Sinug or Sinulog?
Last week I promised to quote here an American’s description of what the anthropologist Sally Ness calls “masculine” type of Sinulog. American historian and translator Irving Albert Leonard passed by Cebu in the 1920s and later put down into writing the Sinulog dancing he saw at the San Agustin Church, now the Basilica del Sto. Niño, this way:
“The ponderous doors at the extremity of the chapel sounded with the occasional thumping and jostling of the impatient worshippers just outside eager to demonstrate their devotion to the tiny Child. When the proper moment had arrived, the priest at the altar gave the signal and the huge portals swung open inwards with a mighty crash. Immediately the great nave of the ancient church was filled with a mass of howling, gesticulating humanity which rushed headlong into the chapel giving bent to piercing shrieks and unnatural cries…Men and women, many with infants in their arms, began to dance and caper, holding up the bewildered babies towards the impassive little figure, and never ceasing for a moment to utter unearthly howls. Many of the women wore white handkerchiefs upon their heads which, while hopping about grotesquely, they snatched off, waved wildly in the air, and tore to shreds in the Bacchanalian fury which seemed to rend them. It seemed, indeed, as if a Filipino Bedlam had broken loose in the venerable old church and had worked itself into a frenzy of ungovernable proportions…
“…At length the ecstasy of frenzy – it is difficult to say which – wore off through sheer fatigue. The turbulent gathering, panting and perspiring, dropped back to the walls of the church and gradually resolved itself to the pandemonium which had so recently prevailed. Although the general excitement had subsided, the air was pregnant with anticipation. The line began to stir into motion. As each individual passed before the Sto. Niño, he or she bent and reverently placed a kiss upon the diminutive foot… And with this gentle act performed, the women return to their homes happy in the assurance that they will be blessed with beautiful and healthy children.”
The quote above is taken from American anthropologist Sally Ness’ doctoral dissertation about the Sinulog later published in 1992 by the University of Pennsylvania titled “Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community.” Alas, we have no other eyewitness account to this scenery that appears to be reminiscent of indigenous healing dances amidst “war cries” piercing the air to ward evil spirits away.
We have therefore two versions that had apparently been operating simultaneously in Cebu during the feast of the Sto. Niño: Iklot’s ritual dance reminiscent of the boy choristers of Seville and this war dance of sorts, which has been carried out by Titang Diola in the annual Casa Gorordo event.
A close reading of Ness’ book will reveal a vital detail about Titang Diola’s lineage that appears to lead straight to Iklot. Ness mentions profusely a certain Espilita “Pitang” Diola who was then in her 50s at the time of this research carried out around 1984, effectively citing her as indeed a keeper of the sinulog traditions while adding her own choreography. I believe Ness is referring to Titang Diola and despite this unfortunate misspelling of her name in the book as Pitang (and Espilita), we can directly trace Titang’s primacy in the post-war sinulog performances to her parents and that of the farmer, Iklot, her grandfather. Titangs’/Pitang’s father Buenaventura “Tura” Diola was, like her daughter now, a keeper in the pre-war years of the dance motif started by his father, Iklot.
Titang, in a sense, has kept a long tradition begun some time in the latter half of the 19th century (ca. 1860-1899) by her grandfather, whereby young boys would perform the dance to the Sto. Niño not along the processional route but in the houses of residents in the city, reminiscent of carolers or mananaygons during Christmas.
This tradition is now dead with the primacy of the grand Sinulog Festival out in the streets, where the rich and poor alike no longer wait for the troupes to perform in their residences but have to come out into the main thoroughfares of the city to watch them. It is Titang Diola then, with her annual performance at Casa Gorordo, who remains the last link to this tradition.
What has apparently remained unchanged- – despite the onslaught of the highly competitive annual Sinulog Dance Festival which drew over three million spectators the other Sunday – is the sinulog dance of the tinderas or candle sellers at the Basilica and at Magellan’s Kiosk nearby. This is one tradition that is not going to give way yet to the grand festival for as long as individuals need something personal from the Sto. Niño.
A final point that needs to be answered is the so-called original dance of the sinulog. Alas, we find no mention of this event in the chronicles of Pigafetta except a line, oft-repeated, that Humabon’s wife, christened Juana, danced with glee upon receiving the image as a gift. Historians have assumed that obviously this dance would have been something performed by Sugbuanons of the time to their other images called “anitos”.
What this dance was, however, remains unwritten and unrecorded. Thus the option to turn to existing indigenous groups to see their ritual dances before certain elementals or gods.
The closest we find is the story of Baladhay, the so-called court jester of Humabon who, as he lay dying in the room of Humabon’s wife, wakes up and dances with the Sto. Niño. Why Humabon has a man who occupies a very European kind of work, an entertainer as it were, gives us an idea of the time this story was written. Nonetheless, the story is one attempt to provide the origin of the dance – something that has apparently intrigued many. And I do not think this will be the last of it.
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