Sinulog Backgrounder

“Sinulog is a dance ritual in honor of the miraculous image of the Santo Niño. The dance moves two steps forward and one step backward to the sound of the drums.”

The word Sinulog is a Visayan term to the local dance that follows the rhythm of the river flow (Sulog). It has come down in history as the enduring native expression of prayer bridging the pagan years and Christian era today.

Historical accounts say that before Portuguese navigator came to Cebu on April 7,1521 to plant the cross on its shore and claim the country for the King of Spain, Sinulog was already danced by the natives in honor of their wooden idols and anitos. Then Magellan came, introduced Christianity and converted 800 natives in the island along with its rulers. He gave the Santo Niño (image of the Child Jesus ) as baptismal gift to Hara Amihan, wife of  Rajah Humabon (Cebu’s chieftain), who was later named Queen Juana. Shortly after the conversion, Magellan fought the reigning ruler of Mactan, Rajah Lapu-lapu, with only a handful of men. He died in the encounter dating April 27, 1521.

The remnants of Magellan’s men however were able to return to Spain to report the incident and the possibility of conquest. It took 44 years before a new group came and started the formal Christianization of the islands. Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in Cebu on April 28, 1565. They bombarded the village and in one of the burning huts, one of his soldiers named Juan Camus found the image of the Santo Niño in a wooden box lying side by side with the native idols.
Historians say that in between years of the coming of Magellan and Legaspi, the natives continued to dance the Sinulog. By this time, they danced not to worship their native idols but to signify their reverence to the Santo Niño, now enshrined at the San Agustin Church (renamed Basilica Minore del Santo Niño).

Through the years since 1521, the dance was a small ritual danced by a few in front of the Santo Niño. At the Santo Niño Church where the image is consecrated, only the candle vendors could be seen dancing the Sinulog and making offerings. During the Santo Niño fiesta, which falls on the third Sunday of January, children dressed moro-moro costumes also dance the Sinulog. This was really no big event for Cebu City.

It was in 1980 when David S. Odilao, Jr., then Regional Director of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development (MYSD), organized the first ever Sinulog parade. He gathered a group of students, dressed them up, and taught them how to dance the Sinulog to the beat of the drums. It was just a small parade which went just around the Basilica but it caught the imagination the City of Cebu, which then thought of making the Sinulog, a festival that would rival all other festivals being held yearly in the country.

Under the direction of the Cebu City Mayor Florentino S. Solon and through the help of lawyer Manuel S. Satorre, Jr., Juan B. Aquino Jr., Robert Grimalt and Antonio R. Aseniero, Jr.,Odilao turned over the Sinulog project to the Cebu City Historical Committee under Kagawad Jesus B. Garcia, Jr. Through Garcia’s committee, the Sinulog organization came into being. The first task of the organizing committee was the conceptualization of the festival to make it a big event.

The committee came up with the idea of having a Sinulog logo that would identify the event yearly if it was to be institutionalized. The group decided not to use the Santo Niño image itself because it would be a sacrilege so the coat of arms of the Santo Niño was used instead.
The coat of arms of the Santo Niño bears a two- headed hawk, the mark of the House of Hapsburg ( Hapsburg ) in Europe, which then ruled most of the known worlds from the 15th century to 20th century. Spain was under the Hapsburg dynasty when it sent the expeditions across the globe to spread the “Faith” and expand the influence of the dynastic house to unknown lands beyond the oceans.

The royal origin of the Hapsburg started with the ruling family in Austria on 1276 and for centuries until the 20th century the house ruled most of the kingdoms in Europe. The Hapsburg established the Holy Roman Empire in 1452 and reached the height of their power under Charles 1 of Spain (also a Holy Roman Emperor known as Charles VI).The first expedition under Ferdinand Magellan which discovered the Philippines for Spain was sent initially to look for the Spice Island. The second expedition under Miguel Lopez de Legaspi was sent by his son, Philip II who ruled Spain for 42 years from 1556. The Hapsburg rulers continued to hold power until 1700 not only in Spain but also in the colonies under the Spanish regime while the Austrian line of the Hapsburg dynasty also ruled Central Europe until about the same time.

The Hapsburg emblem, now the coat of arms of the Santo Niño, was influential in many kingdoms during that time. Magellan had this emblem in his settlement in 1521, Legaspi carries the same and so do other expeditions by Loaisa, Saavedra and Villalobos. The emblem of the two-headed hawk at the peak of the power of the Hapsburg dynasty represented the twin purpose of the House, which was to stand as “Champion of Catholicism and Defender of the Faith.”

With this background, the Sinulog committee used a native warrior’s shield on whose face is imprinted the coat of arms of the House of Hapsburg that now represents the Sinulog logo as interpreted by Miss Olive Templa, who coincidentally is a Cebuana. The native shield figure symbolizes the country’s continued resistance to colonization. It speaks of the Filipino’s readiness to defend the country from all forms of foreign incursion and to resist any move that may endanger the country’s self-determination. The coat of arms of the Santo Niño on the face of the shield on the other hand, traditionally symbolizes the country’s acceptance of Christianity as it was brought to the settlements in 1521 by European rulers.

Sinulog ’81 was then organized. Practically all sectors in the Cebuano community got involved. To distinguish the festival from the popular Ati-atihan Festival in Aklan, the organizers decided to use the parade to depict the history of the Sinulog which, as had been said, is the dance which links the country’s pagan pasty and Christian present. Seven floats were created to depict seven different periods of history. Each float was followed by dancers wearing costumes depicting the periods. They all danced with the Sinulog beat. The parade started at 1 P.M. at the Cebu Provincial Capitol and ended about midnight at Fort San Pedro-Plaza Independencia area. The show continued until the wee hours of the morning.

This made Sinulog the country’s biggest spectacle. So every year thereafter, the Sinulog parade and activities became bigger and better…

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