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The Sinulog Festival

Sinulog is dubbed Cebu’s grandest festival. Attracting tourist around the globe annually. The Sinulog is an annual festival held on the third Sunday of January in Cebu City, Philippines. The festival honors the vision of the child Jesus, known as the Santo Niño (Holy Child),who used to be the patron Saint of the City of Cebu (since in the Catholic faith Jesus is not a saint, but God). It is a dance ritual that commemorates the Cebuano people’s pagan origin, and their acceptance of Roman Catholicism.

The festival features a street parade with participants in bright coloured costumes dancing to the rhythm of drums, trumpets and native gongs. Smaller versions of the festival are held in various parts of the province, also to celebrate and honor the Santo Niño. There is also a “Sinulog sa Kabataan” performed by the youths of Cebu a week before the parade. Recently, the festival has been promoted as a tourist attraction, with a contest featuring contingents from various parts of the country. The Sinulog Contest is usually held in the Cebu City Sports Complex.

Celebration Period

The Sinulog celebration lasts for nine days, culminating on the final day with the Sinulog Grand Parade. The day before the parade, the Fluvial Procession is held at dawn with a statue of the Santo Niño carried on a pump boat from Mandaue City to Cebu City, decked with hundreds of flowers and candles. The procession ends at the Basilica where a re-enactment of the Christianizing (that is, the acceptance of Roman Catholicism) of Cebu is performed. In the afternoon, a more solemn procession takes place along the major streets of the city, which last for hours due to large crowd participating in the event.

On the feast day at the Basilica del Santo Niño church, a Pontifical Mass is celebrated by the Cardinal with the assistance of several bishops of Cebu. Most devotees go to the Basilica to attend the mass before heading out to the streets to watch the parade.

What is Sinulog

The word Sinulog comes from the Cebuano adverb sulog which is “like water current movement,” which describes the forward-backward movement of the Sinulog dance. The dance consists of two steps forward and one step backward, done to the sound of drums. The dance is categorized into Sinulog-base, Free-Interpretation. Candle vendors at the Basilica continue to perform the traditional version of the dance when lighting a candle for the customer, usually accompanied by songs in the native language.

The Sinulog dance steps were believed to originate from Rajah Humabon’s adviser, Baladhay. It was during Humabon’s grief when Baladhay was driven sick. He then ordered his native tribe to bring Baladhay into a room where the Santo Niño was enthroned, along with the other pagan gods of the native Cebuanos. After a few days passed, surprisingly, Baldhay was heard shouting and was found dancing with outmost alertness. Baladhay was questioned as to whether why was he awake and was shouting. Baladhay explained that he found a small child trying to tickle him with the midrib of the coconut, pointing to the image of the Santo Niño, on top of him and trying to wake him up. He, at great astonishment, scared the child away by shouting. The little child got up and started making fun of Baladhay. In turn, Baladhay danced with the little child, explaining why he was dancing the movements of the river. Up to this day, the two-steps forward, and the one-step backward movement dance is still used by the Santo Niño devotees believing that it was the Santo Niño’s choice to have Baladhay dance.

History

On April 7, 1521, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived and planted the cross on the shores of Cebu, claiming the territory for Spain. He presented the image of the child Jesus, the Santo Niño, as baptismal gift to Hara Amihan, wife of Rajah Humabon. Hara Amihan was later named, Queen Juana in honor of Juana, mother of Carlos I. Along with the rulers of the island, some 800 natives were also baptized to the Roman Catholic Church. At the moment of receiving the holy image, it was said that Queen Juana danced with joy bearing this image of the child Jesus. With the other natives following her example, this moment was regarded as the first Sinulog.

This event is frequently used as basis for most Sinulog dances, which dramatize the coming of the Spaniards and the presentation of the Santo Niño to the Queen. A popular theme among Sinulog dances is Queen Juana holding the Santo Niño in her arms and using it to bless her people who are often afflicted by sickness caused by demons and other evil spirits.

Arrival of Lopez De Legazpi

After Magellan died on April 27, 1521 on the shores of Mactan, the remnants of his men returned to Spain. The Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi arrived in Cebu on April 28, 1565 and occupied the villages ruled by Rajah Tupas. In one of the huts of the burning village, one of López de Legazpi’s soldiers named Juan Camus found a wooden box containing the statue of the Santo Niño lying amongst several other native idols. Historians later said that during the 44 years between the arrival of Magellan and López de Legazpi, the natives of Cebu continued to dance the Sinulog but no longer to worship their anitos (god) but to show their reverence to the Santo Niño.

The Augustinian friars that accompanied López de Legazpi in his expedition proclaimed the statue performed miracles and built a church on the site where it was found. The church was called San Agustin Church, later renamed to Basilica Minore del Santo Niño.

Letter to the King of Spain

After Juan Camus found the Santo Niño in the burning village, López de Legazpi was said to have included the incident in his report, entitled “Relation of Voyage to the Philippine Islands”:

“Your Excellency should know that on that day when we entered this village (Cebu City), one of the soldiers went into a large and well-built house of an indio where he found an image of the Child Jesus (whose most holy name I pray may be universally worshipped). This was kept in its cradle, all gilded, just as if it were brought from Spain: and only the little cross, which is generally placed upon the globe in his hands, was lacking. The image was well kept in that house, and many flowers were found before it, and no one knows for what object or purpose. The soldier bowed down before it with all reverence and wonder, and brought the image to the place where the other soldiers were. I pray to the Holy Name of his image, which we found here, to help us and to grant us victory, in order that these lost people who are ignorant of the precious and rich treasure, which was in their possession, may come to knowledge of Him.”

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