In front of the Santo Niño basilica, in Cebu Philippines, women selling candles can be seen swaying and dancing while holding aloft a handful of candles. This is a sacred dance in honor of the Santo Niño, called Tindera Sinulog. The Sinulog is danced while prayers are being said to seek the favor of the Santo Niño.

Sinulog (a Cebuano word for “carried along by the current”) is believed to have originated from a ritual dance for a pagan deity who was fished out from the sea.   It was later Hispanized and transformed into a dance of worship for the Santo Niño.

There are many types of Sinulog dances.  The simplest, least acculturated, and perhaps the purest form of ritual prayer is what has been called the Tindera Sinulog.   Performed on the patio of the Santo Niño Basilica, it is danced by women candle peddlers on behalf of devotees who buy candles from them as an offering for petitions or for thanksgiving.  Performed to a silent, resilient beat, the dancer performs this supplicatory dance with no formal costume or audience.

Last week, prior to coming to Nepal and Bhutan to lead the photo tour, I was in the Philippines for an NGO shoot.  After working in Mindanao, I went to Cebu, to scout some locations for the extension of my 2013 Philippines photo tour. The Tindera Sinulog was on my “must see list”.

Arriving at Basilica Santo Nino I met 90 year old Irene and chose her to be the one to dance the Tindera Sinulog for me. Irene first asked me my name, and then proceeded to dance. Swaying back and forth and chanting, she began the traditional Tindera Sinulog (candle dance) which lasted about a minute.

After finishing the dance, Irene walked over to the fence and handed my candle to another woman who lit it and placed it on the iron grate above a blackened steel drum.

I asked Irene how much the cost of  the candle and her dance was, she replied “10 Pesos”, the equivalent of 25 US cents.

Near the side entrance of Santo Nino church, there is an area where worshipers come to light candles and pray. I witnessed individuals and couples lighting candles and saying prayers. It is a ritual, played out at churches throughout the Philippines.

I’ll be offering an optional extension on my 2013 Philippines photo tour, which will likely include a visit to Santo Nino. It’s a wonderful opportunity to experience and photograph Philippine culture and tradition and to perhaps even have Irene dance the Tindera Sinulog for us.



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