Dapitan celebrates centuries-old holiday after two-year hiatus

The Dapitanons organize the Sinug, an age-old tradition on the eve of the feast of Saint James the Greater, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Sunday July 24

DAPITAN CITY, Philippines – At first, Dapitan was silent except for moderate conversations from people carrying branches of bypagayo (croton) slowly gathering towards the old church.

The heat of the sun was intense, but it did not stop the devotees. And when the clock struck 11:50 a.m., everything went wild – people shouted “Viva Señor Santiago”, danced in the streets and waved their bypagayo while the image of their patron saint was carried in procession to his white horse.

Dapitanons hold every July 24 the Sinug (current), a centuries-old tradition on the eve of the feast of Saint James the Greater, nicknamed Kinabayo (imitating a person on horseback).

The tradition has been on hiatus for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

DEDICATION. Religious devotees surround a Señor Santiago icon during the Sinuga centuries-old tradition on the eve of the feast of Saint James the Greater in Dapitan, on Sunday July 24. Gualberto Laput/Rappler

With this year’s celebration held on Sunday, thousands of religious devotees flocked to the city to remember the period between the 16th and 17th centuries when Spanish priests introduced to Dapitan the devotion to Saint James the Greater. , also the patron saint of Spain.

“It’s how we practice our faith, and we’re proud of it. Thank you, Señor Santiago for our answered prayers. We survived the pandemic and we maintain our expression of faith again,” said journalist Jose Torres Jr., originally from Dapitan.

Dapitan Historical Society (DHS) records showed that Jesuit missionaries introduced Saint James to Dapitan, teaching people that the saint would protect the place from pirates.

It is said that Señor Santiago appeared in the mythical battle of Clavijo and helped the Christian army drive the Moors out of Spain.

“The missionaries may have confused the pirates here with Moors, and just like in Spain, Señor Santiago in Dapitan was also dressed like a general on a white horse, holding a sword, shield and his banner,” said Torres.

He added: “There was no separation of church and state before. On the feast of Señor Santiago, the Spaniards Civil Guard raised their swords and shouted “Viva Señor Santiago” while the Spanish national anthem – the Spanish Real Market – has been played.”

“Over the centuries, people have imitated the Civil Guard using sticks. But because the Church does not promote violence, the sticks have been replaced by branches of bypagayo endemic to Dapitan,” Torres said.

Religious practices and civil authorities have remained strongly linked until today only during the Sinug, the religious icon is brought by the priests out of the church and handed over, traditionally, to the chief (who today is the mayor of the town) who then carries it during the procession.

“And just like Cebu, we also call it Sinug because the multitudes make the procession look like a strong current,” Torres said.

The Dapitanons then thought that the Spanish national anthem was a Señor Santiago theme song, which is why it is still played during the Sinug nowadays.

On the feast day, the Dapitanons used to reenact the Battle of Clavijo, but it was stopped during the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) uprising to avoid offending Muslim Filipinos.

“I loved watching the re-enactment when I was still young,” Torres recalled. “As there were only a few horses in Dapitan then, devotees made makeshift horses out of bamboo and Japanese paper.”

He said people would then ask the devotees, “Asa mo paingon (Where are you going)?” The answer was always, “Adto sa Dapitan mag-kinabayo (To Dapitan, to imitate a man mounted on a horse).

In 1998, the city government launched the Kinabayo Festival as a tourism development project parallel to the celebration of Señor Santiago. – Rappler.com

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