CEBU CITY—She was known as the “Keeper of the Sinulog Beat” who hit the drums, sang Latin songs and led children and young adults in dancing to the traditional Sinulog steps come the third week of January.
But Estelita “Inday Titang” Diola may not be able to do the 45-minute prayer dance she has been leading for the past 80 years.
The 87-year-old Sto. Niño devotee slipped and fell on her right hip on Dec. 7 and has been bedridden since Dec. 27.
According to relatives, Inday Titang learned to dance the Sinug, a prayer-dance of gratitude and veneration to the Holy Child, back when she was 7, with her father Buenaventura as dance instructor.
What early Cebuanos called Sinug later became Sinulog.
Since then, she has worked to master the dance, even as she became a member of the Mabolo Tribe, a loose group of dancers organized by Buenaventura, who would dance the Sinug.
It was composed mostly of family members, including his wife Nasaria and children Mateo, Eduarda, Lucia, Romana and Inday Titang.
The entire Diola family was a devotee of the Sto. Niño.
During the feast of the Holy Child Jesus on the third week of January, the Diola family would go to the house of the Gorordo family, where Buenaventura worked as a kuchero (horse carriage driver) on Lopez Jaena Street in Cebu City, and dance the Sinug.
The Gorordo family is one of Cebu’s most prominent families.
Dancing at Casa Gorordo became a tradition and continued even when the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) assumed its management and opened it as a museum in 1983, said Dr. Jocelyn Gerra, executive director of the Rafi culture and heritage program.
Rafi holds the annual Sinug sa Casa Gorordo the Monday after the Sinulog festival on the third Sunday of January.
Grandson Rommel Borja, recognized as the heir-apparent to the original Sinug beat, said his grandmother prepared him well and is ready to fill her shoes and train more young people.
“I learned how to dance and sing Latin songs at 3 years old. She told us that the Sinug is not just a presentation. It is not just a performance. The Sinug is praying by dancing,” said Rommel, 40, who works as a carpenter.
On Monday, he will beat the drum and lead the Mabolo Tribe at the Sinug sa Casa Gorordo.
Rommel said they also perform the widely known Sinulog steps of two steps backward and one step forward. However, the original Sinug dance has more strength, force and is executed to either ward off evil or fight against calamities.
For example, Rommel said the pakli dance is done as a symbol of warding off evil spirits while the kinampilan is a “war dance” that tells calamities or bad people to stay away from the Cebuanos because they will fight back.
Apart from the Sinug sa Casa Gorordo, Rommel said the group will also dance on the fluvial procession on Saturday.
Rommel was sewing the costumes of the dancers when the Inquirer visited the Diola home on Thursday.
Inside her humble home in Sitio Sinulog, Barangay Mabolo, Inday Titang lies on a wooden bed with a thin cushion that barely provides comfort to her aching back.
She is attended to by Rommel and his mother, Carol Borja.
“It feels strange to see her just lying in bed, wincing in pain. I am used to seeing Inday Titang dancing, beating the drum and being strict in training children,” said Rommel, who grew up in the same house with his grandmother.
Too frail to dance
Rommel said it was on Dec. 27 when his grandmother got sick with fever and complained of swelling and intense pain in her right leg.
She was admitted to Cebu City Medical Center on Dec. 31, where doctors diagnosed her to be suffering from cellulitis and inflammation of the skin and tissues.
The Cebu City government shouldered her hospital bills of more than P20,000.
Rafi provided Inday Titang’s wheelchair and continues to monitor her condition.
Rommel said there are also individuals who gave financial help for Inday Titang’s medications during her hospitalization.
However, Rommel said she is still taking medicines and is picky with food.
Inday Titang loved humba, a Visayan dish of pork belly cooked in sugar, soy sauce and vinegar simmered over low fire.
But she cannot have humba now. She can only manage to eat porridge.
It looks like Inday Titang will just have to watch her troupe of youngsters perform the Sinug.
“She will still be there but on a wheelchair. She is too frail to dance. But she asked me at the hospital to bring her to Casa Gorordo. She asked me to continue the Sinug tradition and train more children,” said Rommel.
Rommel said Inday Titang does not recognize anyone but smiles and open her eyes when she hears the beat of the drum, her own drum made of goatskin.
“The moment she hears the sound of the drum, she will look for me and say, ‘Nagsugod na diay ang praktis (Has the practice started)?’ She even attempts to get up because she wants to discipline mischievous boys, who don’t focus during practice,” he said.
Faith in Sto. Niño
Inday Titang never married. She worked as a laundry woman and lived in the same house with her older sister, Eduarda, who also remained unmarried until her death.
Rommel believes that Inday Titang’s faith in the Sto. Niño brought her back home.
“She could have died in the hospital. But even there, she was singing Latin songs and saying prayers to the Sto. Niño. The other patients found her amusing. Señor Sto. Niño brought her home and we believe this is a sign telling us that her mission to spread the faith continues,” he said.
Gerra of Rafi said the foundation will continue to assist the group in keeping the Sinulog heritage alive.
“She (Inday Titang) is forward-looking. She knows that she will not live long and has trained young people to replace her in due time. She is very humble and simple and has faith in the Holy Child and you can see that when she does the Sinug,” said Gerra.