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Travel Essay | The Grand Parade: The Uncaptured, the Uncapturable

Sweat trailed downward like small translucent rivers on the dancer’s darkened face, his eyes reddish, his face painted gray, his lips black, his breath ragged. His brows furrowing, he eyed the contingent in front of them. He touched the corner of his right eye lightly. By the look of it, he stopped himself from ardently rubbing it.

Curiosity got the better of me, I stopped framing him in my camera, crossed the short distance, and asked “What’s the matter?”

“Ang pintal man gyod,” he paused, his brows furrowing again, “di body paint. Baratuhon ni. Hapdos sa mata,” he supplied. So the reddish eyes, that reminded me of aswang’s, were not theatrical but consequential. Around him were boys wearing the same makeup, looking all battered and parched.

Another participant had kids guised as chimpanzees monkey-walking. They wore a black costume complete with a tail, their faces painted black too. Between monkey-walking, they propped their hands on the street and panted like dogs. 

While some girls checked their faces in the mirror, some fixed their makeup and tightened their bun. Once everything was set, they gathered, angled their bodies, and showed their best smile to the cameras pointed at them.

This is Sinulog—the kind that the camera is incapable of capturing. This is Sinulog within the rope-restricted route. This is Sinulog I found most interesting. These are the scenes found between the pressings of the shutter button, the lulls between the dances at the designated judges’ stations. This is Sinulog that asks for a narrative.

The uncaptured, the uncapturable are the stories that are, in the process, blurred in pursuit of the grand.

Modesty never exists in the grand parade. Colors walk, dance, entertain. No costumes and props are too loud because it is the place where the louder, the better.

And the festival queen’s is the loudest, the heaviest, the brightest since, among other things, psychology plays in carnivals of colors. The queen is as bright as hope; the nemesis is as black as death.

In photographs, festival queens are portrayed the expected—beautiful, captivating, lovely. But I am wary of such words. They never capture everything. Or perhaps, it is because their meaning varies. As such I found it rather beautiful to see a pair of manly shoes underneath a higante’s colorful skirt.

Images—especially in festivals–simplify the meaning of the most employable adjective ever created—beautiful. In photographs, it becomes smiling, poised, coordinated, elegant,festive.

But the one I saw, still in her teens, provided me a rather fresh meaning of such adjective.

“Alimuot,” she mouthed to her companion.

She sat on the road slightly pouting while frequently casting a casual glance at Sto. Niño pressed against her chest. Her costume looked heavy for her small frame. She had every reason to pout.

I could picture her coming out from Cebu City Sports Complex smiling. Her body moved with the beat, her heavy costume and the heat unnoticeable. But when they reached Carreta, she gradually felt the restrictions of her dress and the humidity.

Yes, she had every reason to pout.

Upon reaching Fuente Osmena—an ordinary twenty-minute lax walk from Cebu City Sports Complex that would take no less than two hours for her troop—her smile became a bit forced, her movement not as lively. Exhausted, she sat but beautifully so.

A companion freshened her lipstick, arranged the hem of her skirt, and tucked the rebellious baby hair back to her bun, while another fanned her.

She remained postured though unmoving as the photographers herded towards her. The sounds of different shutters rattled around.

The scene reminded me of a swarm of fish competing for a morsel thrown at them.

The photographers asked the festival queen to relax and smile more. Their eyes seldom left the viewfinder, their forefingers always on the shutter button.  The viewfinder became their very eyes.

Photographers flocking the main dancer came in postures as varied as their lenses: lying on their stomach, sitting in the air, stepping on a portable ladder, tip-toeing, swaying back, hunching, kneeling, crouching, sticking their butt upward. It was an entertaining sight.

A foreign photographer managed to capture photographs with a carrier-ed kid on his back and another one on his chest while using a camera almost as big as his son.

The photographers sometimes got lost in their viewfinder and became oblivious of the passing of time. They sometimes forgot they interjected each contingent.

“Taas na ang putol! Abante! Abante!” someone would shout. That would bring them away from the viewfinder to continue walking.

Whereas the dancers injected rhythm in our collective prayers, the photographers framed and froze it. They froze the choreographed elegance of the queen and made it look natural, froze the split-second harmony of the dancers’ movements, froze the exact moment that a dancer shouted “Ha!”, froze the ordinary and made it interesting.

Their faces lit up once they captured what they wanted, stopped shooting for a moment, and enjoyed the music. Their heads swayed with the beat.

The dancers’ energy inevitably waned, but it seemed the music did not.

There is something with the beat that makes anyone sway his head unconsciously.

The beat starts with the rapid bangs of the drums superseded by the sudden scream of the whistle that signals the euphony of the glockenspiel that leads to the salvo of the trumpets for the chorus.

This beat is the constant in a parade of the wavering. It pulsates.

But I wonder how a glockenspiel with a loose bar and a drum with a torn face can produce such beautiful rhythm. It must be the energy of the guy pounding the sweat-stained drum, must be the attentiveness of the percussionist striking the glockenspiel, must be the holding of breaths of four men before blowing their entire lives away into their trumpets.

Blurred in the sights of higantes and the floats with beautiful faces are matured men pushing, pulling, carrying wide panels used in the grand competition, motherly figures bringing water asking dancers, “Uhaw na? Tubig o.”

Published on the Sinulog Magazine 2013


Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona! I’m in my early 30s and is currently based in Ha Noi, Vietnam.I primarily write poetry and short stories in Cebuano and lengthy travel essays in English. Blogging has become an outlet to think out loud. I live the life I set for myself. I try to live an unapologetic life. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com. Find me somewhere else!

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  1. Ryan Mach says:

    Lovely narrative that indeed captures things that ordinary eyes fail to capture. 🙂

  2. What a poetic narrative! =) I love how you string words together.

    And your photos are sharp and colorful too! I know festival photography – especially of street dancers in action – can be difficult.

  3. […] I wrote two essays about last year’s Sinulog: one for Manila Bulletin and another for Sinulog Magazine. […]

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