Where in the world is Sibu?

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales - CDN Digital | January 27,2020 - 08:09 AM

My good friend Louie Nacorda almost fell off his chair when, while watching the Sinulog finale, he heard loud and clear that the word ‘Cebu’ was taken from “Sibu” (or “Sibo”), which supposedly meant barter. It was another friend, Glenn Leyson, who originally called my attention to this glaring error by sending me a particular section on Wikipedia on this Sibu as Cebu. I then called up Louie, since he sits as a member of the Cebu City Cultural and Historical Affairs Commission (CHAC), and he related to me what happened to him, complete with “Hesusmaryosep! Nganong wala na man lang gyud nangunsulta namo ‘uy?”

How could a final performance in the country’s largest and most well-attended festival make the mistake of tracing Cebu’s name from a word invented only quite recently through two works that have not even been presented to the scrutiny of historians and historical researchers alike?

In this space sometime in October last year, I brought to Louie’s attention another glaring mistake, posted right at the official website of the  Cebu City Government, which stated that the word “Cebu” was taken from “Sebo,” which, unbeknownst to whoever wrote it clearly did not know Spanish as he or she would have known means tallow or animal fat (while ‘Cebo’ means a bait). The website was promptly corrected days later.

As it happens, in that same column I also mentioned this ‘Sibu’ as another of the erroneous etymologies of Cebu. Apparently, no one, at least none from those who wrote the script in the Sinulog finale, read it nor even searched the Cebu City website.

So there. Big mistake big time.

Someone did not do his or her homework once again. That someone probably relied on Wikipedia as the one and only source for determining where in the world the word ‘Cebu’ comes from. For Wikipedia is an easy and somewhat reliable source of information. But a caveat: the information it spews out must be taken with a grain of salt. Academicians and researchers never ever use Wikipedia as a reference in their scholarly papers and presentations. It is a no-no in academia, in theses, dissertations and even in class papers. This is simply because Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced website: data is supplied by just about anyone who wants to input just about anything, anyone, anywhere, anytime and anyhow. Even Wikipedia warns the user to actually make corrections if there are any errors that one sees in the data it contains.

Where indeed did this creature called ‘Sibu’ come from? There is a Sibu City in Sarawak, Malaysia but it only got that name in the 1870s, after a fruit called ‘Buah Sibau’, nothing to do with bartering there.

The source of this ‘Sibu’ as ‘Cebu’ is most probably the manuscript “Bisaya Patronymesis Sri Visjaya,” that the late Jovito Abellana wrote around 1960, a time when there was no Internet and published scholarly works were hard to find in Cebu. Ever naughty but extremely intelligent, Abellana wrote this fictional rendering of Cebu’s precolonial past, with nary a footnote nor any supporting source documents, and mixed it up with the historical record of the colonial period and his own experiences during World War II, making for what others immediately believed as a credible history book.

There in three sections and one short chapter, this ‘sibu’ or ‘sibo’ appears. But make no mistake, he never says that ‘Cebu’ comes from the word ‘Sibu.’ Someone put two and two together and conflated the mistake. Any student of history can immediately see that Abellana was writing fiction when he spoke of Sri Lumay as the founder of Cebu or adding “Sri” to a host of allies of Humabon when in fact Pigafetta clearly mistook the ‘si’ (pointing to the person) to be part of the person’s name, a mistake begun in Limasawa and continued in Cebu. It is almost laughable (and I think Abellana must have laughed at his work indeed) that all these ‘si’ became ‘Sri’ inspiring someone then put out a highly erroneous blog entitled “The Rajahnate of Cebu” and all these allusions to Humabon being Hindu!

I have already debunked this whole notion of a rajahnate of Cebu or of Cebu being part of the Sri Vijaya, an empire based in faraway Palembang, Sumatra some 2,900 kilometers away, and will no longer belabor a discussion here. Suffice to say that Abellana makes one glaring error among many in his work in that he writes that the Sri Visjaya, as he calls it, propagated Buddhism. Far from it, the word Vijaya derives from Hindu and if you go to the Champa region in Vietnam, you will be enthralled at the monumental structures, temple complexes really, all made of brick that characterized Vijaya there. If we had such a quasi-state, a rajahanate, we still have to find even a single brick in all the excavations done in Cebu, whether archaeological or septic-tank-related.

So, where does Cebu come from? Again, I refer you to a previous article in this space that can be accessed freely. Or you can check the official website of the Cebu City Government.

Read it here: Animal fat for a city?

Why did this glaring error happen? Poor or inadequate research. I do not blame whoever wrote this script. The absence of diligent research and serious scholarly work has always been a major problem in Philippine education. Combined with poor reading habits, this continues until today in universities where some just mouth words that they read on the Internet and not do any validation through research on their own.

Given this situation, can you blame the scriptwriter? He or she probably does not know that there is such a thing as a Cebuano Studies Center. Let’s give him or her some slack, therefore. Lesson learned. In the next Sinulog Grand Finale, the Quincentennial itself, the scriptwriter will surely consult the city’s own experts at the CHAC.

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