It’s Thursday the 26th now and I’m trying to remember what happened last Saturday, 21 April, our first full day in Cebu. It was an amazing day. Despite the set-back of the news that the Battle of Mactan Re-enactment was not happening, I forged ahead with my family in tow. They have been incredibly good sports about my dragging them about and being on my research schedule (even when there’s no clear schedule to speak of or things change, suddenly, as they do on journeys).
Writing historical fiction is sometimes like being a bloodhound. You have to sniff out the scent, follow the faint and lingering clues of history. The most obvious places to research are museums, bookstores, libraries, and monuments. Last Saturday, April 21st, we toured Cebu City’s Big 3: The Santo Nino (which sounds like Ninyo when I can get the Spanish tilde to work) Basilica, Magellan’s Cross, and Fort San Pedro.
The Santo Ninyo was a gift given by Magellan to “Queen Juana” (aka Humaymay) after her “baptism”. I put these things in annoying little quotes because, like most really good stories, everything depends on one’s interpretation and viewpoint. The Santo Ninyo is a statue of the Christ Child, or as I like to think of him, Baby Jesus (sounds friendlier and more accessible to me). Fort San Pedro is the earliest Spanish stronghold in Cebu from which the rest of the island was colonized; it was used by the Spanish government for defense. And Magellan’s Cross is a replica of the original one implanted by Ferdinand Magellan on the shores of Cebu.
[This is a very simplified and cursory overview of those historical sites. Mostly ’cause it’s getting late and this blogger is tired!]
What’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t visited the Philippines is this incredible sense of spirituality that permeates the air and slides in, under my skin. Yes, perhaps it’s humidity. Or perhaps it’s just the heat. But, no, I am just being flippant — because it really is hard to explain the sincerity and fervor of prayer here. Old women stand in front of the Basilica selling thin, red tapered candles to light when people make petitions to the Christ Child.
One of the things I find amazing is the thought that people humble themselves down to ask for very basic things that we all want: Health. Security. Love. Peace. Food.
Before I left, I had been reading a field guide for historical fiction writers. They say that field research is a very risky thing. Who knows if the book will even sell to recoup the expenses of such a grandiose trip? This is a very practical concern. But my completely impractical take on it is: When else would I have the chance to have a transformational journey like this? To share the history of my heritage with my husband and pass on this knowledge to our son?
But the field guide also said that there’s nothing like experiencing something first hand. Whether it’s following the Oregon Trail by covered wagon or talking to re-enactors about how to card wool. If I could step back in time, I would, just to get Cebu, Mactan and that gorgeous and dangerous time period inside my bones — because, in the end, that’s how we write the most powerful stuff. From the inside out.