Why Voyador?

“Why is your column flagged ‘voyador’?”

That is the question often thrown at me by readers of this column, Bicolanos as well as non-Bicolanos. “What does ‘voyador’ mean?”

To a fellow Bicolano my reply is an easy task. Voyador is our Bicol word that refers to the person who lifts the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia at the processions held in Her honor every September in Naga.

It is an answer brief and to the point, and we both nod our heads in agreement. We both understand not only the word but also its deep spiritual and cultural implications.

To non-Bicolanos, however, the task is not that easy. It is like asking a native-born dancer why s/he dances the way s/he does. How do you articulate what is inherent in your blood and bones? Indeed, if the dancer is one with the dance, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” as Yeats put it.

But to present it to a larger canvas we must. So let me attempt this once and for all.

Many years ago, I felt great affinity with the voyadores and wanted to be one myself, so I asked some of my elders, including priests, the meaning of voyador. Their explanations did not quite satisfy me. They did not resonate with my innermost feelings. I wanted an explanation that resonated deeply with what was deep in my heart -- and every voyador’s heart, for that matter.

Today, after many years of personal soul search and interviews and digging into my deepest thoughts, I think I could come up with some sort of adequate explanation as to where and how this revered Bicol word came to fruition.

The word itself comes from the Spanish noun “boya,” buoy, or the verb “boyar,” to float, to lift. Devotees who lift the image of the Virgin are literally buoyed up with fervor that is why they were described by our ancestors as “muy boyante,” buoyant, cheerful each time they’d cry out “Viva la Virgen!” -- a raucous behavior to non-Bicolanos unaware of the origins of this devotion that date back to the montesinos (mountain people) or cimarrones of pre-Christian Bicol.

Naga has always been a Marian city. In an open market for religious symbols, I have always been amazed by how the Marian symbol had emerged the most universal of all symbols. Every major artist, past and present, has painted at least one Madonna. Poets sing of Mary. Cathedrals have been erected in her name. To non-Bicolanos, and even to non-Catholics, my point here is that the word is always associated with the Virgin, even as I am writing not about the Virgin but about God revealed to me through the Virgin. That is a big difference. By taking this stance, I do not detract from the worship of God. On the contrary, I turn to the Virgin to learn more about God.

Cultural historians have correlated Mary with pre-Christian symbols of the feminine such as Venus, Minerva, Ceres, Astarte, et al. My take here is that Mary corresponds to all these names -- yet supersedes them all, because as Mother of God, she is consoler of the afflicted and succor of all who are in extreme adversity. I have also used the word from the French “voyageur,” voyager, seafarer, traveller, which both the reader and this writer are, metaphorically speaking, hoping to add a spiritual dimension to the cultural matrix. Besides, “bogar,” to throw in another Spanish, means to row, to sail.

The word voyador is uniquely Bicolano. It is not Spanish, and cannot be found in any Spanish dictionary, whether archaic or contemporary. I think it is worth talking about every once in a while because hardly anybody touches deeply the meaning of voyador, even during the fiesta. People, especially foreigners, would like to know. The word itself is our invention. But it is a beautiful invention. I think it was just made up by Bicolanos in their drunken stupor.

I am a voyador, because both from the point of view of symbolism and fact, a voyador has every reason to rejoice and be proud to lift the Virgin’s Image.

I am a voyador, because not only is Mary a channel through which Jesus’ love for us flows, but she in turn is a channel of God’s love pouring to us through her.

Finally, I am a voyador each time I repeat the sacred words of the Archangel Gabriel on that fateful night of the Annunciation: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee, blessed art Thou among women . . .”