Apart from a devotion to the Virgin Mary in all her various forms, (like the Our Lady of Guadalupe, Manaoag, Antipolo, the Rosary, etc.) Filipino Catholics are renowned for their devotion to the Infant Jesus AKA the Santo Niño or the Holy Child. And if the festivals and feasts held every 3rd Sunday of January (which is the feast day of the Santo Niño) are of any indication, the Pinoy Catholic’s devotion to the Santo Niño is as much fervent and grand as the many Marian feasts held here, with Cebu and Aklan being the more popular hotbeds of Santo Niño festivities with their respective festivals the Sinulog and Ati-Atihan.
While not considered the prime religious icon of Manila, the Santo Niño is being venerated in some parts of the city. One noteworthy Santo Niño-influenced festival in the city stands out for its unique tradition that has withstood time and urban influences.
Located at Manila’s eastern part right at the southern bank of the Pasig River, Pandacan has long been considered a hotbed for the city’s culture and the arts especially during the 19th-early 20th centuries. Thus, it is not surprising (or surprising for others who are not familiar with Pandacan) that one can find some unique traditions that are alive in this part of the city. What better way to showcase that tradition than in Pandacan’s annual festival in honor of its patron the Santo Niño de Pandacan.
Every year on a Saturday before the actual feast of the Santo Niño, people flock to Pandacan’s narrow streets to witness a unique tradition of dance in honor of its patron. They call this dance the “buling-buling” which came from an old Tagalog word meaning beautiful, which pertains to the image of Santo Niño. It is said that the dance has been around in some form during the 1800’s; its movements symbolize gratitude, praise, worship, and faith for the Santo Niño.
In the midst of the urbanization and modernization of Pandacan’s landscape, it is nice to see a tradition like this being kept alive thanks to the efforts of various Pandacan groups who work together in preserving Pandacan’s heritage. It is one good example of a living remnant of what may have been a rich Manila heritage that has largely disappeared in the urban madness. Much so that the City of Manila has made the “buling-buling” the official dance of the city.
Before the dance procession begins, one gets to witness a unique tradition that was just begun recently: a joint thanksgiving celebration of the Roman Catholic Church and Philippine Independent Church (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) symbolized by their respective Santo Niño images placed side by side on an altar at the Liwasang Balagtas. For churches whose doctrines on faith are not all the same, it showed a sense of unity in their devotion to Pandacan’s patron and some hope that religions can come together in faith.
Then comes the dance procession itself as different groups composed of folks young and old from all walks in life dressed in colorful Filipiniana-inspired outfits dance the buling-buling around Pandacan. While there is recognition involved with the groups that have been seen as “exemplary,” there is no competition involved but rather a showcase of faith of a people through their devotion to the Santo Niño.
From the looks of things, it is encouraging to see this dance of Manila living on as part of a city’s underrated culture that deserves to be given some attention for the sake of preserving the city’s soul endangered by urban decay.
© The Urban Roamer