Images of the picturesque Sinulog Festival backfire to cognizance of my quickened steps as a small child of ten, the time we entered the Basilica gates of Cebu and paid decent sum for the candle pedlar’s revered chanting and dancing in solo: A lighted candle raised and waved above her as we faded along with hundreds of devotees still on their way in a long line to see the image of child Jesus encased in a glass housing. Recently, I unearthed some facts over an online travel guide that the dance ritual memorialize the “Cebuano people’s pagan root and their acceptation of Roman Catholicism.” I once thought of those parades and processions or those heavy lines of the devout as plain attractors drawing people closer to the developing tourism of the city, only to dig up historical and religious significance that makes up of its grandeur and reputation to be among the visited and most colorful festivals celebrated in the Philippine Islands.
The word Sinulog originates from a Cebuano adverb “sulog” which means “water current movement,” describes the forward-backward motion of the Sinulog dance. I recall the candle vendors then, with clarity now that theirs was a way to preserve tradition too, tracing back origins of pagan accounts, the time when the aforementioned dance steps was a way to please the Anitos (icon of worship). And I followed tiny subject matters regarding the earliest account of the dance steps as traced back to Baladhay, adviser of Rajah Humabon (ruler of Cebu) who fell sick due to his master’s grief; Found one day dancing and shouting in alertness, claiming to have been tickled by a coconut midrib held in a child’s hand, his finger pointing to the icon of child Jesus. It was said, in turn the child was making fun of him and they danced together explaining his strenuous steps as “movements of the river,” that till this day is quite perceivable of the Sinulog Festival since the first wave of Spaniards arrived in the Philippines under the Portuguese explorer Fernando de Magallanes, the image of the child Jesus was offered as a baptismal gift to Hara Amihan, wife of Rajah Humabon. Later she became Queen Juana, in honor of Carlos I’s mother. When Miguel López de Legazpi occupied the villages ruled by Rajah Tupas on the arrival of the second wave of Spaniards, they burned the houses and a soldier named Juan Camus found a wooden box with the Sto. Nino image inside it. The Augustinian friars who accompanied the Legazpi expedition later asserted that the image performed miracles. A church was later built called Basilica Minore del Santo Niño to venerate the miracles of the icon. Since then people started making devotions to the child as protector of the world and savior of all mankind, gathering people up to this day as the Sinulog Festival.
The Sinulog festivity lasts for nine days. A procession of the image of child Jesus gathers followers and devotees from around the globe to witness the said event which starts with a Eucharistic celebration. A water parade held at dawn from the city of Mandaue to the wharf of Cebu is also witnessed by a lot of devotees. The statue is carried on a pump boat adorned by assorted flowers and candles ending at the Basilica where a re-enactment of Christianizing of Cebu follows. The procession assemblage is among the most crowded event along with the street dancing as tourists flock to the streets to pay homage and accompany their idol. Participants of the festival culminate in a street parade with gracile dances in burnished and colorful costumes to jive the rhythm of drums, trumpets, and native gongs—dazzling contingents priding their choreographies for the street dancing competition usually held the Cebu City Sports Complex.
Aside from the hues that vibrantly happen of the Sinulog Festival, at the streets every third Sunday of January in Cebu City, there are also events and street dances held at various provinces of the region, commemorating the Sto. Nino. The more modern upshot of light and sound too, rocks the street corners where friendly Cebuanos and jolly visitors set up folding tables and enjoy their company with bottles and glasses of drinks served or rounded for the night up to day. The bars and pubs that are getting reputations of their own also shines with neon lights emerging after sundown. The discotheque hubbub and karaoke lovers also enjoy the street scenes as ubiquitous lightness and jollity equate the lopsided atmosphere, as if every instance is being lived as last, for it only happens once a year, a mirthful attribute I can always surmise for a Cebuano. And what more can be said of the Sinulog Festival.
Like celebrating fiesta for a patron saint, the Sinulog Festival’s essence is thanksgiving, also attested by the preparation of food and events surrounding the affair. The popular Lechon is omnipresent like the roasted Liempo or Chicken Inasal in a table for hosts. It is also a point of recognizing the achievements of the clergy and Faith. Over the years, Sinulog evolved as a marker and drive of development, gathering people from the around the world to showcase the Christian roots of the Philippines.