Tag Archives: cavite city

Guanyin, the Chinese Virgin Mary and Tampines Temple

My 19 month old son and I goes out for a walk every day. We live on a circular road. We start and end on the same spot, in front of a Chinese temple.

They say memories are attached to where our parents takes us the most. It won’t surprise me if my son develops a penchant for old Chinese architecture. He sees it everyday.

I saw an exhibit about the town’s history at the local library last Sunday. Turns out that the temple houses old religious relics. It was built three decades ago, a project that placed 13 Taoist temples together under one roof. The reason was the redevelopment of the town into a residential and commercial area (it used to host a dump site and big sand quarries along with scattered kampung villages). Understandably there were objections but eventually everyone decided to follow the government’s plan.

Guanyin and Mama Mary

I attended a wedding a few years ago and had an interesting conversation with the groom about Cavite’s history. He shared anecdotes about his ancestor, General José Ignacio Paua. He was called “intsik” by his contemporaries in the Philippine revolution. He was ethnic Chinese from Fujian. Most people remembers him for arresting and stabbing Andres Bonifacio. But the groom, of course, skipped that part.

According to him, Paua had a hand in recovering Cavite City’s Our Lady of Porta Vaga after the revolution. As proof, he said, he wrote his name on a concealed part of the Marian icon.

How true is this story? I don’t know. I sat there, listened and ate lechon. But the part I remember clearly was that according to this guy, the Chinese during those days worshipped the Virgin Mary because to them she’s the same as their deity Guanyin (Mazu). This I know but what I found interesting was that the deity Guanyin is a popular devotion among Fujian locals, the place where Paua was born. He must have been himself a devotee of our Lady of Porta Vaga because to him she’s the same as the deity Guanyin.

In Ari Dy’s book “Chinese Buddhism in Catholic Philippines,” he writes, “they (devotees of Guanyin) notes that both (Guanyin and Virgin Mary) are maternal and compassionate figures and are therefore the same in that they serve the function of heeding the cries and supplications of their spiritual children.”

Catholic clergy in the Philippines doesn’t encourage syncretism but they don’t repress it. Guanyin was originally a male, before shattering into pieces, then reappearing as a woman. Some devotees refers to her as the Chinese Virgin Mary. There are images of her that resembles that of the mother of Christ. The one in the temple near our home are seated like Buddha without a child and does not have any likeness with traditional depictions of Mary.

Perhaps the historical importance of this syncretism was its religious and cultural creations that we see in our churches and museums to this day. Jeremy Clarke in his book “The Virgin Mary and Catholic Identities in Chinese History” suggests that “the rise in the production of Madonna influenced the manner Guanyin images were produced… these deliberate borrowings become more evident when one considers the development of trade in south east asia throughout the 18th century.”

The demand for Marian and other religious images employed hoards of Chinese sculptors during the Spanish era. Their religious roots, unconsciously or maybe consciously, influenced their work. This explains the countless religious icons bearing Chinese features (like Virgin Marys with chinita eyes) in our old churches. The Chinese in the 19th and 18th century Philippines seemed to have adapted seamlessly to the Filipino way of life, like they do in business.


Finding Chabacano (Chavacano) I

I came across this blog and was quickly reminded how fast everything seems to be going these days. The blog is about the vanishing Caviteño Chavacano, the Spanish-based creole language that was widely spoken in Cavite City but has long been neglected. Kudos to the author for putting up a site that would be a repository of his beloved language. It is filled with anecdotes and recollections about Chavacano and the people who use it.

I spent a day in the port city to observe and to get to know its people. Some  found it strange why I was asking them if they speak Chavacano. I wanted to hear people use it. A tricycle driver resting near a convenient store said his family still speaks Chavano but attested that most of his fellow drivers do not because they are just dayo, meaning not originally from Cavite City.

Belfry of Sta. Monica now surrounded by shanties. old ladies warned me against taking pictures without "pasintabi". According to them, whenever someone would trespass the barrio suffers bad luck.

In the public market, I heard tinderas speaking Chavacano with their patrons. I’m not familiar with the city’s districts but I assume that the town center is where it is still widely spoken. But it wasn’t easy finding people conversing in Chavacano. Maybe because I was just under the impression that it was still prevalent. There are many migrant families in the area and since this movement can’t be controlled, its effect on local traditions is inevitable. This makes the locals, who’s trying hard to keep their language, job more difficult.

Measures must be taken to ensure that traditional languages are still kept for future generations. When a society allows old traditions to just die out, then there is something terribly wrong. Either the people are not taught of its importance or they just don’t give a damn about traditions. Which is not surprising considering how Filipino history is taught to children these days.

I’m not really familiar with Chavacano’s present status in Cavite City. But I heard that some people are still struggling for its survival. I have nothing but good words for them. The old timers have organized a mass and even a local daily in Chavacano. Groups like the Asosacion Chabacano del Ciudad de Cavite and Cavite City and Museum has been actively promoting their language. These are very powerful actions which will hopefully inspire the younger generation of Caviteños.

How Chavacano evolved is not widely understood. Its birth and evolution can only be attributed to the community’s interaction with the Spanish sailors and army men. This is the reason why all major ports; Manila, Cavite, and Zamboanga had developed their own version. How each version became a language in itself is just simply amazing.

The Chavacano blogger made an interesting observation how Cavite Chavacano seems to be closer structurally to the original Spanish. Another interesting facet of Chavacano as a whole is how it differs from each other. I remember a story of an event in Instituto where Chavacanos from Cavite City, Ternate, and Zamboanga met and spoke using their own local versions. People around were amazed that they somehow understood each other!

Tricycle Drivers in front of a clinic owned by a prominent Caviteno family, Los Rojas

I’m interested to know if Ternate still speaks the language. There is also a fourth version: Chavacano Ermiteño. It has been extinct since the war, but there were reports that an old lady and a grandson of hers in Las Piñas still speak it. Also, there have been rumors that some old Filipino folks in the US West Coast (those who were able to escape the horrors of World War II) still speak Ermiteño.

Señor Guillermo Gómez gave me a CD of his that has the song “El pasacalle del ¡aray”. The lyrics was from the great poet, Jesús Balmori, who himself was an Ermitense. He often wrote using his beloved Chavacano. Some of his literary works, such as this song, offer us a glimpse of the extinct Ermiteño. Professor Emmanuel Luis A. Romanillos of UP has written a book entitled, “Essays on Cavite’s Chabacano Language and Literature” in 2006. In it, he wrote about the literary heritage of the language, proving that Chavacano was more than just a “lengua de tienda, y de nula dignidad, lengua de trapo”.

Like Spanish, the same effort should also be put up to restore our country’s various Chavacano tongues.


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