Bastion of machos

Every year, on the 9th of January, able-bodied Manileños converge with fanatical resolve at the Quiapo church, in Plaza Miranda, to expiate their sins during a frenzied procession in honor of the Black Nazarene. The icon is ancient enough, as large and burdensome as life itself, judging from the groans and howls of the devotees as they heave and bear the black Christ along the crowded streets of Manila, with biceps swollen from the exertion, shoulders of steel glimmering with sweat. The thunderous Black Nazarene procession is definitely not for the limp-wristed or the androgynous; it is probably the last and only bastion of the macho Filipino.

According to legend, the Nazarene is black because it was charred during an accidental fire ages ago, or that centuries of incense and candle smoke formed a dark patina similar to that of the bulols or granary gods of the Ifugao. From what I have read, the black Christ came from across the Pacific Ocean during the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade.

In the glory days of the war-like Aztecs, they built military garrisons along roads used for trade and also shrines to Yacatecuhtli, the protector of travel and all commercial activities. Yacatecuhtli was a black god usually represented with arms outstretched and with a crossroads in the background looking like a big letter X. Yacatecuhtli was worshipped in Veracruz (a famous port) and Oaxaca in the southern trade route). There were other black deities like Tezcatlipoca, also a patron of trade, and the Mayan god Ek Chuac (Black Star) decorated with rope-like designs similar to the twine merchants used to bind their cargo. In Guatemala and El Salvador, there were similar dark-hued deities.

The early Spanish missionaries must have been discomfited to find native gods portrayed so much like the crucified Christ and horrified that these were black; yet, they must have made the task of Christianization a bit easier. For a time, Tezcatlipoca was installed in a side altar of a Catholic Church but the Spanish friars maliciously changed his name to Señor del Veneno or Lord of Poison. Soon after, they tried to bleach the black idols, claiming that these had miraculously turned white, but their cheap ruse was exposed when some parts of the wood, impervious to whitening, retained blotches of the original dark tint. Perhaps in their glory days, Yacatecuhtli and Tezcatlipoca were paraded along the streets of ancient Mexico in a frenzied festival for the macho Azteco.