more than one cuarta vara in length, and four bands of ordinary stones enclosed in gold. (6:26, 20:28)

However, these do not exist anymore as confiscated treasures were delivered to the archbishop for inspection, safe-keeping and even redistribution in the early 1800s. Very few items of value were kept to date by the parish given the years of revolution, looting and even “taken” as souvenirs of rotating administrative clerics or by donating families in “exchange” for their donated objects. (Medina Interview 2010)

Only the three wooden retablos and the church as a structure are left as a visible testimony of a great colonial heritage.