Looking Back

‘Tindera sinulog’ or ‘troupe sinulog’?

/ 12:22 AM January 20, 2017

Sinulog, the name of the rowdy Cebu street dance festival held every third Sunday of January, comes from the root word “solog” that refers to the two-steps-forward-one-step-backward dance resembling the movements of the water current. If you are to believe the official Sinulog website, the dance refers to the water current of the Pahina river in Cebu, although the eminent Cebuano historian Resil Mojares says that in 17th-century friar dictionaries, “solog” could either mean the water current or refer to the island of Sulu.

In the 17th century, “sinulog” referred to a full dress with medium sleeves worn by the women of Sulu. Mojares adds that “sinulog” in 21st-century usage refers to the dance and the Cebu dance festival, but in earlier times the same word could have originally meant “in the manner of Sulu.” To complicate matters, in Panay and Bikol “sinulog” means rooster, and “sulog” the jumping, rooster-like movements of a war dance.


The origins of the present Sinulog dance are lost to history, but there are two types: the “tindera sinulog” and the “troupe sinulog.” If you go to the Basilica of the Santo Niño today (and the nearby shrine to “Magellan’s Cross”), you will find women selling candles who will do your prayers for a fee, and finish them off with a dance of petition or thanksgiving with candle and handkerchief. This “tindera sinulog” is the basis for the beat and movements of the Sinulog Festival. “Troupe Sinulog” has been traced back to the 19th century and its tradition kept by the Diola family of Cebu. It is a dance that Luzon people would refer to as “moro-moro” because it depicts the battle between Christians and Muslims. But the Cebu version was done in honor of the Santo Niño and was performed as late as the 1980s outside the basilica during the nine-day prayers.

Troupe Sinulog is performed on the Monday after Sinulog Sunday in the Casa Gorordo Museum in Cebu’s Parian district. I had the opportunity to attend this many years ago and listened to the late Estelita “Nang Titang” Diola explain how different the rhythm and movements of the “original” dance are from the touristic and commercialized version performed the day before. The version I watched had the “Christians” wearing costumes that are textbook representations of Spanish explorers headed by a boy in cap and pantaloons, who everyone presumed was Ferdinand Magellan. The “Moros” or pre-Hispanic natives wore bright green and yellow costumes that resembled the Bayanihan dance troupe’s costumes of the Muslim South. These days no one debates about authenticity anymore because the Sinulog Festival, invented in 1980, has become a roaring success that doubles the actual population of Cebu during festival time.


Viva Pit Senyor! is the battle cry of the Sinulog Festival but its meaning is lost on everyone I asked for a translation. Of course, I knew Viva (Long live) and Señor (Lord) came from Spanish, but Pit is a bit tricky: It was shortened from the Cebuano sangpit (to call or hail), so when you put all the words together and shout them out, you are calling the attention of the Santo Niño to either thank him for some blessing you had received, or to petition him for something (or someone?) you want.

The story of the Santo Niño is worth looking into simply because it has been reduced to a prop in the Sinulog dance, the devotion to it being an excuse for tourists and locals to party wherever an ancient image is venerated, such as in Tondo and San Beda College in Manila, Aklan, etc. Rereading the account of the “discovery” of the Santo Niño de Cebu by one of Legazpi’s men in 1565 shows how they understood events as a divine sign for the establishment of Spanish Cebu, the Spanish conquest and Christianization of the Philippines. In 1571 one of Legazpi’s men “discovered” the image of Nuestra Señora de Guia (Our Lady of Guidance), now enshrined in Ermita Church in Manila. This image was considered the divine sign for the establishment of Spanish Manila.

Who brought these two images to the islands? Is the Santo Niño de Cebu the exact same one given by Magellan to the Queen of Cebu in 1521? Is it possible that one or both images were brought by the Portuguese, but could not be acknowledged as such because it would run counter to the Spanish Crown’s claim to the islands?


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: cebu, History, opinion, Santo Niño, Sinulog, Tradition
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