Most acknowledged Filipino dances bear European influences, especially from the Spanish colonial era. Examples include the pandango sa ilaw, cariñosa, rigodon and balitao. Regional ethnic dances, such as the widely known tinikling, pay tribute to Filipino roots, celebrate cultural heritage and contribute to national artistic pride. Sakuting, however, pays tribute to its ethnic roots, European influence and even earlier international influences.
The sakuting dance, originally performed solely by boys, portrays a mock fight using sticks. A sakuting stick is striped or bamboo and is about 1½ 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.