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History of Subli?

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Answered 2015-05-03 00:16:03


The dance originated some three hundred years ago in the barrio of Dingin, Alitagtag, Batangas. According to a research made by Dr. Elena Mirano, the word "subli" came from the old Tagalog word "sobli" meaning "salisi" or "exchange of place". Exchange of place is a prominent feature of the dance subli.

Subli is the dance portion of a devotion performed in honor of the Mahal ng Poong Santa Cruz, a large crucifix of anubing wood with the face of the sun in silver at the center. The icon was discovered in the early decades of Spanish rule in what is now the town of Alitagtag, Batangas. The Mahal na Poong Santa Cruz is the patron of many towns in the area, notably the ancient town of Bauan, Batangas.

The subli consists of a long sequence of prayers in verse, songs, and dances, performed in a fixed sequence. The verse recounts the first journey of the early subli performer, or manunubli, through the fields, hills, and rivers of Batangas in search of the miraculous cross. Sections of verse are sung to a fixed skeletal melody, or punto, which may be elaborated on in a different way by a different subli troupe.

About five of these punto are used in a complete subli performance. These sections may be divided further into various fixed dance patterns involving one, two or eight pairs of men and women. These numbers seem to be the norm in Bauan, although other towns may have formations involving three pairs at a time. The stances, gestures, and movements of the male dancers are freewheeling and dramatic, consisting of leaping, striking the ground with wooden bamboo clappers held in both hands known as kalaste, and other movements suggesting the Martial Arts. The women circle on half-toe, performing the talik, small refined gestures with wrists and fingers, their fingers grazing their small-brimmed hats and alampay, a triangular scarf worn loosely over the shoulder, that are the essential parts of their costume. They dance and sing to the rhythm beaten out by a stick on the tugtugan, a goblet-shaped, footed drum of langka wood with a head made of iguana skin. E.R. Mirano


The province of Batangas has a rich cultural tradition especially in the field of dance and music. Among these traditions is the Subli of which, it was told, originated in the town of Bauan, Batangas.

According to Miguela "Mila" Maquimot, there once lived a couple in Dingin, Alitagtag. The husband was of the jealous type and a drunkard. The wife was the one who mainly did the work, one of which was fetching water from a well to the water jar wherein they drank water from. One time, the husband went home drunk and there was no water in the big water jar so the wife went to the well to get some.

By the well was wood from which sprung water. And on that wood, the woman noticed a naaginging doll. Because of this, many towns sought to get the wood but no one could lift it. So the people from Bauan, together with their parish priest, went to the well and looked at the doll. They sang and danced the subli, and were gladdened when they were able to lift the wood. They carved the wood into a saint. Their patron saint is Sta. Elena, but is referred to as Sta. Cruz.

The dancing of subli was passed on from their ancestors who were once subli dancers. They watched the performances of their elders veteran in dancing the subli. Afterward, the youngsters would gather and dance bit by bit until they learn the dance steps. And whenever they dance, they dance before their saint.

Ms. Maquimot was only 12 years old when she became a subli dancer. According to her, she and her co-dancers are no longer struck by stage fright whenever they dance the subli because they are already used to performing before an audience. She and her co-dancers were discovered on Batangas City Day, where they participated and won in a subli dance competition.

From then on, they have gone to many places to dance the subli, with the help of Ed Borbon, who was the organizer or manager of the group. As director of cultural affairs in Batangas, Borbon would contact Ms. Maquimot whenever there are occasions for them to dance in.

The group has danced at the Manila Hotel, Intramuros, Folk Arts Theater, Nayong Pilipino, Cultural Center of the Philippines, and even in places outside the Philippines. The group of Miguela Maquimot at Abdon Cruzat have gone to Washington, D.C. from June 21 to July 5 as representatives of the Philippines.

The Philippines was the only place that performed as an independent nation. The USA was represented by Wisconsin, while the Baltic nations were represented by Estonia, Latvia, at Lithuania.

During that period, they danced constantly. And on October 21, they danced again in Manila. They also dance in Batangas during the senior citizens day, Batangas Day and women's organization day.

Aside from that, they also teach subli in various schools including Sta. Teresa College, Lyceum and PBMIT.

They have attained various awards such as a plaque of appreciation from the CCP, trophies and certificates. Even those whom they have taught have also won first place in the subli competition back in July 25, 1995.

Many sulbi dancers begin learning subli at the age of 12, during the start of teen years when young girls and boys are not yet getting married and are merely at the stage of courtship. Subli is not mainly a courtship tradition, but courtship has become an element of the dance. The dance movements reflect the good actions and attitude that is expected of these young girls and boys as they grow into adulthood.

According to Ms. Maquimot, subli is a religious vow in exchange for blessings, such as the passing of board examinations or the healing of the sick.


THE subli is not just a dance or sayaw; it has also been described as a kaugalian which implies something more enduring and a panata that hints at spirituality, specially because the panata or vow is to the Mahal na Poong Santa Krus. In Lumang Bauan (southern tip of the Taal volcano area in Batangas) it is also called a laro which, in turn, is composed of tula, dasal, sayaw at musikang pantinig. But to fully understand the significance of the subli in our national repertoire of dances, one is advised to study the kalikasan around it, which I think means, its social context and gawaing panlipunan.

My source of information is Dr. Elena Rivera Mirano's edifying book, Ang mga Tradisyonal na Musikang Pantinig sa Lumang Bawan Batangas. This work, an original and valuable contribution to cultural studies, was published in 1997 by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts. I cannot imagine reading and studying about the subli in a language that is not native to these islands. Unfortunately, I have to write most of this article in English which is so alien to the subli.

The Mahal na Poong Santa Krus plays a central part in the subli; the emblematic and decorative installations, performances and other art forms related to the subli revolve around the wooden cross draped with a white fabric similar to the stole placed on the Holy Cross of Jesus during Easter. According to Dr. Mirano in ancient times natives living around the Taal volcano area would plant wooden crosses around the crater, or even immerse these in the crater itself to ask the Poon to save them from Nature's wrath. Could that have been a tradition even before the Spaniards came? Is the cross (two pieces of wood tied together) a universal design shared by many civilizations? After all, the crucifixion was already the death penalty even before Jesus Christ was born. Spotting all those wooden crosses impaled on the Taal Volcano, the early Spanish missionaries must have been amazed at the coincidence and re-shaped the tradition to fit the Christian mold. My conjecture, according to Dr. Mirano, cannot be proven by documentary evidence.

The Poong Santa Krus was first described in Gaspar de San Agustin's Conquista De Las Islas Filipinas (1565-1615) as "una cruz muy grande…por ser de una pesada madera llamada anivion…" which in the local dialect was anubing. Fr. San Agustin also wrote that in 1611, natives placed the cross in the mouth of the crater to silence the volcano. Consecuently, he concluded inhabitants of Alitagtag used the cross to ward off evil spirits; they believed it had innate powers, that it could travel, summon stars to surround it with dazzling light and reduce or increase its weight depending on the message it meant to impart. In Juan Noceda and Pedro San Lucar's VOCABULARIO DE LA LENGUA TAGALA (1860), subli was defined as "…pasear cruzando por alguna calle…hurtar el cuerpo a quien le quiere hablar…las mudanzas de baile, o danzar cruzando. Magsoblian cayong sumayao. La persona por quien sinosoblian…" Imagine, Spangalog in the XIXth century!

More recently, a study of native dances by Francisca Reyes-Aquino, published in 1935 and reprinted in 1953, attempted an etymological analysis of "subli" as coming from the word "subsob" and "bali" which was how the male subli dancers looked. Mislead by that description, Quijano de Manila (Nick Joaquin, National Artist for Literature) considered the subli irrefutable evidence that the Philippines is a matriarchal society. Dr. Mirano's research has belied both Aquino and Joaquin. In her book, Elenita Rivera Mirano celebrates the mysterious refinements of the subli which is all of sayaw, panata, laro, kaugalian, ritwal and musikang pantinig. The good news is that the tradition is kept alive in many towns in Batangas. (by Gemma Cruz Araneta)


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