Sinulog, celebrating faith and heritage


Photo by Lito Tecson of CDN. Grabbed from

Even before the Spaniards came to Cebu, the natives of the island had been celebrating their faith through rituals and dances which imitated nature. One of those dances that have endured through the centuries is the Sinulog, a dance that, according to, “moves to the sound of the drums and… resembles the current (sulog) of what was then known as Cebu’s Pahina River.”, the official website of Sinulog Foundation, relates the history of the festival that is now reputed to be one of the country’s top tourist attractions, next perhaps to the archipelago’s pristine beaches. claimed that when Ferdinand Magellan came to Cebu on April 7, 1521, he gave the island’s queen, Hara Amihan (renamed Queen Juana), a gift – the image of the Santo Niño or the Infant Jesus. It would not be a surprise, given the intricacy of the carving and the beautiful embellishments adorning the image, for the natives to develop a liking for the icon.

But since Magellan died days after the christening of the natives, the foreign invaders were deprived of the chance to evangelize their faith to the natives. The gift became nothing more than an addition to the native anitos, and so it became part of the horde of deities to whom the natives offer their swaying dance of worship.

When Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived 44 years later, conquest was the main objective. On landing at the shores of Cebu, they bombarded the settlement with mortars, burning the huts of the local villagers and virtually wiping out the whole village. Just like any medieval war, looting was a major part of the conquest. After they ravaged the village of our ancestors, they checked on what remained, including its treasures.

Of course, as all gifts should be, the villagers valued the gift given by Legazpi’s predecessor. It was kept in a box together with all the other idols of the natives. The box was eventually found by one of Legazpi’s soldiers.

Even after the island was taken over by the European invaders, culturally and religiously, remnants of the old tradition remained, including the dance of the devotees, so claim historians.

Eventually, the dance became a dance of mystics and candle vendors in front of the Santo Niño Church, who offer prayers in behalf of passersby and devotees who had less time to offer a prayer inside the church. Children participating in the yearly Fiesta Señor activity also used the moves to entertain onlookers as they re-enacted the moro-moro, a play conveying how the city’s Patron Saint saved the city and its people from marauding pirates.

In 1980, then Regional Director of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development David S. Odilao Jr. thought it wise to organize a Sinulog parade, perhaps envisioning a festival that would create a trademark for Cebu.

He asked candle vendor Titang Diola of Mabolo to demonstrate the prayer dance of the candle vendors in front of the Sto. Niño Church to physical education teachers from seven schools and universities in the city, namely: University of San Carlos, Southwestern University, University of San Jose-Recoletos, University of Cebu, University of Southern Philippines, Cebu Institute of Technology, and Cebu Doctors’ College.

A year after, the activity was adapted by the city government and turned it into a festival to complement the annual religious observance, making it more exciting for devotees and for non-Catholics to actually have a reason to join in the festivity.

Of course, having the Sto. Niño as the object of the dances did not really promote the festival among the strict non-Catholic population, but the colorful costumes, the elaborate presentations, and the cultural aspect of the revelry successfully penetrated this market.

The success of branding the early Sinulog Festival with Cebu has allowed it to surpass even more established celebrations at the time, i.e. the Ati-Atihan Festival of Aklan.

More importantly, as the years passed, and as the revelry grew into a multi-million peso venture that had private companies on a race for a piece of the pie, the festival had become a vital instrument to encourage many young people to discover and revisit a heritage that is full of devotion and spirituality.

It successfully turned private companies into willing agents to promote a heritage of faith, not just among Cebuanos, but even among its many foreign and local visitors. It has become a catalyst that emboldened the Cebuanos and the rest of the country to be vocal and proud of their culture, faith, and heritage, as a people and as a country.

Photo by Lito Tecson/CDN grabbed from This article was first published in The Freeman on January 13, 2010.


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