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The History of Sakuting Dance With a Stick


The sakuting dance, originally performed solely by boys, portrays a mock fight using sticks. A sakuting stick is striped or bamboo and is about 1 feet long and tapered at the end, like a candle. Its original use was for combat training. During the playful folk dance, two teams, one representing each side, circle and clash bamboo sticks in a gentle imitation of martial arts sparring. Its dance form is the comedia (a theatrical dance, also called moro-moro) and features a battalla (choreographed skirmish).


Sakuting (pronounced seh-KOOH-tihng) comes from the province of Abra, home to the Ilocano people native to the lowlands and the Tingguian mountain tribes. The Spanish established a garrison to protect Ilocanos who converted to Christianity, and their capital city, Bangued, from raids by the mountain tribes. Introduced by Spanish missionaries as religious ritual, the sakuting dance portrays this struggle between the lowland Christians and the non-Christian mountain people. Sakuting's origins, however, appear much older.


Arnis, the traditional Filipino art of stick fighting, employed readily available weapons by simple people seeking self-protection. The occupying Spanish banned the practice of Arnis, forcing it into secret. Filipinos found ways to openly retain the practice by making the Arnis movements part of folk dances. Sakuting is actually a two-stick Arnis exercise set to music.

The Music

The traditional music styles for sakuting portray the dual influences of China and Spain. Its staccato inflections and rhythmic tapping suggest a strong Chinese influence. The music itself is played by a rondalla, a native string ensemble of plectrum (plucked with tortoiseshell fingerpicks) instruments influenced by Spanish stringed instruments, that includes bandurria, laud, octavina, mandola, guitarra and bajo de uas, or double bass.

The Dance

Dancers use one and two sticks throughout the performance to tap the floor and each other's sticks. Dance steps are a combination of marching and small forward or sideways shuffle steps while circling and interchanging positions with other dancers. Some modern interpretations are more athletically demonstrative of the martial arts, while others add ballet movements. Dancers twirl the sticks, hitting them against opponents' sticks, displaying a mock fight.


The Ilocano people customarily perform the sakuting dance as part of Christmas celebrations. Performed at the town plaza or from house to house, the dance allows the opportunity for spectators to give the dancers aguinaldos---gifts of money, drinks, fruits and refreshments prepared especially for Christmas much like the English custom of caroling.