Prayer balloons

Hail to the Child King! Viva! Pit Señor Santo Niño!

This is a multimedia post Speak of Cebu and images of the Sto. Niño , the province’s patron, come to mind. And so does the valiant Lapu-Lapu, sweet mangoes, the famous lechon, guitars and beaches. But it is more than that. Cebu is a special and beautiful place. It is also my home.

This is the second to the last post on the Sinulog/Sto. Niño

Viva! Pit Señor Santo Niño! The lady at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño peppered her fast prayer like rapid machine-gunfire bursts as she was waving the candles in the air that a devotee got from her. This coupled with the familiar steps of the sinulog dance but instead of the two steps forward one step backward footwork, she was just stationary. A gyration of the hips, a short and abbreviated movement of the feet plus her rapid chant is enough to help pilgrims who need all the supplications they can get. After this, the candles are lighted and one’s prayers are said just outside the walls. However, it’s not only candle vendors who do the sinulog but fervent devotees do so from time to time.

Rolled papers bearing the prayers of the devotee are tied to a balloon which will then be released when the image passes during the procession.

Rolled papers bearing the prayers of the devotee are tied to a balloon which will then be released when the image passes during the procession.

This is a common sight at the Basilica as pilgrims from all over come and venerate the image, considered the oldest in the Philippines, in supplication for a favor or as thanx for a blessing received. It’s also an opportunity to witness face to face what the real sinulog is. Accounts say that this prayer dance goes to pre-Spanish Philippines and legends abound regarding how it started. Whatever the case may be, the sinulog has always been observed by the Sto. Niño’s faithful before it was hijacked by the local government and transformed into a big commercial festival.

The procession

One God, two different ways of honoring the Christ. The devotion to the Sto. Niño is done in honor of the child Jesus while the Black Nazarene is of the suffering adult. Both is said to be two of the three biggest religious devotions in the Philippines, the third is the Virgin of Antipolo.

The difference is at both ends of the spectrum and it is more pronounced during the procession. While the latter is more of a fanatical orgy marked with scuffles, blood, injuries and sometimes death with pilgrims trying to touch the image, often with fatal results, the former is more subdued, peaceful and organized. It is one of the moving experiences, as expressions of faith is concerned.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.


  1. Candles, icons, prayers anyone? | langyaw
    February 5, 2009 @ 8:05

    […] the Sto. Niño. At another area, some old and not so old ladies with candles in hand approach and offer to say prayers for you. For a peso per stick of wax, they dance the sinulog and once done, they give it to you, already […]

  2. The Sinulog Mardi Gras: lost in translation | langyaw
    February 8, 2009 @ 17:11

    […] street dancing that we know of today had it’s beginnings with the traditional sinulog, a prayer dance that was offered to the Sto. Niño during it’s feast day every 3rd Sunday of […]

  3. Cebu’s beloved Child, God and King | langyaw
    February 8, 2009 @ 17:13

    […] Devotees come in all ages, of different economic status and from different parts of the country and abroad. Families with children or baby in tow line up to kiss at the chapel. Some are bringing gifts like toys, balloons and other items as an offering. Pilgrims gather at an area where they light candles as a means of offering a prayer or supplication. […]

  4. » Ibajay’s indescribable Sto. Nino festivities | Langyaw: Sojourns and Off-the-Beaten Path Travels
    February 1, 2012 @ 21:49

    […] down below. CLICK TO ENLARGE The Ibajay Sto. Nino festivities is small compared to the one in Cebu, but the ardent fervor of the devotees coupled with the seeming paganistic/ritualistic practices […]

  5. » Langyaw in 2009 | Langyaw: Sojourns and Off-the-Beaten Path Travels
    March 12, 2012 @ 12:47

    […] secrets, off-the-beaten-path travels, her people’s devotion to the child, God and king, the Sto. Niño with it’s attendant festival, the Sinulog. There’s culture and heritage, food from […]

  6. Viva! Pit Señor Santo Niño | Das Leben ist gut
    January 18, 2014 @ 2:38

    […] Viva! Pit Señor Santo Niño […]

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