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Filipinos in UAE gear up for Sinulog celebration

Groups in elaborate costumes to celebrate sixth Sinulog sa UAE

The sixth Sinulog sa UAE will be held at Al Shabab Al Arabi Club on February 9
Image Credit: Supplied
The sixth Sinulog in the UAE will be held on February 16 at AHDAAF Sports Club in Al Quoz.

Dubai: Thousands of Filipino expatriates are expected to flock to Dubai on Friday to celebrate the popular Philippine festival Sinulog in the UAE.

The Sinulog is an annual festival in honour of the feast of the child Jesus known as Santo Nino. The festival is held in Cebu, Philippines every third Sunday of January and features a street parade of groups in elaborate costumes while doing the traditional Sinulog dance consisting of two steps forward and one step backward.

In the UAE, the festival marks its sixth year on February 16 at AHDAAF Sports Club in Al Quoz, with the day-long event opening at 8am and the much-awaited Sinulog dance tribute happening at 1:30pm.

Sinulog sa UAE founder Wendell Tagimacruz Castro said the first Sinulog celebration in the UAE happened in 2013, featuring a small group of participants organised by UAE-based non-profit group United Cebuanos.

"We wanted to bring our culture and share it to all nationalities and fellow Filipinos. We are keeping our tradition though we are far from our Cebu," he told Gulf News.

Erwin Manubag, Vice-President of United Cebuanos, said another highlight of this year's event is the Sinulog Festival Queen.

"The competition pits the lead dancers of the contingents participating in the Sinulog grand parade to win the title of Sinulog Festival Queen," Manubag said.

What Sinulog means to Filipino expats

The Sinulog holds a multi-faceted meaning to Filipino expats in the UAE. But what exactly does Sinulog mean to them and what do they look forward to the most?

"Every year we look forward to the colourful costumes and cries of 'Viva Pit Senor!'" said Bonita Jumao-as, 36, a business development manager in Dubai.

Another Dubai-based expat, Helen Abrantes, said the Sinulog allows her to showcase her dancing skills to "entertain the audience".

Abrantes, 35, has been participating in Sinulog sa UAE for a few years, taking at least three hours of her time every week for at least four weeks for group dance practice.

"Since I’m capable of dancing, this is what I look up to the most every year, sharing my talent with everyone and... [dancing] to the Sinulog drum beat, said Abrantes, who works as a purchasing executive in Dubai.

Gypsy Premacio, United Cebuanos PRO in Abu Dhabi, said Sinulog is a “grand tribute to the vibrant Cebuano tradition and to the rich Filipino cultural heritage”.

"Every year, I always look forward to that kind of colourful and collective collaboration of the whole Filipino community, not only in Cebu but also from the rest of the Philippines and the world. This kind of unity is what the Sinulog festival offers. Sinulog conveys an encouraging message that despite the odds, life remains inspiring and there is always something beautiful to look forward to as the day goes by," Premacio said.

The origin of Sinulog

According to historians, Sinulog was already performed by Cebu natives before Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived on the island in 1521 to introduce Christianity. He gave a statue of Santo Nino to the king and queen of the island.

Since then the Sinulog - expressed in a simple dance consisting of two steps forward and one step backward - had been a small ritual before the Santo Nino.

Forty-four years later, when the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino was constructed to enshrine the Santo Nino statue, pilgrims and candle vendors made their dance tribute there.

In 1980, the concept of a Sinulog festival started, with a parade of students dancing to the Sinulog beat around the church.

These days, it is all about the grand street parades that draw more than one million people to the streets of Cebu City every January. Dance groups from Cebu and neighbouring provinces join the festival, donning elaborate costumes and dancing the distinct Sinulog steps.