The Sinulog Mardi Gras: Lost in Translation

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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 last of a series on the Sto. Niño de Cebu

The Sinulog Mardi Gras in Cebu is considered one of the biggest and grandest festival in the month of January. It is one of three that is marked with street dancing in honor of the Holy Child that occurs in the Visayas, the other two are the Ati-atihan of Kalibo, Aklan which is celebrated on the same day with the Sinulog, and the Dinagyang of Iloilo.

A dancer putting on finishing touches during a lull.
A dancer putting on finishing touches during a lull in the dancing.

The 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 January. What was then a small celebration within the vicinity of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, was hijacked by provincial officials and expanded to become a major tourist event in Cebu in the early 80s. From that time to the present, the religious significance of this mardi gras is lost, except for the icon of the Holy Child that is now reduced as a prop for the dancing.

A pair of dancers before the start of the Sinulog.
A pair of dancers before the start of the Sinulog.

If you are seeking enlightenment or ponder the significance of faith, you can’t find it in the streets of Cebu City during this day. Instead, it is a very highly commercialized ritual sacrificing children, teens and adults to pound and sashay on the scorching streets on a very long parade route just to win a lump sum of money.

But all is not lost. The Sinulog mardi gras is something to enjoy for it’s color and creativity. Nevermind if the costumes are more the product of the imagination than for authenticity. It’s a time to party, mingle, dance on the streets and have an excuse to fly to the province and drink till morning.

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).

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. Open for work, collaborations and inquiries for site features.

21 thoughts on “The Sinulog Mardi Gras: Lost in Translation

  1. Beautiful photographs. There are quite a few Mardi Gras happening in the coming months. This seems to be a very interesting one. Next week is in Venice, Italy then later in New Orleans. Brazil too. It’s a fun time to celebrate heritage.

  2. Do you use all of your own photographs for your site? There really are some incredibly beautiful ones here! Really enjoyed this article and hope to make time to read some more this week! x

  3. Gennaro, yes, there are many mardi gras happening especially just before Ash Wednesday, the start of Catholicism’s Lenten season.

    Jen, yep, I took all the photos here 🙂

    Thanx guys.

  4. thanks for sharing those photos because i was supposed to attend this year’s sinulog but missed it because of a seminar scheduled on the same date.

  5. @lantaw, i guess, it’s the way for most bevy of festivals in the country. its typically in the guise of a religious or cultural event with the main purpose lost in the pageantry of costumes and garbs.

    @dong, @islander, I surely am not missing this event. Probably since what I see every year is just the similar steps and groups offering the same spectacle. it’s the costumes that are varying from time to time.

    @dyosa, thanx 🙂

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