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Isla De Binondo

by Señor Guillermo Gomez Rivera


Those who forgot are now reminded that Binondo, geographically speaking, used to be an Island.  And one that is rich in history, in architecture, in dress, in jewelry, in cuisine, in music, in dance and in culture due to its having been converted, by both the Spanish Missionaries and their industrious Chinos Cristianos, into the economic capital of the Philippines during the two-century long Galleon Trade.

The Galleon trade almost started with the founding of Manila as the Cabecera of the Filipino State under the Crown of Spain. 

It started when Juan de Salcedo, Legaspi's Mexican nephew, rescued some Chinese traders that were held by the Taal Tagalogs as unwelcomed intruders.  The Spanish Manila Government gave these rescued traders all the facilities to return home to China.

After a short time, these rescued Chinese traders gratefully returned to Manila with ships filled with silk, tassels, porcelain, jade, sandal wood furniture, piedras de China, preserved food and many other Chinese products that amazed the Conquistadores headed by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi.

It did not take long for the Spaniards to understand that the growth of their newly organized Filipino State could only survive with the help of Chinese traders.  The Spanish Missionaries quickly learned Chinese and forcefully worked to convert the Chinese traders in Catholicism.  In the 1950's, the first bi-lingual Spanish Chinese books published in Asia appeared in Binondo.  These were “Shilu” or the Apologia for Christianity and the “Doctrina Christiana” of xilographic  and typographic Chino Cristiano printers, Juan De Vera Kenyong and Tomas Pinpin, who are also our first writers in Spanish… Both books were published in Chinese characters and in Spanish letters.  The great fusion of Spanish and Chinese culture began in Binondo, an ancient center of Catholic Christianity next to Intramuros.

Since only male Chinese were allowed by China to come to these Islands, previously known to them as “land of snakes and savages”, the Spanish Friar Missionaries got busy in marrying them with already Christianized Indio-Tagala women, thus creating a new Christian and Hispanic Asian race that was classified as Mestizo for social identity and cedula purposes.

Up to the 1980's, the “Diccionario de Filipinismos” of Wenceslao Retana defines “Mestizo” as individuals who are descendants of Chinos Christianos and their indigenous or Indio wives.

Binondo society was classified into three Gremios or trade unions.  There was the Gremio de Chinos Cristianos, the Gremo de Mestizos (composed, as we said, of the descendants of Sino-Tagalog marriages) and the Gremio de Naturales or Indios (i.e. Indigenous Tagalog)

Because of trade and the Dominican Universidad de Santo Tomas and the Binondo parochial schools, those that belonged to both the Gremio de Chinos Cristianos and the Gremio de Mestizos became predominantly Spanish speaking.  These two Spanish speaking Gremios literally made Spanish the Official Language of the newly-born Filipino State in the centuries to come.  Since the members of this two Gremios were taxpayers of King Philippe (Felipe II) of Spain, they were also called “Felipenos” or followers and supporters of Felipe.  But the phoneme “E” is inexistent in old Tagalog and this led to the oral replacement of “E” for “I” eventually turning “Felipeno” into “Filipino” of “Pilipino”

In time, Spanish Peninsulares (from the Iberian Peninsula) and Insulares (Islanders), called Criollos, intermarried with Chino-Christiano and Mestizo folk from the mentioned Gremios or Sectores thus creating a more numerous new Mestizaje group called Mestizo Terciado, ---- a beautiful mix of native, Chinese and Spanish stock.  Present day examples of this Mestizo Terciado ancestry are the descendants of the Ongpin-Domingo marriage.  The Roces, the Tuason, the Delgado, and even the Zobel-Roxas families, are also Mestizos Terciados not to mention Manuel Luiz Quezon, Jose Rizal, Padre Jose Burgos and Marcelo H. del Pilar.

With this historical and socio-cultural backdrop, it is then easier to understand why the Santa Cruz de Hiloñgos, then miraculously found in the center of Binundok, has been always venerated, with joysticks, candles and sampaguita garlands, by all Binondeños both in the old Binondo church and at the altar in a corner near Ongpin (San Jacinto) and Nueva streets.

The La Naval procession of Nuestra Señora del Santisimo Rosario, the Patroness of the old Chino Cristiano and Mestizo Gremios, becomes as Binondeño as the Paypay dance, the mariposa Bella or Paruparung bukid, the playful El Pipit as well as the super-festive Jota Sevillana that displays the main product of the galleon trade: the silk-tasseled and exquisitely embroidered Manton de Manila.

ISLA DE BINONDO is a native Filipino ballet of World class proportions made possible by the Choreographic genius of Bong Jose, the very skillful musical direction of Lito Vale Cruz and the energetic performance of the wonderful Bayanihan dancers.  With this obra, the Bayanihan Dance Company goes beyond folk-dance to become an amazingly spectacular cultural history teller through dance, music and effects that are purely Filipino. 

Viva, Ole and Mabuhay!!!




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