The Sinulog Festival: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back


The word Sinulog came from the Cebuano adverb sulog which means “like water current movement” – or how river water would normally behave.  Sinulog festival dancers adopted the “movement” and made it a dance step: two steps forward, one step back.  The dance step is so ingrained into the culture of Cebuanos that even candle vendors at the Basilica perform it as some sort of a ritual before they light a candle for a customer.  It should be fascinating to watch Cebuanos light up their candles when power is interrupted at night in the city.  Ang saya siguro!

And then again, I don’t think people would be dancing with matches and lighters in their hands when electricity is cut off in Cebu because the Sinulog dance step is a prayer-dance, hence, is considered sacred.  It is performed to honor the Señor Santo Niño.  Back in the 16th century when Spaniards first set foot in the Philippines, Portuguese conquistador Ferdinand Magellan is said to have gifted the Rajah (king) of then Zebu (now Cebu), Rajah Humabon, with an image of the Santo Niño.  His wife, Queen Juana, upon seeing the image and the multitude of natives who were baptized into the Catholic religion, danced with joy while holding the Santo Niño.  The image is believed to be miraculous and now sits in the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu City, and the queen’s dance is considered the very first Sinulog dance.

The Sinulog festival is one celebration that commemorates our acceptance of the said religion with the Señor Santo Niño as the central figure of the festivities.  In 1980, the first Sinulog Festival was held in Cebu.  It was more of a parade of students from different parts of the Visayas, dressed in Moro costumes, dancing the famous “two steps forward, one step back” to the beat of the drums, trumpets, and gongs .  The event is complete with street dancing competitions, cultural shows, beauty pageants, and a fluvial parade.  As years went by, the festival gained popularity and attracted more tourists from the country and around the world.

What used to be a 9-day festival every January now kicks off at as early as the first week of December, with street fairs and photo contests and exhibits, and lasts until the third week of February.  The famous street dance competition is now called the Sinulog Dance Crew competition; winners of this contest and its categories receive a whopping P1,000,000.00 from the city government.  Because of this, the competition is highly esteemed and only qualified contestants are given the opportunity to join.   The traditional Fluvial Procession in honor of the Miraculous Image of the Santo Niño is held a day after the dance contests.  This is followed with a re-enactment of the historical baptism into Christianity of Queen Juana and Rajaha Humabon at the Basilica.

Other well-regarded events and competitions that have become part of the Sinulog Festival are Documentary and Music Video contests, Short Film Festival, Pyromusical Shows, Grand Carousel Parade, Big Bike Rally, and triathlons.  Residents of Cebu and its neighboring towns, even tourists from Metro Manila and other cities, and of course, tourists from all over the world, troop to the Queen City of the South to experience a festival like no other.  It is one big event that salutes the incredible talent of Filipinos, young and old, while honoring the centuries-old traditions and history of our faith.

The Sinulog Festival clearly describes the Filipino’s culture: our fondness for change and progress, yet are not altogether willing to let go of the past.

Two steps forward, one step back.

For the on-going schedule of activities of the Sinulog Festival 2016, visit this page.



Published by MasterCitizen

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