Tindera sinulog

Kristelle Ortega, USJ-R Masscom (The Freeman) - January 21, 2015 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines – Dancing the "sinulog" has been a traditional ritual among devotees during the feast of the Santo Niño. It has even become an important part of the local culture, the dancing taking to the streets at the Sinulog grand parade. The dancing in the streets is flamboyant; the one at the churchyard of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño is prayerful.

Another distinct difference between the two "sinulog" performances is the fact that in the streets the lead dancers are pretty young girls waving icons of the Santo Niño at hand. At the Basilica, the "sinulog" dancers are mostly old women whose faces and postures bear traces of of a difficult life and the ravages of time. Even the "sinulog" dance steps are different. While the two-steps-forward-one-step-backward footwork is standard, the street dancers are to move forwards but those at the Basilica simply dance in place. And, the "sinulog" in the streets go with accompanying drumbeats, while at the churchyard there's only the chanting of the dancers.

The dancers at the Basilica are called "tindera sinulog." They sell candles to be lit for the Santo Niño, offering it to the Child God in a dance. They differ from the ordinary candle vendors, who only sell candles but do not perform the "sinulog." The chanting of the "tinder sinulog" goes more specific than the general "Pit Senyor!" heard of the street dancers, since with the "tindero sinulog" the dance is a form of supplication or thanksgiving for certain divine favors.

The "tindera sinulog" perform the prayer dance for free - "clients" pay only for the candles. As soon as the candles are ordered and the particular petition has been relayed to the "tindera sinulog," the dancing begins. It's done only at the Basilica Del Santo Niño.

86-year-old Mariana Lara Pascual grew up watching her grandmother who was a "tindera sinulog." Belonging to a family of candle makers, she naturally grew up following in the footsteps of her grandmother, literally and figuratively. She said she is probably the oldest "tindera sinulog" performer, having been doing it for as long as she can remember.

While there's no prescribed costume among the "tindera sinulog," the performers see to it that they are dressed properly, since it is a prayer dance. And recently, all candle vendors have been required by the authorities to wear identification cards for control purposes, as more and younger women have joined in the trade.

The candles are sold at P10 apiece, which comes in different colors. Some vendors attach meanings to the colors, for good health, for good luck, for a happy love life etc. But for Lola Mariana, colors have no meaning unless the prayers are done heartily.

Some people wonder why the prayer has to take the form of a dance.  According to Lola Mariana, it is because the Santo Niño is a child and a child enjoys gestures that are playful; hence, the dance.

To make the dance very dynamic, it mimics the movement of the water current, or "sulog" in Cebuano, specifically that in the once abundant Pahina River towards the city's south. That's how the dance has come to be called "sinulog," from the word "sulog."

The "tindera sinulog" is done every day at the Basilica, but much more so during the fiesta of the Santo Niño. Lola Mariana, who comes from the town of San Fernando, south of Cebu province, has to wake up at dawn every day in order to arrive early at the Basilica. Often, her daughter-in-law goes with her. Her two sons are the ones that make the candles.

To Lola Mariana, performing the "sinulog" is as much livelihood as an act of personal thanksgiving. She is thankful to the Santo Niño for her long life and for making her still able to perform the prayer dance despite her ripe age.

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