Sinulog is a dance ritual in honor of the miraculous image of the Santo Nino. The dance moves to the sound of the drums and this resembles the current (Sinulog) of what was then known as Cebu’s Pahina River. Thus, in Cebuano, they say it’s Sinulog.
More than just the meaning of the word is the significance of the dance. Historians now say that Sinulog, which is of pagan origin, is the link between the country’s pagan past and its Christian present. Let’s trace its history.
Historical accounts say that before Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan came to Cebu on April 7, 1521 to plant the cross on its shore and claim the country for the King of Spain, Sinulog was already danced by the natives in honor of their wooden idols and anitos. Then Magellan came and introduced Christianity. He gave the Santo Nino (image of the Child Jesus) as baptismal gift to Hara Amihan, wife of Cebu’s Rajah Humabon who was later named Queen Juana. At that time, not only the rulers were baptized but also about 800 of their subjects. Unfortunately, however, shortly after the conversion, Magellan went into a reckless adventure by fighting the reigning ruler of Mactan, Rajah Lapulapu, with only a handful of men. He died in the encounter. That was on April 27, 1521.
The remnants of Magellan’s men were however able to return to Spain to report the incident and the possibility of conquest. It took 44 years before a new group came and started the formal Christianization of the islands. Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in Cebu on April 28, 1565. His ships bombarded the village and in one of the burning huts, one of his soldiers named Juan Camus found inside a wooden box the image of the Santo Nino lying side by side with native idols.
Historians now say that during the 44 years between the coming of Magellan and Legaspi, the natives continued to dance the Sinulog. This time however, they danced it no longer to worship their native idols but a sign of reverence to the Santo Nino which is now enshrined at the San Agustin Church ( renamed Basilica Minore del Santo Nino). Of course, through the years since 1521, the dance was a small ritual danced by a few in front of wooden idols or before the Santo Nino. In fact, at the Santo Nino Church where the image is consecrated, only the candle vendors could be seen dancing the Sinulog and making offerings. During the Santo Nino fiesta which falls on the third Sunday of January, children dressed moro-moro costumes also dance the Sinulog. This was really no big event for Cebu City.
In 1980, however, David S. Odilao Jr., then Regional Director of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development (MYSD), organized the first ever Sinulog parade. He invited the physical education teachers for a meeting to discuss the organization of a Sinulog street dance parade. Nang Titang Diola of Mabolo was invited to give a demonstration at the Cebu Doctor’s College. The steps were analyzed and further enhanced by steps used by the candle vendors who performed in front of the church– The Basilica del Sto. Niño. With seven schools and universities, the physical education teachers spearheaded the first Sinulog Street Dance Parade. With financial support from then MYSD Regional Director David Odilao and Department of Education Culture and Sports, the schools were given an era to represent the history of Cebu from the primitive times to the present. Member schools of the Cebu Physical Education Association the University of San Carlos, Southwestern University, University of San Jose-Recoletos, University of Cebu, University of Southern Philippines, Cebu Institute of Technology and Cebu Doctor’s University. The street dance parade started from the Plaza Independencia and caught the imagination of the City of Cebu, which then thought of making the Sinulog a festival that would rival other festivals being held yearly in the country.
Thus, under the direction of Cebu City Mayor Florentino S. Solon and through the help of Manuel S. Satorre Jr., the late Juan B. Aquino Jr., also late Xavier Ledesma, Robert Grimalt and Antonio R. Aseniero Jr., Odilao turned over the Sinulog project to the Cebu City Hstorical Committee under Kagawad Jesus B. Garcia Jr. through Garcia’s committee, the Sinulog organization came into being. The first task of the organizing committee was how to conceptualize the festival and make it a big event.
The committee then came up with the idea of having a Sinulog logo that would identify the event yearly if it were to be institutionalized. The group didn’t however want to use the Santo Nino image itself because this would have been a sacrilege. And it had to look for something that would identify the project.
This was the coat of arms of the Santo Nino, which is quite visible as they are being embossed in the benches, architecture and banners of the old San Agustin Church. The coat of arms of the Santo Nino bears a two-headed hawk, the mark of the House of Hapsburg (Hamburg) in Europe which then ruled most of the known world from the 15th century to 20th century. Spain was under the Hapsburg dynasty when it sent the expeditions out across the globe to spread the Faith and expand the influence of the dynastic house to be unknown lands beyond the oceans.
The royal origin of the Hapsburg started with the ruling family on Austria in 1276 and for centuries until the 20th century the house rule most of the kingdoms in Europe. The Hapsburg established the Holy Roman Empire in 14552 and it was at the height of their power under Charles 1 of Spain (who was also Holy Roman Emperor Known as Charles V1) the first expedition under Ferdinand Magellan which discovered the Philippines for Spain was sent initially to look for the Spice Island. His son, Philip 11 who ruled Spain for 42 years from 1556, sent Legaspi the second expedition under Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. In fact, the Hapsburg rulers continued to hold power until 1700 not only in Spain but also in the colonies under the Spanish regime while the Austrian line of the Hapsburg dynasty also ruled Central Europe until about the same time.
Thus, the Hapsburg emblem, now the coat of arms of the Santo Nino, was influential in many kingdoms in that time. The two-headed hawk emblem was in some of the banners brought by Magellan’s men to Cebu settlement in 1521. The same emblem was carried all the way from that time, through the Legaspi expedition of 44 years after Magellan and the others that would come to the country in those days such as Loaisa, Saavedra and the Villalobos expeditions.
The emblem of the two-headed hawk at the peak of the power of the Hapsburg dynasty represented the twin purpose of the House, which was to stand as “Champion of Catholicism and Defender of the Faith.”
With the background, the Sinulog committee used a native warrior’s shield on whose face is imprinted the coat of arms of the House of Hapsburg that now represents the Sinulog logo as interpreted by Ms Olive Templa, who coincidentally is a Cebuana. The native shield figure symbolizes the country’s continued resistance to colonization. It speaks of the Filipino’s readiness to defend the country from all forms of foreign incursion and to resist any move that may endanger the country’s self-determination. The coat of arms of the Santo Nino on the face of the shield on the other hand, traditionally symbolizes the country’s acceptance of Christianity as European rulers brought it to the settlements in 1521.
Sinulog ’81 was then organized. Practically all sectors in the Cebuano community got involved. To distinguish the festival from the popular Ati-atihan Festival in Aklan, the organizers decided to use the parade to depict the history of the Sinulog which, as had been said, is the dance, which links the country’s pagan past and Christian present.
Seven floats were created to depict seven different periods of history. Dancers wearing costumes depicting the periods followed each float. They all danced the same beat. The Sinulog parade started at 1 P.M. at the Cebu Provincial Capitol and ended about past midnight at the Fort San Pedro-Plaza Independencia area. And the show continued until the wee hours of the morning.
To the credit of the Sinulog Foundation prime movers, particularly Executive Director Juan “Dodong” Aquino, Jr. the Sinulog Festival always jazzes up every year or so with new features, all meant to invite wider participation. There’s always something in there for everyone, be he a participant or spectator, be she a verbalist or visualist, an artist or symbolist.
Government agencies, the private sector, commercial and industrial establishments, academic institutions and barangays can pit their skills in making float, the paper mache “higantes” on route arches, on-site decors, fluvial contests and photography. Organizations could also compete in discovering pulchritude via the Miss Sinulog ‘88 now known as Ms. Cebu which was eventually taken as an annual project of the Cebu City Tourism Commission.
The quality of participation definitely gets better year after year. In 1983, the Sinulog project was still relatively new. Naturally, it had its complement of dents and scrapes, among which were participants on floats and on the streets wearing highly inappropriate and outspoken costumes. Wisened by that, the judges thereafter fine-tuned the qualifications to avert any form of irreverence.
Irrelevance, too, was pre-empted. In the first five years the contingents also included “guests” who, as the afternoon drew and grew, reveled too much after having one too many. Also kibitizers weaved themselves through, sometimes against, the flow, smearing black paint on the spectators. The former have been weeded out of the parade, and the latter are thinning out in number. An improvised detention cell right smack by the roadside has been an effective deterrent.
In the early years, Sinulog the ritual and the beat was a total strangers to young and new participants. Too often, it was mistaken for Aklan’s Ati-Atihan, complete with painted faces and war-like, martial beat. Too often, therefore, many a would-be winner, while beautiful in execution and precision, eventually got sidelined by such criteria as relevance and over-all impact.
To prevent repetitions of such sorry instances, Sinulog workshops and demonstrations have been conducted annually thru the help of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Commission Culure and the Arts (NCCA) and the Philippine Folk Dacne Society. Greatly instrumental in this activity is Ms.Dolores Suzara, another mainstay Sinulog judge, and P.E. instructor/choreographer. The incidences of “misplaced” contingents have definitely waned since then.
For the first five years, judging was a test of true grit lasting 20 hours. So that the contest could begin, judges had to be up with the birds. And so that the results could officially sign for the next day’s news, the judges had to stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning, bird or no bird. But all judges complained not. They, too, paid homage to the Santo Niño in ways requested of us.
The entry of TMX’s Engr. Rogelio Q. Lim and naturally, technology introduced system and speed in results identification breathe better.
In 1988, the plum prize for first prize winners in the parade participation was only P12,000.00. In the year 2005, it has risen to P500,000. Grand total is close to
Contest participants used to be purely from Cebu City. For about two decades now, the Festival has brought forth dramatic performances (and eventual winners) from all over the country, such as Surigao City, San Carlos City, Southern Leyte, Agusan del Sur, Camiguin, Iligan City , Tangub City , Tacloban, Ilo-ilo, Paranaque City, Naga City, Masbate, Sultan Kudarat , Iligan, Butuan among others.
Prior to 1986, spectators came from Cebu City and province. Since the Balik-Cebu program in 1986, however, creating direct Cebu-San Francisco flights, the festival has packed in a million pilgrims and thousands of overseas visitors.
With the present set up of the Sinulog Foundation Inc. introduced new contest categories such as the search for the Festival Queen (Sinulog lead dancer), the Puppeteers category, Visual Merchandising Contest (malls and department stores), Photo Contest , the Sinulog Short Film Festivals, the See Cebu on Carousel , huge lighted billboards which features various tourism and historical sites in Cebu displayed along the Carousel parade route. . The Foundation also commissioned artists to come up with a distinct Sinulog music, to date, the Foundation has produced varied Sinulog music, from the traditional beat, to techno funky beat and the overture of Sinulog (music provided by the Philippine Peace Philharmonic orchestra).
For the past three years, since 2006, the Sinulog Grand parade can now be seen live in international audiences thru live TV broadcast and Webcast, reaching out as far as US mainland, Australia , some parts in Europe and some parts in Asia. Website, sinulog.ph has also been updated regularly and promotional videos uploaded in Youtube and internet. At present the word Sinulog and the logo is now patented and registered in the Intellectual Property Office, the first ever granted to a Festival.
Crowd control has been the Sinulog organizers’ perennial headache. Varied, tried and tested, the approach and strategies have so far been elusive, however. And yet, this could be the dark side of the moon, the light side being that as the crowd swells year after year by millions, the Sinulog parade and activities became bigger and better. This made Sinulog …the country’s biggest and grandest cultural festival.
What began as a revival of an old dance brought government, business establishments, schools, pilgrims, artists and private individual together like never before. The attempt to enhance cultural awareness gave the Cebuanos a shared passion, a collective identity. In the end the Sinulog did give Cebu a culure. And a name. Pit Senyor!