ONE STEP FORWARD, one step backward. This is how 72-year-old Sinona Siarof moves as she waves unlit candles to the image of the Holy Child Jesus at the Basilica Minore Del Sto. Niño de Cebu.
Similarly, 67-year-old Hertrodes Daremon recites prayers as she dances with candles. Her rocking movement and the sing-song whispers of prayers serve as a calming presence to the devotee who stands on her side praying for the fulfillment of his intentions.
The prayers of Siarof and Daremon, who are candle vendors inside the Basilica are rarely for themselves, but often for their clients.
The dancing candle vendors in their yellow blouses and red skirts usually welcome the churchgoers upon entry to the Basilica.
"Sinug, ma'am/sir? (Sinulog dance, ma’am/sir?)," they ask the churchgoers.
Siarof and Daremon are no ordinary candle vendors, they offer prayer while dancing the Sinulog steps - two steps forward and one step backward, a movement which resembles the water current (sulog) of what was known as Cebu’s Pahina River.
Daremon explained when a candle buyer approaches them, they would ask for their names and their intentions, and they would then perform the sinug while reciting the prayer.
The devotee will only be paying for the candle.
Currently, the vendors sell candles at P10 per piece.
After the sinug, the devotees would take the candle inside the church or at Magellan’s cross and leave it there unburned.
Praying and dancing may not seem a lucrative livelihood, yet Siarof managed to fund her youngest child’s education. Her son now works as a government employee.
She used to sell fish alongside her husband in the western town of Balamban. After their fish gets sold out, Siarof would then sell candles.
Siarof only became a dancing candle vendor in the Basilica when her son went to college. She was 38 years old back then.
Meanwhile, Daremon was able to send her three grandchildren to high school by praying for a living.
She recalled that through such a job, she was able to provide medicines and food for her parents when they stopped working at their old age.
Daremon said her two grandchildren are now working in an industrial company in Lapu-Lapu City, while the other one was able to get a scholarship from the Basilica through its foundation, the Basilica del Santo Niño Children’s Welfare Foundation Inc.
Although there was no assurance that they would earn a lot every day, both Siarof and Daremon said there was never a day when they went home without bringing something for the table.
The two dancing candle vendors would earn an average of P500 daily on normal days, while during special occasions like the Fiesta Señor and the days leading to the celebration, they could earn as much as P2,000 a day.
Even after a full day of working, Siarof remains all-smiling. She has been working since 7 a.m.
There was still a bundle of candles in her hand, but she was optimistic the remaining candles would be sold out.
Siarof recalled she was selling candles at that time in Basilica when she suffered a stroke. Due to financial challenges, her children had to bring her home to Balamban and had her checkup at a clinic there.
Following the incident, she was forced to stop her job because of her health condition.
Siarof recalled asking the Child Jesus if she got better, she would devote more of her time to the Basilica.
(Niño, if you help me live, I will sacrifice everything for you. But if you take me, I am ready. As long as I am alive, I will be here).
After a year since the incident, Siarof was able to walk again. She immediately went back to selling candles again in the Basilica.
Both Siarof and Daremon have observed that the number of people going to Basilica and attending Sinulog has grown yearly.
Daremon said people visit the church for various reasons, such as seeking guidance, particularly those preparing for exams, while others simply want to offer prayers of gratitude for the blessings they have received.
Both Siarof and Daremon are members of the Basilica United Vendors and Photographers Association (Buvpa), an association of dancing candle vendors, photographers, and balloon vendors accredited to sell inside the pilgrim.
Siarof said there is no payment required to become a member of the association, they only need to participate in various activities like regular meetings and going to different churches depending on the occasion.
“There are times the Basilica officials would bring us out, like going to a different church, we will be bringing some offerings,” said Siarof in Cebuano.
Despite selling the same candle and offering the same services, Siarof said there was never any competition among them.
“Magtinabangay ra gyud mi diri kay para man gihapon ni sa balaang bata,” she said.
(We will help each other for the Child Jesus). S