HomeManilavol. 8 no. 1 (2012)

Hijos de Enero 9: Quiapo’s Black Nazarene Procession as a Male Rite of Passage

Jose Alain Austria

Discipline: Philippine History



The January 9 procession (the Translación) of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, Manila, is not only the biggest among the active male-dominated Cristo Negro cults of the former Spanish empire. It is also known for its riotous nature – a very risky procession not for the faint-hearted, an annual security nightmare. Not surprisingly, the Catholic hierarchy (since the 1930’s) has repeatedly tried to exert its authority over the whole ritual to make it fit into the “template” of a conventional procession: solemn, orderly, peaceful, not so “folk Catholic.” Yet it seems that the adrenalin-filled procession refuses to be tamed. This year [2011] approximately 6.5 million devotees flocked to Quiapo and the Luneta, joining the longest procession on record of sixteen hours. What is often overlooked by many observers and critics is that the procession of the Black Nazarene is not just a religious event.


A very complex sociocultural phenomenon, the Translación is also an annual rite of passage for the young men of Manila’s inner city districts. Thus, it can be considered to serve a function similarly observed in the “Running of the Bulls” of Pamplona in Spain, and the raucous shrine-processions of Japan (participated even by the Yakuza): a challenging ritual field where young men are initiated into manhood and in the process to acquire the “power” of the image of the Nazareno.


What seems to be pure mayhem in the eyes of the on-looker, or pure faith on the part of the religious, is also a complex of herculean tasks that the young male devotee must perform not only to gain graces, but also to earn the approval of both his peers, the elder male devotees, and most importantly the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno – the image of whom serves as a “holy grail” symbol (to use Campbell’s parlance) for the whole rite of passage.