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|Ina Poon Bato|
Mary in the Realm of Filipino Folklore
by Tess Lopez
Long before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Philippines was inhabited by waves of immigrants like the Aetas, Malays and Indonesians. The Aetas were the original black-skinned inhabitants who lived along the coastlines into the steep hills and mountains. Their religion was animistic and performed rituals to their gods called anitos. Having no written historical accounts, much of their folklore, customs and traditions were handed down orally. One such is the story of Djadig, a Aeta leader who was a special man revered for his unmatched skills in hunting with bow and arrow. No one in all the tribes could run as fast as he, and it was known that even without arrows Djadig could capture the fleetest deer. Among the Negrito people he was the acknowledged leader of leaders.
It was during a hunting expedition with his three sons that he first experienced a miracle. The hunting party had stopped to rest at the bank of the Pastac River when an ethereal voice filled the air, commanding, "Get up, Djadig. Look for me. Come and take me home with you."
The voice had come from the top of a towering rock where Djadig, alone, saw a beautiful lady shining like the sun and dressed in shimmering gold. Her hair was like the sunlight, her eyes dark and filled with compassion. He was drawn to the spot instinctively, like metal to a magnet, all the time his eyes entranced by the vision. As he drew closer his vision dematerialized and the beautiful Lady remained only an image carved on shining gold wood.
"Take me home with you," the ethereal voice commanded again, and Djadig instinctively obeyed.
When he reached home, his wife was unwilling to believe his mysterious tale. Angry that he had neglected his duties as a hunter, she seized the wooden image and cast it indignantly into their fire pit. Flames shot up instantly, burning the walls and ceiling, and before help could arrive, Djadig's hut was reduced to ashes. "Wait Look!" exclaimed the children, who were poking the glowing embers with a bamboo pole, "The shinning image is not burned." It was true. The image was intact and still shining like gold. With due honors, the Negritos reverently enshrined the image on the selfsame rock where Djadig had discovered it.
When the Dominicans arrived in 1680, they heard about the appearance of this “Beautiful Lady”. When the shining image discovered by Djadig was revealed to the Spanish missionaries, they were forced to believe that their own Reverend Mother had preceded them. The Negritos explained that "Ina Poonbato" was the source of many miracles to them. She was their patroness and the provider of rains, filling the mountains with deer and an abundance of food. When an image of the Virgin Mary was presented to the Negrito people, they were delighted to see that it was a replica of their own patroness, "Ina Poonbato". Today, a landmark stands on the spot where the “Beautiful Lady” appeared which is visited by pilgrims.
When the Recollects visited San Fernando de Rivera,(when?) they changed the name to Poonbato and built a church of light materials. They enshrined the image of the Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje as the patron saint of the Aetas of Poonbato. The image came from Mexico.
In 1896 or 1897, the Reverend Father Julian Jimenez was brutally murdered while saying Mass. After the priest’s death, the parish of Poonbato did not have any resident priest. The church building was torn down and burned. There are conflicting reports that the image of the Virgin was smashed and thrown in the river while others report that the image was burned.
With the absence of a Catholic Church, the Philippine Independent Church or Aglipayan Church established a foothold in Poonbato and built a church there. They also enshrined an image of the Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje carved in Pampanga. From the early 1900’s to the1940’s the fiesta of the place was hosted by the Aglipayans.
Eventually in 1945, a Catholic priest was assigned to say Mass in some barrios including that of Poonbato. With the guidance of Bishop Byrne, donation for a piece of land was negotiated for a church in Poonbato. The donor was Mrs. Gerido from Manila. The church was constructed with the help of Elizabeth Chan, a mosaic artist who studied in Venice. The priest then went to the Aglipayan Church to have an idea of what the statue of Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje looked like which was supposed to be a copy of the original statue brought by the friars in 1894. The statue was small with the height of two inches, hair loosely hanging over the shoulders. The carved statue had a simple dress which was ankle length and the Virgin’s arms were outstretched like hands beckoning. Over her dress was a simple unadorned blue cape. The Virgin’s face had features of a Spanish or mestiza woman.
The priest then went to Manila and sought out a famous carver, Maximo Vicente to carve the image of Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje. When it was finished, the priest brought back the image to Poonbato and was enthroned in the niche above the altar. The Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje is locally known as Apo de la Paz or Apo Apang.
The original image of Our Lady brought by the friars in 1894 is long gone and in subsequent years, various renditions of the image of Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje of Poonbato have been sculptured. The position of her hands which are now praying hands differ from the original outstretched hands. Versions of Our Lady have been reproduced. Nevertheless, the devotion of Our Lady of Poonbato continues to be a favorite devotion to the people of Zambales.