Happening this January 14 at Palm Grass the Cebu Heritage Hotel is “Retracing Sinulog,” a forum on the precolonial roots of the Sinulog dance. Up until now, I didn’t know that Cebu’s Sinulog roots can be traced all the way to Sulu.

This is according to a teaser posted by Palm Grass Hotel, the forum organizer, inviting the public to what it promises as an “enlightening and fun conversation about the origins of Sinulog.” Experts invited to speak during the forum are Professor Darwin Absari of the University of the Philippines-Diliman Institute of Islamic Studies, and Professor Jose Eleazar “Jobers” R. Bersales of the University of San Carlos Department of Anthropology, Sociology, and History.

ProfessorAbsari will talk about “The Sulu Empire’s influence on trade, arts, culture and indigenous spirituality.” Professor Jobers, Cebu’s favorite social historian, who always speaks with profound knowledge and passion, will talk about “Precolonial Cebuanos’ religious beliefs and the origin of the Sinulog dance.”

A short video documentary will also explore the various theories on the Sinulog dance. It is produced by Hong Kong-based Social Communications Asia’s Prospero Laput, with some video footage shot in Sulu which highlights the culture of the ancient Sulu Empire.

Activities like this present a refreshing twist for us Cebuanos celebrating the Sinulog festival but who have outgrown the traditional street dance or parade segment of the celebration. I’m not saying I have grown tired of the street dances and celebration happening every third Sunday of January in our city. It still, in fact, draws a large crowd of locals and tourists alike. The Sinulog also remains significant in our local economic sector especially for the hospitality and tourism industry.

But many of us, or just maybe my circle of friends, for a long time, have not been on the streets or the grandstand to watch the Sinulog dances. We have not even watched anymore the parade on television. If social media were my social barometer in determining how my contemporaries are observing this celebration, it is with pleasure to say that we’ve shifted our focus to the solemn processions and novena, and the singing of the Gozos (Batobalani sa Gugma).

Perhaps it has something to do with our maturing age, but I think the fading interest of the street festival among some of us locals stem from Sinulog becoming too commercialized over the years. Forgive me for saying this, but different pockets of the city usually transform into one Sodom and Gomorrah during the festival. And there was also that ugly, though thankfully brief, episode of tug-of-war played out in public on who should be calling the shots and should be doing what in the Sinulog preparations.

In a collegial manner and with community’s welfare in mind, we must now focus our efforts to strengthening the religious and cultural aspect of the Sinulog festival. The days before, during, and after the festival should be treated as one semiotic system that explains and reinforces the meaning of the dances, religious rituals, and other symbols and signs of our cultural history.

The Sinulog Short Film Festival is one such meaningful activity. I was told it will continue this year with some innovation. Another example is what I mentioned above, the January 14 forum at Palm Grass about the pre-colonial roots of the Sinulog dance.

One more I can suggest is to incorporate local cultural history in our school curriculum. That way when young people join and watch the Sinulog parade, they bring with them a sense of cultural identity that reinforces their social behavior in observing the celebration.

How many among our youthful watchers of the Sinulog parade are aware about the scholars’ description of the Sinulog dance as an invocation of “such cultural terms as “lihok” (movement),”kinasingkasing”(sincerity),and”halad”(sacrifice)”? That the parade, in the words of Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism researcher SallyAnn Ness, is a representation of patterns for social action as the traditional guest-host relationship.”

The Sinulog can also reassert its relevance by depicting not only “the struggles of the natives between good and evil, the healing of a dreaded disease, and thanksgiving of bountiful harvest in the farm or bountiful catch in fishing.” The Sinulog parade, with its dances, giant puppets, and moving floats must also find a way to link the festival to the challenges of the modern times, incorporating for example the human impact on the environment.