A Sinulog Most Filipinos Do Not Know

Posted on 25 August 2021
By Nereo C. Lujan

Cabatuan, Iloilo, my hometown, is home to a kind of Sinulog most Filipinos do not know. It is distinct from that of Cebu. It is moro-moro-like street performance of two dancers posed like warriors exhibiting their skill and prowess in the art of kali or arnis, now a National Martial Art and Sports by virtue of Republic Act No. 9850 in 2009.

Documentation of sinulog at Cabatuan on 15 April 1977, from Cabatuan: Its History and People (Cabatuan Historical Society, 1977).

When we were kids, the Sinulog of Cabatuan was a regular feature of the feast day of San Nicolas de Tolentino, the patron saint of Cabatuan, every September 10. It was always a crowd drawer. The dancers also entertained people in fiesta coronations, political gatherings, and weddings. (In San Joaquin, Iloilo, Sinulog is called sayaw [literally ‘dance’] and performed in weddings.) In the Tomas Confesor Memorial Library in Cabatuan, there used to be a huge painting of two Sinulog warriors. I hope it is still there. I think the last time I saw a live Sinulog performance in the Cabatuan plaza was in 1987 during the campaign rally of Ramon Gonzales, then a candidate for congressman in the 3rd district. He lost to Licurgo Tirador in that election.

“The Sinulog is a war dance full of variation of Joloano origin…reminiscent of jousts and ancient tournaments,” writes Felix Laureano in Recuerdos de Filipinas, his ground-breaking book of Philippine photographs published in Barcelona, Spain in 1895. Laureano added that Sinulog was popular in Panay (the Visayan island where Iloilo is located) and that “(t)his spectacle takes place during important town feasts of the populace.”

Laureano’s documentation of a late 19th-century sinulog in Iloilo. Image courtesy of the Falvey Memorial Library, Villanova University, Pennsylvania.

It was said that Sinulog provided an opportunity for Filipinos to continue practicing kali when the Spanish government banned it. The ritual was developed to allow them to carry blades and practice their attacks, blocks and footworks. The ban on kali also gave birth to arnis, where instead of the sharp ginunting, a stick is used.

I am glad to note that Sinulog is still being practiced in my hometown Cabatuan, a shown in the video below courtesy of George Lopera. This wedding took place on the morning of 25 August 2021 in Barangay Duyan-Duyan. Sadly, some health protocols were not observed during this celebration.

About the Author

Nereo C. Lujan is the chief of the Public Information and Community Affairs Office of the Province of Iloilo. In 2019, he was designated as the resident historian of the Provincial Government of Iloilo by Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr. He is the author of Casanave: An American photographer in Iloilo (National Historical Commission of the Philippines, 2021).

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