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Cebu City’s Sinulog Festival

Updated on January 18, 2016
The Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines in Diyandi Costume.  Photo by Michael Lagcao
The Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines in Diyandi Costume. Photo by Michael Lagcao | Source

The Re-Making of the Indigenous

The Cebu City Philippines yearly Sinulog Festival has become one of the most visited international festivals today attracting an average of 3 million local and foreign visitors every year. The Philippines, being the only predominantly Catholic country in Southeast Asia, the Sinulog Festival is a major contributor to the increased arrivals in Cebu City. Sinulog originated as a ritual prayer-dance after the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521, honoring the Santo Niño or Holy Child image. The dance-ritual follows the movements of the water current called Sulog in the native Zebu or Sugbu language, from where the present-day name of Cebu originated.

The festival is characterized by 9 days of religious and cultural festivities that have evolved to the present day as a national cultural festival and an international event. The event is held every third Sunday of January. Tourists from different countries like US, France, UK, Korea, Canada, Australia, Japan, and China come to the festival and frolic in Cebu’s beaches after the event. The latest addition to the large contingent foreign tourist category to the Sinulog Festival is Russia.

Local tourists make up about 70 percent of the arrivals from different parts of the Philippines, adding to the “overbooking” of 2-star to 5-star hotels and inns in Cebu. Otherwise, the tourist flow would spillover to nearby Tagbilaran City in Bohol Island for their accommodations. One can then take a 2-hour sea travel by fastcraft from Tagbilaran to Cebu.

Map of Cebu City, Philippines

A Rich, Colorful and Unique Islands History

The history of Cebu would not be complete without referring to the history of the other islands, specifically Mindanao where the country’s civilization started. All cultural minorities without exception may be considered as “indigenous peoples” including those “Islamized” by missionaries in the 12th century. In tracing the roots of people in the Asia Pacific region Dr, Ben J. Kadil's book, History of the Moro and Indigenous Peoples in Minsupala could provide the answers to some nagging questions. The word Minsupala is an acronym for the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan islands.

If you can take a sort of "time machine," just like in the movies and go back to Mindanao's ancient past, sometime between 4,000 B.C. traveling until 1300 A.D., you will find that the island region of Mindanao in southern Philippines was populated by a dominant group called the Proto-Manobo. During that time in Mindanao, there was only one language spoken, and the ever-elusive social unity and cohesion that the people of this place have been searching for today had already been achieved in that distant past.

Butuan was the First Nation of the country long before the arrival of the Islamic missionaries, and long before Manila was developed into a center of commerce and trade by Spain. It had a distinct culture, a productive technology in terms of gold and weaponry, and a political organization that established laws and policies. Butuan at the time was considered by its foreign trading partners a strategic center in Southeast Asia. From Butuan, the original ancestors of the country migrated to Sugbu (Zebu or Cebu), the other Visayan islands and the island of Luzon where they established settlements and secondary kingdoms. This happened long before Magellan arrived in Cebu in 1521.

Butuan City, 8600 Agusan Del Norte, Philippines

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On April 7, 1521, the Spanish-backed Portuguese navigator, Fernando de Magallanes arrived in Zebu and planted a large wooden cross on its shores, claiming the island in the name of the King of Spain. He then offered the image of the child Jesus, the Santo Niño, as a baptismal gift to Hara Amihan, wife of Cebu's Rajah Humabon whose ancestors were from Butuan. Hara Amihan was later named, Queen Juana in honor of Juana, Spain’s Carlos I's mother. On the same day, about 800 natives were also baptized to the (Catholic) Christian faith.

The Cebu Sinulog was actually adopted from the original Ati-Atihan Festival in the nearby island of Aklan that preceded the Sinulog for a number of years. In 1980, David S. Odilao, Jr., the Regional Director of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development (MYSD), gathered a group of students, dressed them up in the so-called indigenous or “moro-moro” costumes and taught them the Sinulog dance-ritual to the beating of the drums. The idea caught the attention of Cebu City Mayor Florentino S. Solon who turned over the Sinulog project to the Cebu City Historical Committee to make the Sinulog festival into a yearly event. In 1981, the concept of the Sinulog Parade was realized and programmed to be implemented every year, and involving every sector in the Cebu community.

Cebu Sinulog participants
Cebu Sinulog participants | Source

Sinulog Today

The Cebu City Historical Committee states that it was responsible for the conceptualization of the Sinulog as a provincial event, and decided to accept a logo for the Sinulog to identify it as an institutionalized yearly event. The closest to the Magellan infant Jesus gift was the coat of arms of the Santo Niño which consisted of a two-headed hawk that was used by the ruling House of Habsburg in Europe. The symbol stood for the twin purpose of the Habsburg dynasty as the "Champion of Catholicism and Defender of the Faith." It should be noted that at the time when Spain sent expeditions to the Philippines, the Spaniards were under the Habsburg dynasty. The historical committee then added the two-headed eagle to a native warrior's shield. The native or Cebu indigenous shield is thought to symbolize the country's struggle against colonization, while the Santo Niño's coat of arms printed on its face represented the country's recognition of Christianity.

The program of events starts from December 1, 2015 and ends on January 31, 2016 to be held at the Sinulog Street Fair along the Osmeña Boulevard in Cebu City. A photo contest and festival costume contest has been set from December 23, 2015 to February 5, 2016. A photo exhibit is held at the Robinsons Galleria. Other activities include a fun run, a series of processions, Sinulog Trade Fair, a series of daily parades, DJ mixing contest, a football cup, Miss Cebu Pageant, a series of Holy Mass, chorale competition, special public concerts, a series of cultural shows, nightly street parties, and a grand fluvial parade on January 17 that will be capped by a grand Sinulog Dance Contest where large group contingent-contestants from different parts of the Philippines would vie for the P1,000,000 or $22,000 prize. The grand street parade would last from 9 to 12 hours, after which street parties would take over.

This is a time when one can see different kinds of fashion wear paraded on the streets, all types of wearables from headdresses to smart watches to silver pendants and necklaces; young and old with painted faces and different tattoo colors and designs strolling along tightly packed streets. People are having fun with food and drinks like fried chickens and beers in makeshift stalls by the side of the road.

A fluvial parade

Cebu's colorful, festive Sinulog in January 2016
Cebu's colorful, festive Sinulog in January 2016 | Source

Security is tight during these times, with the fraternity rumbles and gang wars significantly reduced as of 2014 due to a special security program that was implemented by the city government. The regional office of the Department of Tourism reported that tourist arrivals in Cebu in 2014 went up by an average 16 percent, comprising both local and foreign tourists, despite the major calamities that hit the region in late 2013. In 2014, domestic travelers rose 13 percent to 2.4 million from 2.1 million in 2013 while foreign tourists grew 20 percent to 1.6 million from 1.3 million in 2013.

Sinulog Festival Cebu



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