Mystic Quiapo by AC Cabalquinto
From the Spanish era up to today, Filipinos incorporate animistic beliefs and practices with Christianity. This phenomena can be seen in the sidewalk vendors selling amulets and herbal medicines and offering services such as fortune telling in Quiapo. This mixture of beliefs is an evidence that the Filipino culture is a hybrid of local beliefs mixed with foreign influences. Quiapo district alone is a testament to the diversity of beliefs in the Philippines because of the presence of Catholic churches and Muslim mosques in that district. In the historic Plaza Miranda alone, the Spanish-inspired arches filled with row of booths of arbularyos or herbal doctors along with modern buildings built in the fifties is a manifestation of this mixture. This fusion is called folk Christianity. Although raised in Catholic beliefs, people going to Quiapo practice folk Christianity because of Filipinosâ€™ belief in mystery, lack of understanding of Church teachings and commercialism.
Folk Christianity in Quiapo is rooted in our belief in mystery. We are not just fascinated by mystery but we do believe in mystery. When asked on what mystery is, some devotees think that mystery is a part of our daily life. In Quiapo district, one can notice a row of the fortunetellers right in front of Quiapo Church. In Plaza Miranda alone, not less than thirty soothsayers would signal one with their hands and ask me if he would want to know his fortune. These fortunetellers are not your typical gypsies with the their curly hairs and long skirts; they are just like ordinary people casually-dressed, usually in plain shirt and maong pants. What sets them apart is, perhaps, their attitude and a look that allures the deepest inner desire to know what lies ahead of you. Looking around the place, one can a stall located at Carriedo Street showcasing gold-painted amulets in a triangular shape and an eye surrounded by inscriptions. Beside it, another row of booths selling herbal medicines, varying from abortificients labeled as pamparegla and different leaves and herbs. On my first visit in Quiapo, I felt fearful because of how they presented themselves to the people and offer to me their products and services. Walking past a stall with herbal medicines located on the corner of G. Puyat Street, I was shocked as a vendor even held her arm to offer me her
product. Perhaps, this sight would struck anyone, like me, the most to know more about them. Moreover, what startled me perhaps are the people going to Quiapo who avail of these services. The Catholic Church forbids fortunetelling and the use of amulets and treats them as sin, yet, many devotees flock to Quiapo not only for the adoration of the Black Nazarene, but for fortunetelling and amulets. This led me to think that people practicing Folk Christianity in Quiapo, possibly, lack understanding in Church teachings. Many practicing this belief have not been taught properly of Church teachings. To further understand this, I interviewed a Quiapo devotee. “Baby,” dressed in a yellow polo shirt with an El Shaddai towel on her back, goes to Quiapo on Fridays and attends the mass held every Feast of the Black Nazarene as part of her devotee, or what she calls her panata. As I asked her if she noticed other devotees who believe that these practices, such as fortunetelling, are contrary to the Church teachings, she said yes with her head nodding. “Alam naman nila ang pinaggagawa ay labag sa turo na nasa Bibliya,” (“They know what they doing is against the Biblical teachings,”) she replies. “Hindi lang ‘ata nila naiintidihan dahil hindi nila sila naturuan nang maiigi sa mga tamang aral. Siguro kaya sila patuloy na nagpapahula kasi mahina ang paniniwala nila sa Nazareno.” (Maybe they
do not understand the teachings because they are not taught properly on the teachings. Perhaps they continue to seek fortunetelling because they have a weak believe in the Nazarene.) These statements by “Baby” would show that the devotees have a weak foundation of the Church teachings. The devotees do not practice this because they are defiant Catholics; rather, the devotees think that these practices are means to deepen a need that the Church cannot fulfill. In a district filled with merchandise ranging from fresh fish to cellphone accessories, commerce and capitalism are very much alive in Quiapo. Perhaps many Filipinos find these beliefs and practices as means of livelihood. In our conversation, “Baby” said that maybe people use these as a mean to earn a living. “Maraming nakikinabang sa lokasyon ng Quiapo,” (“Many benefit from the location of Quiapo,”) she said. However, she noticed that many people take advantage on the weak foundation of the other
nagpagpapakitaan nila ang iba.” (“I do not want to judge but they capitalize on the others.” ) This image of making profit out of the weakness of other is the most shocking statement she told. From Hidalgo Street up to Carriedo
Street, the image of vendors selling these amulets for money is, perhaps, a representation of the folk Christianity in Quiapo. Indeed, folk Christianity in Quiapo is still present and will remain present in the place. It has become a part of the everyday life of people from all walks of life flocking to Quiapo. It has defined Quiapo as a place where different religions meet. Quiapo has become a site where folk beliefs are integrated. Through the wide streets of Carriedo and Hidalgo, to the narrow lanes near G. Puyat Street, the spirit of folk Christianity is very alive through the fortunetellers and vendors. Folk Christianity will continue to exist because of the faith of the believers and commercialism. After visiting Quiapo I realized that Filipinos, no matter who they worship, remain to be religious and faithful, be it Jesus the Nazarene, Allah or even Bathala. Perhaps, this steadfastness in the Almighty influences the colorful lifestyle Filipinos live out today. This perhaps is the mystery of our everyday lives.