‘Buong barrio po namin nandito’: Traslacion as a family tradition

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Many devotees of the Black Nazarene have been attending the annual procession for years, often with their entire families in tow. Photo by JILSON TIU

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “Panata” is a word I kept hearing on Jan. 9 as I combed the streets of Manila during the annual Traslacion. The event, a day-long procession to move the Black Nazarene from Intramuros to Quiapo Church, attracts millions of devotees each year from nearby locales like Tondo, Baclaran, Sta. Ana, and Sta. Mesa, and neighboring cities like Quezon City, Caloocan, Mandaluyong, and San Juan — their chapter names and hometowns printed on the backs of their maroon and yellow shirts.

“Panata” means to make a vow, or more accurately, a vow of gratitude. But for some devotees, expressing this gratitude means more than traversing just the six kilometers from the Quirino Grandstand to the Basilica, but rather, as far as 100 kilometers from their hometowns. Following the procession, I walked along the route to talk to such devotees and learn why they make the journey out each year.

For 41-year-old Joy Sapasap, she joins the procession to thank the Black Nazarene for her eldest child's good health. When he was younger, he was so sickly that he would end up in the hospital almost every week. Her father, a longtime devotee, advised her: “Sabi ng tatay ko, ipampanata mo.”

Her eldest is now 23 years old, and as we speak is making his way to the andas, or the carriage, to join thousands of others in an attempt to touch or wipe a towel on the image — an act that is said to bring good luck and healing. 

Joy Sapasap.jpg “Nitong year na ‘to, ang daming sakit,” says 41-year-old Joy Sapasap. “Pero naka-survive kami ... ‘Yun bang, ‘yung sa pagsubok na ‘yun, [thankful] kami [sa Nazareno] kasi naka-survive kaming lahat.” Photo by JILSON TIU

“Fourteen years old pa lang siya sumasampa na siya. Hinihintay na lang namin sila. Kaya parang nag-picnic kami dito,” she says pointing to their spot on the sidewalk where several of her children nap on a blanket, each one with a “VIVA NAZARENO” headband tied around their foreheads.

Sapasap grew up in Tondo and spent her childhood attending the procession with her father. Moving to Cavite with her husband did not deter her from returning, and has since continued the tradition with her own children. “Hindi pa rin nawawala sa amin ‘yung kultura namin at saka ‘yung panata namin,” she says.

This year, she says that she and her family aren’t asking for much from the Black Nazarene, rather, they are here to give thanks for getting through the year.

“Nitong year na ‘to, ang daming sakit. Ilan ang anak kong nagka-dengue? Dalawa. Bukod pa ako,” says Sapasap. “Pero naka-survive kami ... ‘Yun bang, ‘yung sa pagsubok na ‘yun, [thankful] kami [sa Nazareno] kasi naka-survive kaming lahat.”

“May hinihiling pa rin ako, pero hindi na [katulad] nung noon. Marami rin kaming blessing kasi.”

Thelma Basoy Aiza and Frederick Veldad.jpg When Aiza Veldad's son contracted measles and pneumonia in 2013, her husband Frederick attended Traslacion in order to bring home a blessed towel, which the family believes helped him get better. Today, his wife, children, and mother-in-law join him for their first procession. Photo by JILSON TIU

Nearby, seated on a tarp laid out on an island, are Aiza Veldad and her family, who live in Santa Rosa, Laguna. They too are here to give thanks to the Black Nazarene for saving their child, whom they have also brought along with them.

“Itong batang ‘to, muntikan nang mamatay,” says Aiza pointing to her son, who had contracted measles and pneumonia in 2013. “Noong unang-unang punta [ng asawa ko] dito, kapapasok lang ng ospital.”

“Siya lang pumunta [sa Traslacion] nung taon na ‘yun,” Aiza continues. “‘Yung dala niyang towel pagpunta niya dito, inilatag lang namin doon sa higaan niya sa ospital. [Pagkatapos nun], lumaban siya.”

Pacita Lopez.jpg Pacita Lopez travels from Magalang, Pampanga each year to give thanks to the Black Nazarene for blessing her with a daughter. “[Itong baby ko] nilimos namin dito,” she says. “Kaya lumaki na siya dito.” Photo by JILSON TIU

Further up the route, dozens of devotees seek shade at a jeepney terminal. Many also have their children in tow — some as young as toddlers. Worshippers are advised not to bring young kids to the procession for their safety. But just like Sapasap and Veldad, they believe that the Black Nazarene is the very reason their children are alive. The same goes for Magalang, Pampanga resident Pacita Lopez.

Lopez is a staunch devotee, commuting from Magalang to Manila not only for Traslacion, but for the fiesta of Tondo and Holy Week as well. She has been attending Traslacion since 1998, when she first asked the Black Nazarene to grant her with a child. Over 10 years later, she finally conceived a baby girl.

Lopez has not stopped attending even after the birth of her daughter. Instead, she has made it a point to bring her along each year.

“[Itong baby ko] nilimos namin dito,” she says of the eight-year-old girl beside her. “Kaya lumaki na siya dito.”

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Aivan Balatar and Jessica Avecilla.jpg “Iba ang pakiramdam namin dito. Parang faith na po talaga namin na sumama dito,” says Lemery, Batangas residents Aivan Balatar on why he, his aunt Jessica Avecilla, and their entire clan and neighbors have been attending the procession for 10 years. Photo by JILSON TIU

Of all the people I spoke to, perhaps Jessica Avecilla and her nephew, Aivan Balatar, hailed from the farthest hometown. Coming from Lemery, Batangas, which is about three to four hours away from Manila, the two boarded a truck at midnight and arrived at Quirino with all their relatives and neighbors at around 4 a.m.

Avecilla tells me that they are about 50 in total. “Halos lahat ng pamilya namin nandito,” says Balatar. “Buong barrio po namin nandito.”

“Si [Nazareno] po kasi dumarating sa amin every year,” adds Balatar. “Kasi tabing-dagat po kami. Then ‘pag dinadala siya, maraming huli ng mga isda sa amin.”

Despite the yearly visits to their town, it has become their family’s custom to make the trip out to Manila. This is their 10th year in attendance.

When asked why they keep coming back, Balatar says, “Iba ang pakiramdam namin dito. Parang faith na po talaga namin na sumama dito.”

Jun.jpg Retired police officer Jun Odiver has been a devotee of the Black Nazarene for 30 years. “Ipinamamana ko na sa kanila [ang tradisyon,]” he says of his family, who started accompanying him five years ago. Photo by JILSON TIU

At around noon somewhere near Carriedo, 60-year-old Jun Odiver makes his way towards the procession, which is now inching its way through Binondo. Coming from Bacoor, Cavite, Odiver left his home at 7 a.m., and had just arrived moments earlier.

Odiver has been a devotee of the Black Nazarene since he became a policeman some 30 years ago, when he first joined the procession alone. He attributes his getting the job to his devotion, and continues to attend even long after he has retired.

Nowadays, he no longer attends alone. He is joined by his family, whose good health he also thanks the Nazarene for. They have been accompanying him for years now, their attendance — their devotion — a family tradition of sorts.

“Siguro mga limang taon [na nila ako sinasamahan dito],” says Odiver. “Noon, ako lang mag-isa. Eh, syempre ngayon, [dahil matanda na ako] nahihirapan na tayo. Ipinamamana ko na sa kanila.”