Poro came from the word Pulo (most likely Waray), the heart of the Islands now collectively known as Camotes. Poro was the most populated part and was even before the Spaniards came considered the hub of the distant islands activity and commerce. Poroanons acquired a very diverse culture, primarily because of the islands location and the constant wave of migrating farmers and fisher folks. They developed a dialect that is rooted in Waray, Ilonggo, Spanish and Bisaya, which according to Cebuano Historian Resil Morales was “distinct from either Waray or Cebuano”. Today, their language has gradually become more Bisaya due to the influence of education that is based on the main islands standards, also the effect of natural migration (mainly from mainland Cebu) but there is still significant evidence of that distinct dialect like the profuse usage of “z” (i.e., maayo becomes maazo).
Pre-Spanish Poro were settlements scattered (settlements known as Maktang, now Esperanza and Taganito today known as Tudela) all over the islands. The catalyst that would bring people together was the encouragement of the Church and the Alcalde of Cebu to assemble in what is the town today to fight the Moro raiders. Sometime in 1780, another turning point in Camotes history took place, a man named Panganuron (the town’s gorgeous falls is named after him) gathered all the tribes, this according to local historian is the first ever meeting of all the Poro inhabitants. He is credited to having unified the tribes which is now commemorated with Tagbo festival (tagbo meaning ‘coming together’). This remarkable union was celebrated as a community triumph, this event would also show that during those years the Poroanons were already deeply religious in the Catholic faith as celebrations was capped with the building of their first chapel.
The location where the church is located was preferred by the Jesuits who were in charged in converting the natives. The Spanish missionaries’ choice of location was inspired by its strategic advantages, one being the areas elevation which grants them with the benefit of seeing the Moro raiders before they even get close to their thriving Christian poblacion. Unlike most of the old churches of mainland Cebu, their Iglesia is not facing the sea; its façade faces the town where some colonial houses still exist (some sample if this old houses can still be found in Pilar, sadly in Poro’s poblacion there are very few standing).
The missions achievements in Poro led to the establishment of two other parishes, San Francisco (San Francisco Javier is the patron Saint of Navarra Spain) and Tudela. Tudela was formerly Taganit, its present name possibly came from the famous Spanish town in Navarra. Tudela Spain which was a Muslim town that was converted back to Catholicism by the reconquest of Alfonso I, known as the El Battalador (the fighter). The Jesuits history in Poro is closely linked to its mother mission in Leyte. Padre Chirino, head of the Leyte mission wrote that the people welcomed the party of Fr. Alonso Rodriguez, a chief even made arrangements so he could meet the Spaniard. He was taught to pray on the spot; later the Jesuits would found a promising school for the natives of Poro. The Poro mission was so successful that the succeeding generation of Poroanons would play a big part in catechizing the rest of the islands. The Jesuits expulsion would make way for the Augustinos, the new missionaries built the present stone church of Sto. Nino de Poro (1849) under their watch.
I was looking around for articles about the historic Poro church in Camotes Islands on line when I saw this. It’s unbelievable how ignorant and irresponsible some people can be with Filipino history, it’s really upsetting but then again I’m reminded how our past is taught in schools. How can we appreciate if we are taught to hate? or if we happen to appreciate its beauty but fail to understand its role in shaping our identity? what good would it do for us as Filipinos today?
Recognition of our Christian culture starts with understanding our Hispano history, unfortunately, this event in our history is often neglected if not removed, worst this Catholization by the Espanol is interpreted as the beginning of the end of the true Filipino history – I believe otherwise, it was the beginning of our journey towards our realization that we can be a nation, for the first time we had something in common and that’s our Christian faith.
Excellent sources for Poroanon and other stories about the origins of Cebuano traditions’ is E.L. Lavilles de Paula’s “Cebu: In Legend & History”, additional history with Jesuits missions is the reliable “Jesuits in the Philippines, 1581-1768” by the great Jesuit historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa.