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MADRILENA DELA CERNA

       From the very beginning, the Spanish authorities believed that for political, administrative, and religious reasons it was necessary to keep disparate ethnic groups segregated.  In 1565, Legaspi had already put the policy of ethnic segregation into effect when he divided the port area of Cebu into the poblacion de naturales(which became the town of San Nicolas) and the poblacion de europeos (or what was referred to as the ciudad of Cebu).

       It was only around 1590 that a Chinese settlement came to be established in Cebu.  This was located on the Spanish city’s north side and was connected to the sea by an estuary.  Visiting Chinese traders had come to Cebu before this time but it was only during the Spanish rule, and in the 1590s when Cebu briefly participated in the galleon trade, that the Chinese district of Parian was founded and evolved into a market and trading center.

       The district was under the charge of the Jesuits who baptized, taught reading, writing, arithmetic and Christian doctrine to the community of traders and artisans and their families.  On October 22, 1614, the second bishop of Cebu, Fr. Pedro de Arca, separated the port area into two parished: the parish for the Christian Chinese and Filipinos who lived in the areas bordering the ciudad.  A third division was set aside for the local people (naturales, indios) in San Nicolas.  Parian remained a parish administered under the secular clergy until 1828 when the bishop of Cebu abolished and placed it under his jurisdiction.

       During the commercial decline of Cebu in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Chinese population of Cebu dwindled, particularly with the expulsions done by Governor-General Simon de Anda in 1780.    By this time, Parian had become a community of Chineses mestizos.   At the same time, it became more of a suburban residential district rather than a trading ghetto.

       There was also an ecological reason for the change in the character of Parian, from a commercial to a residential district.  the small Parian river that ran through the district had begun to silt up and was no longer navigable.  When Chinese immigrants began to flow back into Cebu in the nineteenth century, they gravitated towards the Ermita-Lutao area (now Carbon Market area), which was close to the shore, leaving Parian to mestizo and indio residents.

       By the middle of the nineteenth century the Chinese mestizos (and the Chinese) had become the most dynamic commercial group in the city, while the native Cebuanos had become a “commercially anonymous group.”

       Before 1860 the Cebu mestizos had a brokerage monopoly in their part of the Visayas.  They owned coastal vessels, collected goods in the provinces and forwarded them to Manila.  They aggressively protected this monopoly by urging restrictions on the activities of the Chinese in Manila and the provinces.  When the advent of foreign houses and the new cabecilla wholesale system broke this monopoly in the mid-nineteenth century, the mestizos shifted their interests from commerce to agriculture.  They farmed out to the countryside and acquired estatesin places like Talamban, Talisay, Naga, and Carcar, and were in a position to accumulate weath with the boom in cash crops in the late nineteenth century.  This was the basis of Parian’s reputation as “the richest and most productive” district, the “center of commerce” in Cebu.

       Through the years, when Parian enjoyed power and pestige, various controversies arose as to its civil and ecclesianstical  character and jurisdiction.  In 1828 a conflict broke out between officials  of the Parian and ciudad concerning jurisiction ove the barrio of Zamboanguillo.  At about the same time the officials of Parian and the Augustinian order disputed claims over the Hacienda de Banilad.

       As a civil body, Parian also had a problematic character.  At the time the Cebu Ayuntamiento was dissolved in 1755 because of the lack of Spanish residents in the city.  the alcalde mayor  of Cebu divided the city area into three separate pueblos or municipal units: the Ciudad, Parian, and Lutao.  Parian then was a separate town from 1755 to 1849.

       Ecclesiastically, Parian existed as a parish separate from the ciudad as early as the start of the seventeenth century.   It was initially suppressed in 1830 and was reestablished in 1838.  In 1849, the parish was abolished and placed under the jurisdiction of the Cathedral.  As a parish, Parian continued to function with diminished powers until the mid-1870s when the Parian church was finally demolished.

       The parian elite responded to the Tagalog Rebellion of 1896 by donating money to the Spanish cause and by either supporting or joining the voluntarious leales, the pro-Spanish local militia.  It was traditionally-indio dominated San Nicolas which was the seat of insurrectionary activity, and it was San Nicolas which supplied the Revolution in Cebu with many of its leaders.

       The Cebuano uprising of April 1898 was a dramatic event.  The insurgents occupied the larger part of the city as Spanish officials, soldiers, priests and residents withdrew to the safety of Fort San Pedro.  Spanish reinforcements drove the insurgents out of the city but during the fenzied Holy Week of 1898 there was much destruction as the Spanish vessel Don Juan de Austria bombarded the city.  Parian was razed to the ground.

       In the half-decade of tensions that followed, some Parian residents sought refuge in less troubled zones.  Urbanization wrought ecological changes as the population filled out the port area and residential patterns changed.  In 1900, Parian was a much more compact, smaller district.  Parian retained its identitiy well into the twentieth century.  In 1917, it was still referred to as an “aristocratic bario” where the wealthy families of the city resided.  However, in time it was to be absorbed into the larger area that was urban Cebu.

About the Author:
Madrilena dela Cerna earned her PhD in History major in Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines. She is an Assistant Professor III at the Social Science Division of UP Cebu.