Fiesta with Berta & Andrew: Sinulog Festival
Mabuhay! Unsa inyong kahimtang? That is Cebuano for ‘how are you?’ We have just been to the beautiful island of Cebu in an exhilarating, pulse-racing week with the locals during one of the most important occasions they celebrate: the Sinulog Festival.
Part of that experience is the shoving and the exhaustion of walking and standing for hours long, just like our experience in Ati-atihan in Kalibo, Aklan. But as our second fiesta in the Philippines, all the pain was worth it. Here’s our scoop on this great experience:
We were told by one kindly Cebuano old lady that Sinulog Festival is a celebration of the venerated icon Santo Niño or the child Jesus. Actually, the story of the Sinulog is very important in the history of the Philippines because the first Santo Niño was given by Ferdinand Magellan of Spain.
The old lady told us that the first Sinulog was done in the name of this Santo Niño. She said that chief Raja Humabon’s newly Christened wife Hara Amihan (or Queen Juana) danced to this icon because of joy. The icon was said to have chased demons and evil spirits from the early Cebuanos. Since then, the tradition has been done to celebrate the coming of the Santo Niño to the islands.
The Sinulog Festival happens in Cebu City in the province of Cebu. But we were told it also has versions in some parts of Leyte and Misamis Oriental.
Cebu City can be accessed by direct flight from the Manila International Airport or NAIA. It’s a pretty easy flight to make. The city is also considered the Philippines’ ‘second capital.’ In many ways, it’s like Metro Manila in size… though we did have a difficult time with the local language!
Fortunately, a lot of Cebuanos are very fluent in English… we actually had better conversations with people when we spoke to them in English than Tagalog.
The Sinulog is a week-long festival of prayers and dances that falls around the third Sunday of January. Some of the most-attended events are the Fluvial Procession of the Santo Niño, the re-enactment of Raja Humabon and Queen Juana’s baptism and the Sinulog Grand Parade.
There are also solemn masses, competitions and youth parades throughout the week. We did not attend all events… that would have been physically impossible! But we did not miss the main events of the Sinulog.
In the future, if you plan to visit Cebu City during Sinulog, we suggest you take a look at the schedule of events first so you can plan your visit better. Just type your search in Google as we did and you’ll find a copy of the schedule.
The Fluvial Procession happens very early in the morning starting from Mandaue City north of Cebu City and ends in the latter. We set our alarms the night before the parade so we could wake up extra early for breakfast and the procession.
We arrived early at the docks for the parade, but the viewing areas were already packed with eager people. We had to walk around to find a good spot to see the ship carrying the Santo Niño. The procession is a standing and walking affair, so eat a hearty breakfast and bring water to hydrate under the morning sun.
After the procession on the same day, we headed to the Basilica of Santo Niño to watch the re-enactment of the baptism of the chief and his wife. There we got to see how things might have looked like during the 1st Sinulog dance. This event may not be as big as the Grand Parade, but if you want to understand the heart of Sinulog this play should not be missed.
It got us wondering how things really were like then. Were there fights? How did the Spaniards and the Cebuanos understand what was going on, when both would have been lost in translation? What did the Spaniards and the Cebuanos wear, what did they look like? These are things we would like to research soon, or ask our historian friend kuya Roly about!
This is the part we enjoyed the most… dancing! Sinulog isn’t complete without parade participants gyrating to drums and locals and tourists free-styling each other out in street dancing venues. Virtually all types of spaces, whether on stage or on the pavement, can be converted into instant dance floors provided some loud music from karaoke machines or tireless drummer and bugle corps.
Actually, one very informative and chatty teen we met on one of these impromptu dance-offs told us that the word ‘Sinulog’ came from the word ‘sulog’ which means the movement of the water current. It describes the movement of the traditional Sinulog dance, a forwards and backwards motion (more like stomping) that keeps in time with the drums.
Those who were born with two left feet need not worry because the steps are fairly easy. It’s getting the confidence to do it that shy types may need. But we say, let loose and just dance to whatever tune your body is feeling! Sinulog is a one-time experience for a lot of us dayo or non-locals, so we gave it our best shot!
A trip to Cebu City during Sinulog wouldn’t be complete without watching the Grand Parade. The parade is an amazing example of Filipino creativity: dancers glide their way down the street with pomp and a flurry of colours.
The person to look out for at this point is the dancer playing the Queen. She’s the one with the most creative costume, and she manages to maintain her grip of the Santo Niño despite the dips, twirls and all that afternoon action.
The parade is truly grand and a feast for the eyes. We never got tired of watching, even though physically we were hot and our feet were killing us! We watched part of the parade on the street and some of the parts in the Grandstand. The parade is very long, so if you want to rest at a shop for a few minutes you can still catch up on the rest of the parade later on.
After the end of the Grand Parade, we were both hungry as horses and had a bountiful supper! We had been restless that specific day, but by the time we unlocked our hotel room door we were to bone-tired to say two words to each other! But we did whisper a lot of words to the Santo Niño the next day when we visited the church.
We were told not to forget to make a wish to the Santo Niño, especially this being our first Sinulog. Locals believe the icon is miraculous, and most come to Sinulog for the express purpose of making a pilgrimage to the Santo Niño of Cebu on its feast day.
Sadly, all good things come to an end. We bid Cebu City and Sinulog goodbye days ago, and here we are back in sunny Manila.
We’ll be off to another festival in the coming days. We won’t say where, but just to give you an idea of where we’re going here’s a clue: the festival will be like Sinulog ang Ati-atihan. But we’ll also have a good helping of this noodle dish called la paz batchoy.
Got any good guess? We’ll just have to see you on our next joyful adventure around the Philippines!