THE Jan. 23, 2010 issue of Sun.Star Cebu ran an article by Princess Dawn Felicitas, “‘Hubo’ mass marks end of feast, start of Lenten season.”

It is an excellent example of how revealing the narrow news hole can be.

The feature contains the basics of the news formula—when, where and the rest of the Ws and H—-but includes details to make long-time observers thoughtful.

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In the last paragraphs of her article—which made this reader think how in disrobing, the last items to be removed are the slightest but the ones lying closest to the skin—Felicitas narrated how the image of the Holy Infant had its crown removed first, followed by the orb, the scepter and the armlet, the bands, cape, tunic, the inner garments and finally, the boots.

The image was then dipped in perfumed water.

“The Sto. Niño was dressed up again with a less ornate attire and prayers were recited for each of the 33 pieces of clothing, which signifies an event in the life of Jesus on earth,” the reporter wrote in the article, which can be read in www.sunstar.com.ph.

Quoting from the “Hubo” mass homily of Fr. Raymundo Alcayaga, Felicitas reported that the rite represents the “self-emptying of the Lord,” as well as a call to “wear the coat of God.”

Attending the 7 a.m. mass, one of the 15 masses scheduled in the Basilica for last Friday’s “Hubo,” I heard the same message reiterated in the homily: to follow the Sto. Niño, be humble and be for others.

For this message alone, the “Hubo” rewrites the spectacle of a public undressing. Self-abasement, as a rule, does not travel on the same road as spectacles and performances.

Unlike Cebu’s devotion to the Sto. Niño, which spans centuries, the “Hubo” ritual was revealed for the first time to the public by the Augustinian fathers only in 1990. Before this, according to the same Sun.Star Cebu article, the Basilica fathers conducted the “Hubo” in private, witnessed only by a select group.

As a common noun, though, “hubo” has long been in use. These versions in Cebuano and English are more deeply rooted in the popular psyche.

In English, for instance, “to shed” can refer to acts natural and unnatural.

Only the intent of the act differentiates a snake molting skin from a performer shedding fake scales for the finale in an exotic entertainment number.

According to online dictionaries, “to shed” can also mean to “pour forth (tears),” “radiate (light),” or “repel without permitting penetration,” as duck feathers shed water.

Interesting, too, is the dialect’s variations of “hubo.”

When the word is repeated twice, “hubo-hubo” is not just a striptease but a travesty and a contradiction of the real thing.

In the shedding of inhibitions and dignity, the “hubo-hubo” mocks the revelation of the self. It turns persons—both the performer and the audience—into objects for exploitation.

In this season of politicians courting the electorate, will “Hubo” or “hubo-hubo” apply?

(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 0917-3226131)