Niñal: Naked and sacred

THE first time I heard the word “hubo” used in a religious context, I was shocked. It was in 1990, the first time the Hubo ritual was removed from the privacy of the Basilica rectory to become a public spectacle, the devotees’ last display of force to bid Sinulog goodbye.

But to a hormone-charged young man like me, the word was hot, which made it incompatible with concepts that were suspicious of sex, such as religion.

Where I grew up in the province, men shouted, “Hubo, hubo, hubo!” to women performing on stage during fiesta celebrations, the way noontime show audience now shout “sampol, sampol, sampol” at celebrity guests. As young boys, we burn with excitement at movie scenes showing women taking off their shoes.

Do women feel the same way about men stripping? I don’t know. But something’s just sexy about the act of undressing.

“We’re going to the Sto. Niño Church for the Hubo mass,” my mother told me. “Hubo what?” I asked. “Hubo mass,” she said.

She explained that in the mass, there would be a ritual where the Sto. Niño is stripped of his royal garments, bathed then dressed in ordinary robe, similar to what we call as “pang-uran.” He is then retired to a secret chamber in the rectory, hidden from his loyal following, until it’s showtime once again next Sinulog.

“Who undresses the Sto. Niño?” I asked. Mother said it’s the priests, assisted by nuns and altar boys and altar girls, with the choir singing in the background, in full view of the congregation that filled the church to the rafters.

That’s a lot of people watching you strip. What devotee in his right mind would subject the Sto. Niño to such an embarrassing situation? I asked myself. The replica of his sex organ, tinier than that of most kids, is going to be exposed. I gasped at the thought. Or maybe I was just dirty-minded.

“You’re just dirty minded,” a priest friend told me last Saturday, a day after the Hubo mass, which is celebrated on the Friday following the Sinulog Sunday.

“There’s a rich symbolism, a deep religious significance in Hubo,” he said. “It’s about emptying of ourselves, letting go of our old ways, starting a new life, opening ourselves in obedience to the Father,” he said.

Then he showed me photos of the Sto. Niño in various stages of undress that he took with his phone during the Hubo mass.

“Stop, father, stop,” I said. I was close to tears, like what usually happens when I’m reminded of my sins. “Are you crying?” my friend asked. “Forgive me, father, I’ve been so judgmental to others,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he asked. I said, “Those girls at Juana Osmeña, father. They’re naked, well, almost. I thought they were just partying. I failed to see the religious significance in what they were doing.”

Then I showed him some photos of the Juana Osmeña girls in various stages of nudity taken with my phone on Sinulog Sunday.

“Stop it, stop,” my priest friend said. He was close to tears, like what usually happens when he’s reminded of his sins, he said.
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