The Sinulog Legacy

The Sinulog festival was initiated by the government to pay homage to a pagan ritual being done by Cebuanos, then and now, as a way of worshiping and praying for the intercession of Santo Niño de Cebú. Yet where did the dance that sparked the largest festival in the country today started? Two steps forward and one step backward, imitating the sulog or waves while waving a candle or an image of the Santo Niño. An ancient pagan ritual merged with Catholic beliefs—a form of syncretic Filipino folk Catholicism.

They say, you haven't been to Cebu if you haven't been to Magellan's Cross

As to the question why such devotion for the icon, adored by millions, well…we can trace that as far as Magellan’s arrival in 1521CE in Sugbu. A Portuguese explorer under Spanish crown named Fernão de Magalhães/Fernando de Magallanes (or known better as Ferdinand Magellan) landed in Sugbu (that’s the old name of Cebú) on April 1521. He “converted” the natives of Sugbu into Christians, giving a wooden icon, the Santo Niño to Queen Juana, wife of Rajah Humabon/Hamabar, chief of Sugbu. After Magellan’s death at the hands of Humabon’s political rival Lapu-Lapu (Kalipulaku) in Mactan, the image was thought to have been destroyed.

Basilica Minore de Santo Niño de Cebú and the Crowd the day after Sinulog Festival

Later, when conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi came from México to conquer the islands, one of his men named Juan Camus, discovered the long lost icon in a wooden box full of flowers. Historians and anthropologists believe, that for the Spanish conquistadors, it was a sign of a miracle. For the early Sugbuanons, it was a miraculous idol venerated by the form of a ritual dance called “sinulog” (or as some “Bisdak”-Bisayang Daku or Great Visayans say, “sinu’g.”) following the movement of the waves or current, in the shore or near today’s Guadalupe/Pahina River near Barangay Pahina Central.

Perhaps the most famous landmark in all of Cebú

One popular legend says that a native Cebuano was sick and was laid near the Santo Niño box. One night, when he woke up, he saw the Santo Niño dancing in the pedestal—two steps forward, one step backward—like a child dancing with joy. He couldn’t believe his eyes with what he saw. After that, he fell asleep again. The next day, he was healed. Then the story spread out like a wildfire.

View The Sinulog Ladies in a larger map

Hence, from that day on, the tradition of dancing in front of the Basilica Minore de Santo Niño de Cebú and even to Magellan’s Cross has persisted from generation to generation—usually female dancers with candles waved and reciting incantations about blessings and divine guidance. Today, you’ll still see this ancient ritual by just going to the Basilica or Cebu’s most famous icon—Magellan’s Cross. You can have your own Sinulog for just around PhP10 per candle and let these dancers do the ritual for you—seemingly reminiscent of our babaylanes of the past no?

If you like to read more on the history of Sinulog Festival, from its inception and eventual institutionalization as a festival in the early 1980s, just click here and you’ll get to know in-depth in where this grand celebration all did started.

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February 2011
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