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Sinug or Sinulog?

CEBU, Philippines - Dr. Erlinda K. Alburo, former director of the Cebuano Studies Center-University of San Carlos, was invited to give a brief talk on the issue of authenticity in the use of the terms Sinug and Sinulog in referring to the “observance of an ostensibly centuries-old tradition of prayer dancing.”

“I was invited personally by Joy Gerra (Dr. Jocelyn is the executive director of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.’s Culture and Heritage focus area), whom I cannot refuse, after her assistant Karl (Damayo) had emailed me about it. But I left my inbox unopened for some time and did not know of this assignment until the opening of the art exhibit at the Rizal Musem recently,” she said in her Introduction of the Topic entitled “Sinulog: Cebuano current of faith.”

“As announced in the papers, I am supposed to resolve, once and for all kuno, which term should be used: Sinug or Sinulog. The confusion that the two terms brought about came only after Casa Gorordo started the ritual performance of the dance in its garden a few years back.

“But I don’t like the phrase once and for all. It terrifies me,” she interjected. “There is nothing final until one dies, a line taken from Oedipus Rex. We in the university – though I have retired – teach our students to be always critical of final statements. It is then in this mode of tentativeness that I’d like to approach the issue of term usage. For a living language is itself a continuous process of reinvention, of preserving what works for us, as well as modifying what it refers to.”

She pointed out that the categories that linguistic terms cover may well change over time: some are discarded, some are revived, some are newly discovered. “Take the term balikbayan in relation to the Sinulog festivities. Today it has been stretched to mean anyone who has been here and who has returned,” Dr. Alburo added.

Here are the fine points in her discussion:

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* The Linguistic Issue. Old dictionaries that she has consulted for her own “Dictionary of Bisayan Arts” have no entries on the term Sinug, only Sinulog, as referring to the dance. She cited that Prof. Jose Eleazar “Jobers” Bersales, Capitol consultant on heritage affairs, has called attention to a photograph in a book by Felix Laureano, Recuerdos de Filipinas, that is reprinted in a 2001 translation of the same book. That photograph, which shows two men in what looks like a fencing exhibition, is labeled in the 2001 book as “Sinulog or Moro-Moro.” However, Dr. Alburo said, the original photograph may have been labeled only as “Moro-moro.” The term “Sinulog” was probably taken by the translator of the book, Felice Noelle Rodriguez, as a synonym for “Moro-Moro.” This is because outside of Cebu, “Sinulog” refers to a war dance. Here the “moro-moro,” a play where Christians win over the Moros, is called “linambay.” She, however, shared that she doubts if the photograph was taken in Cebu at all. “As I said, the term Sinulog has been used elsewhere to describe a war dance, not the prayer dance we know today.”

*Other dictionary entries. An entry on sinulog in a Waray dictionary refers to a folk dance that’s not described, while another book on Philippine Dances and Games by Francisca Aquino and Petrona Ramos (published in 1927) refers to sinulog only as a ceremonial dance. From a Hiligaynon dictionary by John Kauffman, published 1935, it read: “war dance with very swift movements.” Alburo is quick to point out that she couldn’t find any Cebuano dictionary earlier than the 20th century that includes sinulog, though.

*The dance. One book on music and dance by Francisca Aquino, published 1948, notes the sinulog movement as: “a forward leaping movement of either the left or right foot, while the hind or rear foot slightly flexed as the front foot lands on the floor simultaneously and with slight forward bending of the body.” This leaping is also how Estelita “Nang Titang” Diola, keeper of the sinug dance and beat, describes the kinampilan dance steps of Sinug, in contrast with the more simplified two steps forward and one step backward that are now followed in the grand parade. That afternoon of January 16, or on the same day the forum was held, Nang Titang and her troupe from Barangay Mabolo once again showed that the dance is “more a mime of war between Christian and Muslim rather than the gentle feminine swaying of the tinderas (vendors) at the Basilica or Cathedral, which is the natural style.”

*Association of Sinulog with the Moro war dance. The Tausugs of Sulu, according to Alburo, assert that Sinulog comes from the name Sulu. “In their language, sulog also refers to current. It seems that the Tausug, like the Cebuano folk, also shorten a word by omitting the sound L,” she said. An article, she added, suggests that while the Sinulog dance was labelled as “Moro-moro” by the Spanish, the name Sinulog itself was taken from the name Sulu. Thus, the conflict between the Spanish and the Moros came to be known by a term taken from the Moros of Sulu. However, it was also pointed out in the same article that the Sinulog or Sinug dance was performed by the Sugbuanon even during pre-Spanish times when the Sulu diplomats used to come to Sugbu, so the term couldn’t have been used first by the Spanish. “It was probably the tribal wars then that were mimicked by the sinulog dance. The Spanish simply substituted themselves for one side of the war and introduced the Sto. Niño to reconcile the warring groups,” she further explained.

*According to Sir Dodong. The term Sinug as the authentic prayer dance is claimed by educator Dr. Jose “Dodong” Gullas, chairman of The FREEMAN, in an article he wrote in 2007 entitled “Sinug, dili Sinulog.” Dr. Alburo mentioned that the article recalls Sir Dodong’s childhood experiences together with his brother, now Cebu 1st District Rep. Eduardo “Eddie” Gullas. Both of them were acolytes during the war and were witnesses to the Sto. Niño’s help in protecting the church from harm. The author also recalls the many stories about the Sto. Niño told them by their grandmother, Lola Andrea. According to him, the Sinug is the traditional ritual: “mao kini ang Sugbuanong pamaagi pagpasalamat ni Señor Sto. Niño sa mga pabor ug maayong panglawas sa pamilya, o pagpangayo og tabang gikan Kaniya. Kun mag-Sinug, maggunit og kandila unya ikindang-kindang ang hawak unya mo-abante og kausa unya atras og kaduha dungan ang pagbatbat sa pagpasalamat, pag-ampo ug pagdayeg...midagan ang katuigan nga gihimo ang sayop nga sayaw bitbit ang Imahen ni Señor Sto. Niño sa ilang mga kamot og paturagas lang og alsa niini pataas ug paubos, sa wala ngadto sa tuo, ug ipatuyoktuyok atubangan sa Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral...si Sr. Sto. Niño dili angayang bitbiton sa mga kamot apan ibutang sa altar aron adto kita mag-atubang kaniya paghalad sa atong Sinug.”

*Object of reverence. The excerpt from Sir Dodong’s article corroborates the description of Nang Titang Diola of the Sto. Niño image during the Sinug ritual as an object of reverence placed on the altar before which the dancers pray.

*Predilection for simplification. The term sinulog is associated with the war dance outside of Cebu. The surviving practitioners of the war dance steps or kinampilan sinulog suggest that their steps are the original, which makes sense, according to Alburo, knowing the Cebuano’s predilection for simplification, to include simplification in the basic dance steps. “But there is an error in saying that the sinulog is derived from the sinug, because logically the longer term would come before its abbreviated form, “ she emphasized. “We should have had it in reverse: the earlier war dance with its more complicated steps should have been called sinulog, while the later prayer dance would be called the sinug.”

*Another linguistic element involved. According to Nang Titang, the term Sinulog is derived from the word Sinuog, which means hadla (coo a child) in Cebuano. “If indeed the term Sinug is synonymous to hadla or to play with a child in Cebuano, we may conclude that the term sinulog referring to river current, specifically the wave-like movement then of a bigger Pahina river, was of later vintage to describe the later dance style.”

*Court jester. Turning now to sinug as hadla, Alburo said she knows only the term sulogsulog, which connotes the abuse on naivete with the telling or mention of improbable stories, in a way related to hadla, because of the intent to amuse. “Did the sinug originate as a form of amusement rather than as a form of prayer dance? Well, at least one legend of the origin of the dance says so,” she pointed out, as she told of a legend which tells of Baladjay, the court jester, who got sick and was placed by Queen Juana in a room where the image of the Sto. Niño was kept. Some time after he was moved there, he felt something flicking at his face and discovered a child who was playing with a stick (which would be the hadla here), so Baladjay rose from his bed and exchanged blows with the child using his own weapon, probably a kampilan. “Although, it’s a mystery why a court jester would carry a bladed weapon while he lies sick,” Alburo underlined this thought. On with the legend: The others, disturbed by the noise the two made, came in and saw that the child was the image made flesh. The legend would end with the healing of the sick Baladjay as witnessed by the others. “I suppose then that the mock battle would have started what is now the kinampilan style. And the worship came after the healing, as in many other stories of healing by the Sto. Niño. The explanation, then, for the claim that the shorter term is an older one, is that the two terms are differently sourced. The more complicated sinug ritual is related to sulogsulog or hadla, while the later sinulog came about to describe the gentle bobbing of a river current to which the simpler stepping is compared,” she emphasized.

*The Cultural Issue. Unlike the linguistic terminology then, Alburo also pointed out that there is no confusion with the cultural authenticity of the sinulog. Historians can cite the dancing that accompanied the giving of the Sto. Niño to Queen Juana. “The sinulog dance is thus considered as a significant link between paganism and Christianity in Cebu when it served as a miraculous pagan icon after Magellan’s men left and before Legazpi came. Ancient Cebuanos must have danced to the tempo of the Sinulog beat everytime they felt, expressing affection, respect and admiration for their revered anitos, their sultans and others who they felt deserved the honor. Aside from the more aggressive leaps, they must have done the kawaykaway or gentle hand gesture that speaks of a gentle yet deep love for the holy Child, today repeated by the candle vendors.”

In conclusion, Dr. Alburo proposed that authenticity be seen in the “context of culture as a dynamic everyday project, a project that is now something to be handled, modeled, even simulated in the light of adapting to the environment and current needs of survival.”

Another conclusion is on performing heritage. “First, the true function of cultural performance in the country today is not educational or conservationist but that of providing a lure for consumers,” she said. “The Sinulog dance is exceptional in that it serves both educational function, especially in the involvement of students, as well as the consumerist function.”

In putting the talk (which obviously left more questions than answers) to a close, she shared this message: “Through the Sinulog, in all its activities from the reenactment of the first baptism, to the procession on foot and fluvial, as well as the grand parade, the Pop Music and Sinulog film festivals and exhibits, Cebuanos celebrate Life itself. Like Lapulapu, we preserve our traditions and our faith in our own place, identity and culture. Like Rajah Humabon, we accept change and adapt to it without discarding our heritage.”

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