Sinug or Sinulog?
I almost fell off my chair when I read the news report last Tuesday published in the inner pages of another local daily declaring in no uncertain terms that “sinulog” was once called “sinúg” in the pre-Hispanic period.The article reported on the annual theatrical Sinulog performance of 82-year-old Estelita “Titang” Diola at Casa Gorordo dubbed “Sinúg sa Casa Gorordo.”
I immediately texted Dr. Joy Gerra, head of the cultural heritage program of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc (RAFI), a colleague in the anthropological and archaeological fields, who also runs the museum that once served as residence of my forebears on the Reynes side.
Joy texted back that she made no such claims and so I presume that the possible misinterpretation I had warned about two years back when I first got my invitation to the event had come to pass. Back then, I e-mailed the staff of Casa Gorordo that to title the event as “Sinúg” will be misconstrued to mean that this was the original term, since Titang Diola has been doing this since the 1940s and her parents even way back further at the same venue – way, way before Casa Gorordo became a RAFI property and museum.
In that e-mail, I pointed out that to use the word “sinúg” simply because Titang Diola says it that way is to appropriate a term that is the result of the penchant of Cebuanos in the urban areas to remove the letter “l” from almost every Cebuano word that has one (“wala” into “wa;” “dili” into “di” “dalo” into “dawu,” with the exception of a few like “pila” and “ali” which survive and have not become “pia” and “ai”). This is a practice that, Dr. Erlinda Alburo, director of Cebuano Studies Center hypothesizes, is probably due to Cebuano magazines and newspapers that wanted to cut down on print spaces – and hence costs – using letterpresses and the old minervas of the 1930s, where each letter had a corresponding space requirement per column inch.
Whatever the case, the practice has stuck but to say that “sinúg” is the older word is untenable. No dictionaries of the early missionaries down to the end of the Spanish period ever mention any “sinúg” (neither do they have such contracted Cebuanisms as “wa,” “di,” “tuto,” etc).
What this fact simply tells us is that “sinúg” does not exist in dictionaries and is but part of colloquialism that happens as languages evolve in certain places where they are spoken. Language, after all, is not static but is constantly enriched, reinvented, innovated, added on, deducted from – and even killed outright.
Perhaps the earliest photograph of the “sinulog” is found in Felix Laureano’s “Recuerdos de Filipinas” published in 1895. In the translated version of this book published in 2001 and authored by Felice Noelle Rodriguez, we find on page 106 the exact reproduction of Laureano’s picture. Tellingly it is labelled as “Sinulog or Moro-moro” and in the next page Laureano describes the sinulog or moro-moro as performed during fiestas. The equally surprising part of this is that I suspect the photo was taken by Laureano somewhere in Jaro or in the vicinity of Iloilo because almost all the other photos in his album are of that locale or Manila.
This photo and the description simply confirms the dance movements of Titang Diola: the use of the moro sword “kampilan” and a drum and jousting movements of offense (forward) and defense (backward), for example, are clearly adaptations of the Hispanic period “comedia” performances, and not of pre-Spanish indigenous forms which do not mimic the chivalric movements of European romance dramas. (At best, the indigenous dance forms that have survived the times can be found among the Lumad of Mindanao, especially the Manobo and Mamanua of Agusan-Surigao region, whose dances mimic those of birds fluttering and fighting, with spears and clubs).
The last remnant of the moro-moro comedia was the “linambay” tradition of Carcar, which was no match for the onslaught of movies and movie houses in the 1930s. Hollywood killed our Hispanic-era stage performances which now are very hard to replicate – except the modern-day Sinulog, which according to anthropologist Sally Ness, mimics the moro-moro war dance movements.
In her seminal book on the Sinulog in the early 1980s entitled “Body, Movement and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), Ness traces two kinds of the sinulog: the masculine type and the feminine. It is the latter, according to her, that has survived through the Sinulog of today: in the candle sellers or “tinderas” at the Basilica and Magellan’s Cross.
Interestingly, Ness was able to trace the “modern” beginnings of the Sinulog from a farmer named Iklot who lived in Banilad and who developed the “modern” dance form some time between 1860 and 1900 as his perpetual vow to the Sto. Niño. The dance Iklot developed involved drumming and young boys and has a parallel, according to Ness, in the tradition of choristers in Seville, Spain – where our Augustinian friars all trained before coming to Cebu.
Despite the Pope outlawing dances within the church, these boys from Seville called “The Seizes” (The Sixes) were allowed to perform in Seville in the 16th century in a ritual dance of healing at special occasions involving feasts of specific patron saints. The dance, which involved kneeling before the altar to pray, followed by singing and a lot of clapping and yells, was a healing ritual amid epidemics that swept Europe but eventually took on regularity. Like our Sinulog, these Seville choristers performed at specific points of the processional route during a fiesta. It would not be stretching the imagination if one of our Augustinian forebears brought this ritual dance to Cebu when they first arrived.
Ness adds further that the modern Sinulog was somehow enriched by the arnis tradition in Cebuano warfare after Iklot’s enrichment of whatever dance there was before his time. And, most tellingly, she quotes a 1920 description the masculine type of Sinulog as written by an American observer. This will be the subject of my article next week. For the moment, it is always good to be on the safe side and that side simply states that there is no description of any sinulog dance before the Sto. Niño came to Cebu and other provinces where they were assigned.
Hispanic dance movements can be ascertained in the modern Sinulog but to say that the pre-Spanish movements are traceable – especially in Titang Diola’s performance – is simply to stretch the imagination.
We are of course all the richer in culture and heritage that Titang Diola has preserved the tradition that Iklot began even as RAFI should also be praised for supporting and encouraging this annual event. But “sinúg” in the invitation must give way to what is really true: Sinulog is Sinulog and has never been “sinúg.”
(Next week, let us go back to Pigafetta and see if he describes the dance steps of Queen Juana, Humabon’s wife, upon receiving the Sto. Niño as a gift from Magellan).
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