In the course of human history, people express their joy, petition, penance and thanksgiving through a dance.
In one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, the Sto. Niño Church in Cebu, an interesting dance ritual is performed by pilgrims from different regions before the Image of the miraculous Santo Niño.
The pilgrims perform the “Sinulog” dance to seek help from Santo Niño and thank Him for favors received.
History recounts that the dance probably came into being as a means of invoking the Image’s protection and help against all kinds of disasters in the days of King Humabon. Later on, when the Image has been transferred to the care of the Augustinian priests, and the conversion of the Cebuanos to the Catholic faith was accomplished, the dance became more subdued and was made an optional part of the yearly fiesta Señor celebration.
Dancing begins in the patio in front of the church and shouts fill the air. A closer observation will reveal that the dancers are shouting their petitions and thanksgiving to the Señor. These pilgrims have to shout, for being simple folks; they want to make sure that the Señor hears them. If one is dancing by proxy, he has to let the Señor know about this. He introduces himself this way, “Pit Señor! Señor Santo Niño, Manoy Kiloy says thank you so much for the baby boy born to his wife eight months ago! Before I forget, Manding Orang also told me to thank you for saving her daughter from malaria while she was in Mindanao.” In other cases, someone who wants to ask favors may say: “Pit Señor! Señor Santo Niño, please make me walk again! I have been crippled since I felt from the coconut tree while gathering tuba.” “Pit Señor Santo Niño, our cornfields are dying and the creeks have dried up. Please send us rain.”
Any spectator of the Sinulog will be struck by the dancers, unconcern of the people around them and the intense faith shown on their faces which leaves even the unbeliever in respectful silence and awe.
From the patio, the dancers gradually move inside the church until they reach the altar, where dancing reaches its climax and ends before the image of Santo Niño. The dance takes several hours to perform, starting from 10:00 AM until late in the afternoon. Dancers enter by the main door and leave through the church‘s side doors.
After the dance, the pilgrims fall in line to kiss the Santo Niño. They bring handkerchiefs and religious articles like crucifixes and rosaries that they touch to the image of the Sto. Niño. They believe that if these articles touch the Santo Niño, it acquire healing powers.
For the last four centuries, no war, typhoon, or earthquake has dimmed the faith of these pilgrims who have come and gone with each passing year.
The “ Sinulog” performed for the Santo Niño is as old as the history of the Christianization of the Philippines and will probably remain forever in the pattern of Cebuano life.