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The Sinulug


Photo from Catholic and Culture

By Liv Campo

Before it became a huge annual festival, sinulug was (and still is) a solemn prayer dance in the past offered by devotees and, to this day, candle vendors, to the Santo Niño.

While a quick google could trace the early years of the Sinulog Festival, the traditional sinulug dance where it was conceived from has no historical data to tell when and why it was first performed.

But history partly revealed, according to a dissertation paper of Astrid Sala-Boza (2005), the history of original sinulug can be traced to the pre-hispanic era, then it done by natives when they prayed to their “bathala” or god.

According to some authors, the dance accompanied with the beating of the drums originated prehistorically and is said to be an offering to their god in celebration or thanksgiving. (Sala-Boza, 2005).

Then, the natives continued to dance the sinulug during  the time of the expedition of Magellan and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, but it was no longer performed to worship the native idol, but as a reverence to the Holy Child, which was brought to Cebu by Magellan. (Anonymous, 2003)

And at this time, Queen Juana, upon receiving the Santo Nino as a gift, danced the sinulug “out of extreme joy and shouted ‘Bata Ala.’” (Sala-Boza, 2005) 

“All we know is that a basic impulse has endured through generations in Cebu when a dancer incarnates prayer and communion with God.” (Mojares, 1933).

It is also believed that the dance came into being as an invocation of the Holy Child for protection and help against disasters during King Humabon’s time, and the sinulug performed for Him has become an ancient history of the gradual Christianization of the Philippines. (Anonymous, 1987)

In 1899, women were said to have gone into frenzy during the fiesta that their sinulug dances had to be stopped. Then in 1922, men and women danced inside the Basilica del Santo Nino in an “unearthly howl” and after that they would go to the Holy Child and kissed His feet. (Sara-Boza, 2005)

As the years went by, the dance became more solemn, which was later on termed by the locals “sinu’g” (and abbreviation for sinulug) done by devotes and candle vendors as they dance and say the prayers as requested . It is also performed as a thanksgiving to the Holy Child, with the candle vendor acting as a proxy to the person who offers the prayers to.

“The lighting of the candles is sometimes accompanied by the dancing of the sinulug ‘ritual dance’ either by the devotee himself (more usual in the past than in the present) or the candle vendor on their behalf.” (Sara-Boza, 2005)

Apart from selling the candles, the candle vendors accept the requests of devotees to pray and dance on their behalf, since most devotes are reluctant to dance themselves, and instead find it easier to have the candle vendors do it for them.  The devotees’ prayers as expressed through the candle vendors may include the devotees ‘s ‘panaad’ (vows).” (Sara-Boza, 2005)

 Despite all these accounts, the origins of the Sinulug or possible influences have “never been fully explained. “ (Sara-Boza, 2005)

Nevertheless, it became widespread that the late Jose Rizal (in de Morga, 1962), noted that the historians “greatly praised” Filipino dances as graceful and charming means to solemnize Christian processions and feasts.

The Candelera

Inside the Basilica del Santo Nino, on any given day, the dancing candle vendors (candeleras) are a common sight that they are now a famous tourist attraction there.

There are 100 candeleras at present inside the Basilica, said Vicky Sabala, 80, president of Basilica United Vendors and Photographers Association (BUVPA).

Leonesa Alicaya, 95, who is among them, still performs the sinulug dance despite her age.

Alicaya said she started the selling candles/dancing the sinug when she was  57, shortly after her husband’s death, to feed her six children. Today, albeit having problems with her hearing and frailty, Leonesa continues the traditional dance, which was passed by several candeleras way before she came to the Basilica.

“Ang akong mga kadungan nangamatay na,” she said of her fellow candle vendors who had passed away because of old age.

 At 95, she takes a PUJ to and from Basilica everyday to dance and earn. One of her children and countless grandchildren and greatgrandchildren (she can’t count them anymore) are staying with her in her house in Barangay Calajoan, Minglanilla town. Minglanilla is two PUJ rides away from the Basilica, and Alicaya said that’s her route everyday.

“Kapuyon man ko og magpuyo ra. Ari nalang ko, naa pa koy ipalit og bugas,” she said, adding that even if her children would stop her from doing that routine, she would still insist as it is the only thing that keeps her going.

The older vendors keep plastic chairs nearby where they can rest while waiting for their customers. At the time of the interview with The Freeman, Alicaya was sitting in one of these stools while wiping her sweat away. Shortly after the interview was done, a couple approached her to buy candles and requested her to dance for them. After asking for their names in which she would include in the petition, the 95-old-women moved directly in front of the Hold Child’s image, and did the ritual prayer dance. For a few minutes, the old woman was doing it in all solemnity, while nearby the couple watched her. - First published in The Freeman Newspaper

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