Masonic Myths and Revolutionary Feats in Negros Occidental

Article excerpt

In the sugar-producing province of Negros Occidental in the central Philippines, a monument stands in the town centre of Bago extolling the local hero of a one-day revolution that brought down Spanish rule in this province in 1898, a sugar planter named Juan Araneta, who appears in a triumphal pose astride his horse. The statue resembles other war memorials of its kind, and on the face of it, there is nothing exceptional about this monument, which was erected soon after Araneta's death in 1924, except possibly that the plaque is in Spanish and begins with the words "In Memoriam", giving it more the aura of a tombstone rather than of a triumphal conquest. While very few local people have the proficiency to read a Spanish text, the linguistic barrier does not detach Juan Araneta from the populace. Indeed, to the local people the monument lives, acquiring vibrancy in the narratives they tell with enduring conviction about Araneta's ability to fly as he fides his magical horse.(1) The legendary tales the people of Negros continually relate about Juan Araneta and other key personages of the province, in my view, offer abundant possibilities for interpreting the popular memory of the revolution against Spain and its cultural significance to Negrense society. The same may also be said about other characters in Philippine history, but the mythological dimension of events deemed central to the birth of the nation have received little scholarly attention.(2)

Admittedly, social memories are problematic, fragmentary and often incoherent, and popular reminiscences, including those inscribed in myths and legends, are affected by the social and political circumstances of the ethnographic present. Nonetheless, they can provide a critical route for us to understand and explain the past meaningfully.(3) To unravel the popular understanding of the collapse of Spanish rule in Negros Occidental, this article provides an analysis of legendary stories gathered during fieldwork in 1990. Attention to mythical "big men" is here not intended as an iconic veneration of an elite, but neither is it meant to cast aspersions upon their persons. Rather, folkloric narratives are analysed to help uncover the cultural foundations of the hegemony of the sugar planter (hacendero) class that dominates Negros society. Notable historical figures of that class, as well as present-day wealthy elites, are often spoken of by ordinary people in images of the devil associated with Masonry, which in turn form part of a larger complex of indigenous spirit-beliefs.

The origins and meanings of Masonic-related imageries are here examined to comprehend the mythical symbolism of the region's export-oriented sugar economy, particularly as these relate to another legendary figure, Isidro de la Rama. Immersed in anti-Catholic imageries, the success of the hacendero class in ending Spanish colonial rule is encapsulated in the fantastic accounts about Juan Araneta's heroism. In my reconstruction of these folkloric fragments, I argue that Araneta's mythical achievements overshadowed the resistance against Spanish rule posed by peasant men of prowess, one of whom was Papa Isio, whose peasant millenialism drew upon the Catholic emblems of the friar establishment, the symbolic terrain opposed by the hacendero class as exemplified by de la Rama and Araneta. The triumph of hacendero magic over both Spain and Papa Isio anchored the hegemony of the planter class in strong cosmological moorings.

Merchant Capitalism and the Inquisitorial Mentality

Starting from around the time of the brief occupation of Manila by the British in the 1760s, the friar-dominated Catholic establishment in the Spanish Philippines systematically denounced the Extrangeros (foreigners, i.e., non-Spaniards) who engaged in mercantile activities in the colony as "Protestants" and "Masons", or sometimes "Jews", but at all events as enemies of Catholic Spain.(4) However, the friars' name-calling stratagem which relied upon medieval Inquisitorial labels was somewhat anachronistic. …