The rhythmic sound of drum beats emanating two blocks away from where we stand begins to vibrate. As the sound gets closer and louder, you can sense the excitement on painted faces of spectators and revelers — boys, girls, men, women, seniors — aged from as young as two to as old as one can walk unaided out to the street, where they secure the best vantage point to view and enjoy the Sinulog festival parade. It was Sunday, January 28th, at 12:00 noon, the day and time many Carmenians*, tourists and visitors from the neighboring towns and from other parts of the Philippines marked anticipatedly.
The first order of contingent comes with much fanfare, heralding the arrival of 12 more contingents behind them, where the last contingent is backed up two hours away from our spot. Every contingent is preceded by their tribe signage either carried by two or more individuals, followed by the drum cast, where the first flank of 6 to 8 snare drummers walk shoulder to shoulder, right behind them are trumpet, trombone, xylophones and clarinet players, followed by another flank of 3 or more huge steel drummers.
The literally huge steel drums are probably improvised from recycled empty oil steel containers, secured together on a wheeled base chassis so they can be pushed forward with ease. Steel drums really sound awfully loud as beaters summon their strength to apply ample force to generate big dominant waves with a loud bang. All instruments create a sound ensemble that uniquely identifies one contingent from the other. Indeed this was the day where spectators expected to be fully entertained, either audibly by the musical ensemble created uniquely to harmonize with the dance steps, or by the overwhelming array of majestically clothed members, their heads tilt sideways and back in coordinated fashion, they wave their hands left and right and lower themselves to their knees and rise back up in domino fashion, hips sway controllably in obedience to the drum beats and harmonic tunes, as their leader commands full control of the execution by whistling out dance cues and managing tempo — what an awesome sight to behold.
The contingent’s muse carrying the image of Sto. Nino follows the lead entourage, clothed in her glamorous floor-length gowns, pompous and intricately adorned headdress, and floral laced drapes hanging by her shoulders. Some tribes have more than one muse who are all noticeably handpicked from a chosen few. Their faces are sparingly painted but behind the paint hides a gorgeous, authentic native Filipina beauty. Muses are the pick of the crop, each one could easily qualify for any of much gilded beauty competitions if they chose to be so. But during the Carmen Sinulog, they would rather belong to their own tribe where they parade their exquisite beauty, extremely proud for being the inspirational centerpiece of the entire contingent, and honored to be the bearer of the most revered image of Señor Santo Niño.
Behind the muse line comes the massive members of the contingent, usually lined in two, numbering approximately no less than 150 members minimum, all beautifully dressed in their intricately colorful tribal costumes. Members consistently paced themselves a certain distance from one another to allow ample space for dancing. They attentively listen to cues from their leader and to the beat of the drums as they execute their dance moves almost flawlessly. At a certain point, they would stop in their tracks and perform their well-choreographed number, delightfully captivating the crowd with awe who in turn responded with a thundering applause.
Colors are the accent of the day. Primary, secondary and tertiary color palettes are optimally used and artistically woven into different costume components, their combinations are work of creative minds designed to create impact, lift the mood, and hopefully leave a lasting impression on the minds of the judging committee. Each contingent has chosen a certain color combination that emphasizes their theme, isolates their character, and harmonizes their movements and dance steps. Hordes wearing combinations of yellow, purple, blue, gold and red are most attractive. Choreography gives motion to colors as drum beats command a series of well-coordinated moves creating impression of limbless waves of colorful bodies.
Sporadically, onlookers break up as the relentless face-painter spares no one in sight, chases those whose faces are still unpainted, corners them and brings them to submission where he joyfully applies multi-color strips of paint on his victim’s face as the crowd erupt delightfully in countenance. Such was the scenario of total submission to the fun and spiritual aspects of the event. In the end nobody gets upset, their painted faces symbolize humility and devotion to the infant Jesus in the most celebrated event in Carmen, Cebu.
At the tail end of each contingent is the formation of supporters in large number, ranging from approximately 40 to 70, wearing shirts that reflect the identity of the contingent they support. The “groupies”, as I would like to call them, carry the life support items for the dancers and other members of the contingent. They bring beverages (water, beers, etc.), food, and anything else that sustain all members of the contingent through the rigors of the entire length of the parade and down to the final showdown in the town plaza. Some of them also carry images of the Señor Santo Niño and also dance to the rhythm and beats that emanate from the musical cast before them. For the most part, contingents use motor vehicles to transport life-support supplies. In cases where a motor vehicle is not provided, necessary items are either hand-carried or backpacked as they march along the entire coverage of the procession.
This year’s Sinulog is participated by 7 local and 6 out-of-town contingents. Together they praise and honor the Señor Santo Niño through a well-rehearsed ritual which culminates in the showdown finale in the town plaza. The event aims to pay homage to the Holy Child and thank him for all the blessings he has bestowed on the township of Carmen. This year’s Sinulog caps its 45th year since it started as an offspring of the original Kalibo Ati-atihan, when the Rev. Fr. Jose Motus from Kalibo brought the festival to the municipality of Carmen. It was later called Sinulog in Carmen to give the event its appropriate local identity and to distinguish it from many other versions of ati-atihan splinters all over the Philippines. In 1974 the Carmen Sinulog was touted the uncle Sinulog festival of Cebu City, held on every 4th Sunday of January. As the one in Cebu City gained popularity and drove more economic gains due to its countrywide appeal, the one in Carmen later relegated itself behind a much larger and more commercialized one in the Capital City.
In Carmen, each contingent has been given a certain amount of subsidy to defray costumes, props and other forms of expenses. Contingents may participate in the dance competition which is held in the town plaza after the parade. The winner of the contest will be chosen by the mayor’s Sinulog committee, where each participating contingent will vie for the 200K prize, giving their all in performing their best choreography in an elevated platform where thousands of spectators waited patiently to witness the final showdown.
Most spectators leave the town plaza after the last contingent performs. But a good majority stays on to party through the night. Audio components sitting on top of flatbed trucks supply the music. Spectators and their private contingent of music, food, and beverages defy human weariness as beers and other alcoholic beverages re-energize and rehydrate sun-beaten painted bodies.
This year, months of preparation and planning which resulted in countless manhours, have been expended by participating contingents and the town’s event committee, not to mention the financial aid committed by the honorable Gerard Villamor, mayor of the municipality of Carmen, to ensure the continual success of Sinulog in Carmen. The level of fun and jubilation manifested in each colorfully painted faces among Sinulog participants, dancers, onlookers and revelers are sufficient testament to the overwhelming success of Sinulog in Carmen. Sinulog in Carmen may be second only to the one in the capital city of Cebu, but for all Carmenians and spectators of this year’s event, theirs is just as huge because, in their mind, the level of love and devotion they manifested in honor of the Señor Santo Niño is a personal conviction that cannot be measured.
My sincerest thanks to Ms. Rose Rosales who planned the Carmen trip and introduced us to partylist congressman Aniceto “John” Bertiz III and to members of his extended family, Imelda “Imee” Enriquez, Rosalyn Bontia, Maricel Sios-e and Judith “Mamang” Enriquez who welcomed and accommodated us warmly in their posh residence in Carmen. Their hospitality and kindness have been extended to us in lavish fashion. I also acknowledge Rosalyn who introduced us to the honorable Gerard Villamor, mayor of the municipality of Carmen, who gave us access to prime seats for full event coverage during the final showdown in the town’s grandstand.
*Carmenians is a demonym for those who live in the municipality of Carmen, Cebu.