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Nadine Gutierrez, Travel Stories

Squinting at Sinulog 2012


Nadine Gutierrez | Travel & Lifestyle

A sea of people flood the streets. I am one of the four million in attendance, pushing and shoving, trying to catch a glimpse of the colorful costumes of street dancers and grand floats passing by. It is hot, crowded, uncomfortable, and loud— but still, nobody leaves. My flip-flops almost break, my feet are dirty from being stepped on, and I can smell other people’s sweat, but amidst all the chaos, I see spectators cradling figures of the child Jesus in their arms. Some figures are dressed in the finest gold-trimmed robes and others are dressed like their own children in jeans and a t-shirt— confirming a devotion that has led to one of Asia’s grandest festivals. It reminds me why I came.

The Sinulog festival is a month-long celebration of the country’s acceptance of Christianity, brought to the Philippines over four hundred years ago by the arrival of Spaniards on the shores of Cebu.  The main festival is held every third week of January to honor the child Jesus, or Santo Niño– a gift to Raja Humabon’s wife, Queen Juana, from the explorer Ferdinand Magellan as a symbol of friendship and conversion. The word “Sinulog” means “graceful dance”, which is rumored to have originated from pagan rituals therefore making the festival a celebration of both the country’s pagan past and Christianity.

Personally, I think the festival has become too commercialized. A tourist needs to squint harder, think longer, look deeper to understand the cause of celebration. The entire city is teeming with activity from the fluvial procession and parades, to contests, pageants, and exhibits– some of which miss the point entirely of why Sinulog is celebrated in the first place. Even the mall has an exhibit of different images of the child Jesus, but simultaneously a cosplay contest is being held at the ground floor. Although this years’ festival is themed “Sinulog 2012: One Beat. One Dance .One Vision,” I am not sure if all really had the same vision in mind. As the grand parade of street-dancers and floats make its way down the streets– the unifying theme is a blur. Floats vary from the religious – carrying images of the Santo Niño— to entertainment— with images of Manny Pacquiao and a few local celebrities. With all the grandeur of the celebration it is easy to forget the real reason behind the Sinulog festival. Instead of being a religious festival it has become a confusing mix of anything under the sun.

Despite such contradictions however, I still enjoyed the festival largely because of the people rather than its true historic or religious significance. I marveled at the costumes, floats and dances displaying the Filipino people’s love for elaborate decorations and flamboyance. With all the spectators smiling and enjoying themselves, it was easy to forget my own discomforts and join in their festive mood because neither the rain nor the heat kept the Filipino’s from the celebration. Most of all, during the festival, the Cebuanos seemed to emanate such pride and love for their province– all joining in the celebration and contributing to the festivities in their own way– salesclerks wore Cebu or Sinulog shirts and Cebuanos were more than happy to help Manileños and foreign tourists.

I am one of the four million in attendance, pushing and shoving, making my way through one of the side streets after watching the parade. Someone places paint on my clothes and face, and I am drenched because someone has thrown a drink in the air. It starts to rain but still nobody leaves. My flip-flops almost break, my feet are dirty from being stepped on, and I can smell other people’s sweat, but amidst all the chaos someone starts chanting “Pit Señor!”, the people join in and the chanting gets louder and louder— confirming a devotion that has led to one of Asia’s grandest festivals. I join in the chanting and it reminds me why I came.

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