Biniray Festival is the annual religious and cultural festival in honor of Nuestro Señor Sto. Niño de Romblon held in Romblon, the capital of Romblon, Philippines, every second Friday of January. A week-long celebration, its schedule also coincides with the Marble Festival organized by the local government to promote the province’s marble industry.
History of Biniray Festival
Biniray Festival comes from the word biniray. Sources such as the Office of the Press Secretary referred to the Binirayan Festival of Antique to explain that the word means ‘where they sailed to’. This religious observance is held to worship the Holy Child, Señor Sto. Niño de Romblon. Its image is enshrined at St. Joseph Cathedral otherwise known as Romblon Cathedral, the ecclesiastical seat of the Diocese of Romblon, the oldest church in the province, and a National Cultural Treasure since 2001.
Señor Sto. Niño de Romblon
Señor Sto. Niño de Romblon is a carved image in the likeness of the Child Jesus made of wood and measures one foot in length. Regal in appearance, it is brown in color and wears lavish vestments, grand ornaments, and a royal crown.
Its rich history goes back to the early years of Spanish colonial period. The Spaniards first came to Romblon in 1569 when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi assigned Martin de Goiti to embark on an exploration of territories north of Visayas. Historian Miguel de Loarca wrote about the island in 1582. And according to tradition, an anonymous Augustinian priest commissioned the carving of the image in that same year as a replica of Sto. Nino de Cebu whose worship is commemorated in the yearly Sinulog Festival in Cebu, Philippines.
The image was bound for Madrid, Spain and the ship carrying it from Cebu took a stop in Romblon. The weather deteriorated when it was supposed to leave the harbor. Seven times it attempted to resume its voyage for Europe and seven times it had to return to the port to take refuge amidst a raging typhoon.
Sailors decided to bring the image to a church where a mass was heard. When it was time to bring it back on board the ship, the image could not be dislodged from its place. The ship eventually sailed without it, and it remained in the island. Its presence sparked the devotion to the Holy Child that shaped the beginnings of the Biniray Festival.
Theft of Señor Sto. Niño de Romblon
The image was stolen in December 1991. Repair works were in progress at St. Joseph Cathedral when the theft occurred, and a replica was made in its stead. It later turned up after 22 years and sold to a collector in Aklan in 2013. The unnamed collector planned to participate in the Ati-Atihan Festival with the image and contacted Jun Mijare, a professor at Aklan Catholic College, to verify the claim from the dealer that it was the lost Sto. Niño of Romblon. The dealer stated that it had been kept in the closet for ten years before the sale.
For the purpose of identifying its provenance, a church worker who previously was in charge of decorating the image was brought from Romblon. The discovery was confirmed on January 30, 2013. The worker pointed out the unmistakable identifying marks: a pair of drooping eyes, the left arm that can be removed and re-attached, and cuts on the wood in its feet. Its cuts were made upon the orders of a priest due to the stories that the image would climb down from the altar and wander about in the community. According to a 2013 interview of Fr. Joebert Villasis, rector of Aklan Catholic College, it lost the crown and dress that were made of gold and other valuable items it once had worn.
The collector declined offers to sell the image and gave it free of charge to be returned to the province. Then it was brought to the residence of Romblon representative Eleandro Jesus Madrona in Quezon City. It was then brought to the Sambulig (Oneness or Unity) Festival in La Playa Resort of Tanza, Cavite on February 3, 2013 where Rombloanons gathered. Finally on February 9, 2013, the image was re-enthroned at St. Joseph Cathedral.
Devotees believed that it is miraculous and it has spared them from natural calamities, the destruction of war, and other disasters. Eduardo Firmalo, governor of the province, said in an interview it saved them from the worst impact of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) where it diverged from its predicted path and damages were confined to properties while there was zero lives lost.
Religious Biniray Festival Activities
There are religious activities in the Biniray Festival. Two of the highlights are the following:
The fluvial parade occurs in the morning after the Tonton, that is Saturday. The image is placed in a boat that leads the procession around Romblon bay, encircling the island seven times. It is a reenactment of the origin of Señor Sto. Niño de Romblon, how it came to the province, and the rise of its devotion.
Tonton ng Sto. Niño de Romblon
Tonton ng Sto. Niño de Romblon is a tradition and a religious rite where the image is brought from the cathedral to join the street procession. It comes from the word tonton, which means to bring down the image from where it’s been enthroned. It also marks the opening of the Biniray Festival. It begins at 3:00 in the afternoon of the second Friday of January, and the moment the image leaves the altar, devotees gather around and join the parade. Moreover, they leave their own images of the Holy Child at the foot of the altar to be blessed. After the procession, a mass is offered and the pahalik is done where people are allowed to approach and kiss the image.
Secular Biniray Festival Activities
Each day of the fest has specific theme such as celebration of good harvest, culture and tradition, gender equality, peace and bounty, women empowerment, family values, gender equality, life, youth, power and sportamanship, barangay affairs, faith, and talents. A few of the activities open before the official start of the fest.
There are sporting events like basketball, boxing, and volleyball. Other events include the Marble Festival, Agricultural Trade Fair, night market bazaar, beauty pageants (such as coronation of Miss Romblon, RNHS Muses, and Queen of the Isles), job fair, entertainment, cultural shows, etc.
Caranza de Romblon
Caranza de Romblon is the street dance and showdown. Dancers, like the contingents in Ati-Atihan Festival, cover themselves in mud as sign of humility. It is believed that the aboriginal people were the original settlers of the province before the coming of the Spaniards. Spectators also join in, with some of the kids wearing the attire of the Sto. Niño. The street dance takes place on Saturday, the day after Tonton.
How to reach Romblon
Book a flight from Manila to Tugdan Airport. Or you can take a bus from Metro Manila to Batangas, and from Batangas hop on a ferry bound for the island-province of Romblon.
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