Most people know the Sinulog Festival as an event that takes place on land. But did you know that one of the biggest events leading up to it happens at sea?
The fluvial procession is held a day before Sinulog day, and has been a fixture of the event since the festival’s infancy. This is when the image of the Santo Niño is brought back to Cebu City through a fleet of ships along the Mactan Channel.
As part of the Sinulog Festival activities, this spectacle is witnessed by thousands of devotees.
GOING THROUGH THE WAVES OF HISTORY
The fluvial procession is basically a re-enactment of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and his crew in the Philippines.
The King of Spain tasked Magellan to explore Moluccas (spice islands) in Asia. He was accompanied by around 270 men aboard five ships – namely the Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepcion, Santiago, and Victoria.
The expedition played a big part in geography, as it’s the first expedition to circumnavigate the world. Like Christopher Columbus, Magellan believed he could reach Asia by passing through the Pacific Ocean.
It was one of the most harrowing maritime journeys ever recorded, with explorers dealing with tribal battles, harsh weather conditions, and dwindling supplies. One of Magellan’s ships, the Santiago, even sank after it was lost in a storm.
Fortunately, Magellan and his men reached Zamal, an island off the course of the Philippines. He soon traveled to Cebu, where the explorer created a lasting bond with its leader, Rajah Humabon.
Noticing the mostly pagan population, Spain prioritized spreading Christianity to its natives. Magellan eventually baptized Rajah Humabon and his followers on April 14, 1521.
This moment is important not just for Cebu, but also the entire country, since it is the catalyst that turned the Philippines into a Christian nation. Today, the country has one of the largest Christian populations in the world.
Soon after converting Humabon and his men, Magellan wanted to do the same on the neighboring island of Mactan led by Datu Lapu-Lapu.
Unfortunately, the mission was futile, and cost the lives of many men, including Magellan’s. On April 21, 1521, the Spaniards succumbed to the early Cebuanos during the Battle of Mactan.
Only the Trinidad and Victoria ships were able to make it back to Spain. The expedition was led by one of Magellan’s men, Juan Sebastian Elcano.
This had a lasting impact in the history of Cebu, as the battlefield became a national landmark in Lapu-Lapu City, now known as the Mactan Liberty Shrine.
WITNESSING THE FLUVIAL PROCESSION
The fluvial procession happens on Visperas, which is a day before the fiesta. It starts right after mass at the Birhen sa Regla Parish in Lapu-Lapu City, followed by a mobile procession to the city’s naval base.
From there, the image is carried over to a “karakoa,” which is a galleon adorned with bright colors and a remarkable design.
The karakoa stays at the front of the fleet, with hundreds of other vessels – from large passenger yachts to motorized bangkas – joining the procession.
The fluvial procession commences early in the morning. The fleet will pass through the Mactan Channel and arrive at Pier 1 in Cebu City.
Previously, the procession passed through the two Mactan-Mandaue bridges, with thousands of devotees present to witness the event. In 2024, the route was changed to feature the newest longest bridge in the Philippines, the CCLEX.
As it arrives at the port area, the image is brought back to the Basilica del Sto. Niño through a motorcade along the streets of Cebu City. Upon its arrival, a re-enactment of the baptism of Rajah Humabon and his wife Juana is performed before a mass.
The image will be kept in the church, then brought back to the streets for the Solemn Foot Procession in the afternoon. This is the last of the Fiesta Señor activities before the Sinulog Festival officially starts.
While taking part in the religious activities during the Fiesta Señor is different from the festivities held during the Sinulog Festival, they are just as important in celebrating the main reason that Sinulog exists – giving praise to our island’s patron saint, the Señor Sto. Niño.
Through the fluvial procession, you can witness what is considered one of the biggest moments in Cebu’s history.
Many devotees wake up early to watch the fleet cross the island’s pristine waters. It is a memorable event you can only experience during Cebu’s Sinulog Festival.
The fluvial procession in 2024 will be held on January 20th, starting at six in the morning. So don’t miss it!
Experience Sinulog at the heart of it by witnessing how it all began.