Who Was Hara Humamay, the Queen of Cebu?
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Known as the Queen of Cebu, this mysterious, leading woman was the wife of Rajah Humabon, the ruler of Cebu during the time of the arrival of Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, and his crew in the year of 1521. Stories of her come both from fact and myth, handed down from generation to generation. Her real name is up to debate with no concrete written record of it. Some say her name was Hara Humamay/Humahay, Hara being the native term for a female ruler. Others however say instead of Humamay, her name was Amihan. These two prominent names are not written in any of the records of this Cebu queen however, and thus is based on oral history. Whether she was really named Humamay, Amihan, was known by both names, or neither, we can discuss that forever. However we do know that she in fact existed based on historical accounts and descriptions of her, and that she witnessed the arrival of Magellan and the first Spaniards to the islands of what would later collectively be known as the Philippines.

There are very few references of Hara Humamay to get a detailed look into who she was other than being the wife of Rajah Humabon. Because of this the mystery of her life is something historians and curious minded people like myself will continue to ponder upon.

Who was she?

When was she born?

Was she originally born in Cebu or another part of the Bisayas?

How old was she when Magellan arrived and they gave her a wooden figure of the Santo Nino?

Did she have any children?

When did she die?

What were her roles as the wife of Rajah Humabon?

There are so many questions that I, as an aspiring, amateur anthropologist and archaeologist, want to ask, dig up, and find the answers to that may never be answered. Despite her existence in our historical records being told in very little detail, the fact she existed and her life story fascinates me. Not only was she a prominent figure in Cebu during this time, but she is also known as the first woman, in fact the first person, to accept Catholicism in our islands with her delight and acceptance of the Santo Nino. The figure would later become not just a major figure in Christianity to future generations on the islands as the religion arrived and spread, but became another deity in the many number of deities the Animistic and Polytheistic people of the Bisayas believed in. Though for me during the conversions in Cebu that were conducted, I believe that they didn’t really fully understand what was going on as we know that after Magellan’s crew left and he died, the people of Cebu still practiced their indigenous religion when Miguel López de Legazpi arrived in 1565.

But what do we know of her? 

Most of the little information we have on Hara Humamay is from the records of the Italian scholar, Antonio Pigafetta, who was Magellan’s assistant and chronicler by order of the King of Spain, Charles I. He was also one of the very few survivors from the Battle of Mactan and afterwords on the journey back to Spain. His journals are looked at to picture the events that took place during Magellan’s expedition and the people they saw and met.

According to Pigafetta, Hara Humamay was a young, beautiful, and regal woman. She painted her lips and nails very red, and constantly wore a large salakot hat, made out of palm leaves that acted like a parasol. She also wore a crown around it made of the same leaves that in Pigafetta’s words were like the “tiara of the pope”. According to him, these she always wore and never left without, even having several pairs of hats that were carried around by her female slaves and attendants, wherever she went. In both passages of her, she wore white and black clothing. She also had a large silk scarf adorned with gold stripes that went over her head and laid on her shoulders.

Here is a passage of her during the baptism of Cebu as chronicled by Pigafetta.

After dinner the priest and some of the others went ashore to baptize the queen, who came with forty women. We conducted her to the platform, and she was made to sit down upon a cushion, and the other women near her, until the priest should be ready.

She was shown an image of our Lady, a very beautiful wooden child Jesus, and a cross. Thereupon, she was overcome with contrition, and asked for baptism amid her tears. We named her Juana, after the emperors mothers; her daughter, the wife of the prince, Catherina; the queen of Mazua, Lisabeta; and the others, each their distinctive name. Counting men, women, and children, we baptized eight hundred souls.

The queen was young and beautiful, and was entirely covered with a white and black cloth. Her mouth and nails were very red, while on her head she wore a large hat of palm leaves in the manner of a parasol, with a crown about it of the same leaves, like the tiara of the pope; and she never goes any place without such a one. She asked us to giver her the little child Jesus to keep in place of her idols; and then she went away.

During the Baptism, Hara Humamay was named after a queen of Spain, Juana, and thus would be known as Queen Juana of Cebu to the descendants of her people in Cebu generations later, especially through the religious festival, Sinulog. This same wooden figure would later be rediscovered by Legazpi and his men when they arrived in Cebu during the reign of Rajah Tupas, the nephew of Rajah Humabon and Hara Humamay, inside one of the houses in the village. It is clear that they accepted the Santo Nino and added him to their pantheon of deities, which we can still see today among the Sulod of Panay who one of their deities is named Santonilyo, the god of good graces, according to Pilipino anthropologist, F. Landa Jocano, who helped record the Panay Epic of the Hinilawod. Hara Humamay’s devotion to the wooden figure of the Santo Nino must have been very great to have survived between the years of Magellan and Legazpi’s arrival.

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In another passage of Hara Humamay describes her and her female attendants a bit more in detail.

One day the queen came with great pomp to hear mass. Three girls preceded her with three of her hats in their hands. She was dressed in black and white with a large silk scarf, crossed with gold stripes thrown over her head, which covered her shoulders; and she had on her hat. A great number of women accompanied her, who were all naked and barefoot, except that they had a small covering of palm-tree cloth before their privies, and a small scarf upon the head, and all with hair flowing free. The queen, having made the due reverence to the altar, seated herself on a silk embroidered cushion. Before the commencement of the mass, the captain sprayed her and some of her women with musk rosewater, for they delighted exceedingly in such perfumes. The captain knowing that the queen was very much pleased with the child Jesus, gave it to her, telling her to keep it in place of her idols, for it was in memory of the son of God. Thanking him heartily she accepted it.

One can only imagine her presence as she walked along the shores of Cebu to the mass and to wherever she went with her followers of women behind her. The closest I can think of this is the portrayal of Hara Lingayan in GMA’s period drama, Amaya.

Besides these passages however that is all we know of her as she isn’t mentioned again in historical records. We don’t know anything else, of whether she bore children or whether she was present when her nephew, Rajah Tupas, fought against Legazpi and his men. We can assume some time between the years 1521-1565, her husband Rajah Humabon died as his nephew became the last reigning Rajah of Cebu. Whether he died due to natural causes, a natural disaster, or killed in battle, remains a mystery and unless by chance we manage to find his burial site (as we know they buried their dead, especially those of nobility, in high regard and care, often being buried with their gold, possessions, and in the case of the nobility, a few of their slaves) we won’t really know. But was Hara Humamay present when Legazpi arrived? Did she die as well prior? Did she get sick along with her husband? Did she die before him? Or was she still there during Rajah Tupas reign but wasn’t recognized as the woman who Magellan gave the Santo Nino to, by Legazpi?

For me, it would be a great discovery if we ever found her or Rajah Humabon’s graves, as they can give a picture and time frame of how and when they died. Of course archaeology studies in the Philippines is lacking due to lack of support and funds for these expeditions, even with archaeological sites already discovered due to the lack of interest by the government to protect and excavate these sites little is done  to learn more about them. Not to mention finding such possible graves would be difficult due to grave robbers in the past, fear of them in the future, and the desecration of graves from the Spaniards who stumbled upon them and took the gold from the graves of our ancestors as we know again from historical accounts.

My never ending questions of who exactly was this Queen of Cebu will forever be asked and all I can do to satisfy them is to think in my mind stories of who she might have been as a person, a wife, and leader. I can picture in my mind her walking along the beach, talking and gossiping like todays young women, with her hand maidens around her discussing about the weather, of trade between neighboring islands and foreigners from China and Luzon, beauty, stories and epics passed down to them, of wishing for the success of another mangayaw, or raid, during the raiding season and for the men to come back home safely, of the success of another harvest. But alas, that curiosity of the life of Hara Humamay will forever be a mystery unsolved and imagined.

Paintings of Hara Humamay are all by renowned Pilipino artist, Manuel Panares.

 

 

2 Responses

  1. Urduja

    Hi Ligaya, i love your site. Just like you, i am in this inward journey as well and it feels good to know that i am not alone. I feel prouder and prouder each day knowing that i had a very established culture centuries before the Colonizers came.
    I am from Southern Cebu in a province known as Argao and my Uncles told me that back in the 60’s and 70’s they were doing an excavation in our barangay and they found a grave yard of skeletons, human bones in jars with lots of gold, jars and bowls and pots. Unfortunately no carbon dating was ever done. Looting was massive. People stole the artifacts and sold it to black market. It is unfortunate. It would have been a piece in a puzzle of our long lost culture. I am sad…

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  2. Ligaya

    Ah that is unfortunate to hear! I’m really interested in going into anthropology and archaeology and working in the Philippines. Every time there is another discovery of some artifact or archaeological site, which isn’t often as I wish it would, I get so excited however I know that so much knowledge has been lost because of lack of support for excavations, protection of already known excavation sites, and looters.

    There have probably been many burial sites destroyed by looters both during the past during the colonial periods and now. We know that the burial customs throughout many of the ethnic groups were very intricate and people were often buried with their gold ornaments and other items to take with them to the afterlife and for the gold, at least for the Bisayans, it was to get a good life in the afterlife. Most were buried by caves and by the shores and rivers and even underneath homes so it’s a wonder why not much has been found yet. Of course probably it has but never reported and most simply looted. This further aggravates me because those items could shed more light into our past and history.

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