Among many peculiarities of Philippine Catholicism, which is Catholicism adapted to the climate and situation of the Philippines, the Caracol of the Caviteños, the Sinulog of the Cebuanos, the Pandangguhan of Rizal and other places near it, as well as other dances are the most distinct and sets apart this brand of Catholicism among the rest. This is not to say that the others are inferior, but this is to say that Catholicism in the Philippines has been so radically “Filipinized” that many of its faithful claimed the Catholic religion as their own. This situation is almost the same when the Germanic tribes, the Franks and the people of Iberia were first converted to Christianity. Although they were introduced to the Catholic Christian religion and at first thought that it was something foreign, they have later made some concessions, additions and subtractions to the externals and not the doctrine of the religion that they have embraced and made it as their own religion, their religion that will not impose a culture upon them, which is the case with the others.
The caracol is a devotional-circumambulatory-dancing procession in honor of a patron saint done either in land or at sea accompanied by a joyful music in the waltz rhythm played by a brass band (Saenz-Mendoza, p. 61) or audio mobile with pre-recorded media. It is to be distinguished from a procession wherein a procession is to be done as solemn and as formal as possible, often without any hint of dancing and oftentimes accompanied by more sober music. It is my theory that the caracol has always been separated from a procession, although a caracol may take a form of a procession except that its participants are dancing, since the rubrics of the Roman Ritual regarding processions has been this:
2. Priests especially, but others in holy orders as well, should see to it that during these processions such decorum and reverence prevail as befits these devout exercises, both on the part of themselves and the rest who participate.
4. All who march in the procession should be praying. The men should be separate from the women, and the laity separate from the clergy. (Source)
And being the fact that the caracol may sometimes be so festive that while it remains a thanksgiving dance, its festiveness was deemed somehow out of place with a procession which mandates a more sober and calm atmosphere.
The origin of the term “caracol” is shrouded in confusion. Isagani Medina who is a Philippine historian said that the caracol came from the word “caracoa” which is a boat used by the early inhabitants of what would be the Philippines before the Spaniards. These caracoas, he said, are used in battle. Another source of the name caracol is the Spanish word for snail, which is caracol. Probably a reference to the smooth yet slow motion that probably once characterized all forms of the dancing of the caracol. I did not, as of yet, find any videos or performance of a caracol that is done in a very slow motion, although, the dancing of the patron saint which is done within the caracol are naturally “danced” by the people in a very slow manner, which probably would explain such an etymology.
There are two types of caracol in Cavite. First is the Caracol del Tierra, which is performed on land. It naturally would take a form of the procession except that there would be an abundance of dancing and a general festive atmosphere. Second, we have the Caracol del Mar, which is done on the water and on coastal regions of Cavite. Both are utilized as votive dances, in order to thank both God and the patron saint for good harvest and good catch.
I present the following videos of the caracol below: