Last week on the blog we offered some quick tips for modern Filipino dating, trying to help Findmate's global user base understand a little bit about the country’s attitudes towards courtship and romance; in the course of our research, we stumbled on a lot of fun facts about how different cultures on the islands have approached the game of woo, and we thought you might enjoy learning a little more about some of the unique ways love has blossomed throughout the nation’s history.
For those who don’t know much about the Philippines, it’s worth noting that its 7,641 islands (!) are home to 100 million people, with dozens of different tribes and ethnic groups. They are a melting point of different points of origin and colonial influences. The customs of one island can vary wildly from its neighbors, and some of the customs we list here are historical in nature. As strange as some of them may come across to outsiders, these customs should be looked at with respect, even if a few of them are sure to make you smile!
#1 - Cock-a-doodle-(Iloveyou): In ye olde days on northern Luzon, the Ilocanos practiced "rooster courtship." Yes, it involves an actual rooster. First things first, you need an old man who is up for a little socializing and a rooster you’re willing to part with. Once the amorous suitor has found a suitable combo, the old fella is dispatched to the prospective bride's house with the titular rooster in tow.
So the team strolls up and, even though rare is the Ilocano who wouldn’t have a fair idea what was up from the get-go, tradition demands the father of the potential bride play it a bit coy. So he asks what his visitor intends to do with that there rooster. So, the old man says to him, he says, "I want to make it crow here, if you don’t mind" (or something to that effect). Well, like any proud homeowner the father isn’t going to let just any rooster make a racket in his yard.
“What kind of rooster is it?” he asks. If the old man says “Domestic,” the answer means “one of us” (i.e. that the groom is a local Ilocano), whereas “wild” means an outsider. The pair, ideally having a grand old time, then play a game similar to 21 Questions, wherein the father eventually draws out the identity of the suitor by asking questions about the rooster.
If the old man is allowed to leave the rooster, it means the match has been approved and the chicken will crow the suitor’s love to the family each morning. If not, a meal of roasted rooster is at least good for the taste of crow.
#2 - Better than a Boombox Blasting Peter Gabriel: The classical image of Filipino courtship is that of the suitor standing outside his lover’s house in the evening, singing her a sweet serenade. The tradition varies from place to place. The Ilocanos don’t let roosters do all the talking; their form of serenade is called tapat (literally, "to be in front of" the home of the courted woman). The man sings a sweet song, to which the woman eventually responds, also in song. The songs they sing to one another are an exchange of messages: to put it in Western pop terms, a woman might respond to a man’s “I Want it That Way” with a “Drunk in Love” or a “Complicated” or even a “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
Among the Ifugao, men and women are divided into separate houses. The men’s house is called the ato, while the Filipinas’ is known as the olog or agamang. The boys stroll over to the girls’ place now and then to sing romantic songs. Like the Ilocanos, the women also respond through singing. The whole to-do is overseen by a married elder or a childless widow who totally blabs to the would-be couple’s parents about how things are going, peppered with a few choice remarks if one of them can’t carry a tune.
#3 - The Riddler’s In-Laws: On the archipelago of Palawan, the local Palawanon traditionally only got down to the business of marriage if the suitor’s parents could demonstrate a little lateral thinking. According to Nid Anima’s magisterial 1975 tome Courtship and Marriage Among Philippine Tribes, Palawanon “courtship is peculiar in a sense that it departs from the tradition of majority ethnic groups wherein most important consideration is for the prospective bridegroom to have ample means. It would seem that, among Palawanons the most important qualification is for the parents to be adept in the art of answering riddles.” The bride’s parents would propose a few “love riddles” (or pasaguli) to test the groom’s folks; one can imagine a scenario where a family not entirely sold on a match might pose some real stumpers to make their counterparts sweat, but the practice was likely a formality in most cases. Once the riddles have been answered, the negotiation moves on to discussing the onsod (or dowry), which has never proven to be a stumbling block ever in the history of weddings.
#4 - The Russian Roulette of Love: On the southern island of Mindanao, the agricultural heartland of the Philippines, the Tausog people practice palabas or magpasumbahi, which translates (aptly) to “reckless courtship.” If you’ve ever said “I would die without [insert snuggly somebody]” you’re lucky you were not in Mindanao; somehow the Tausog managed to amp up the usual stress of meeting the parents by allowing her father to actually kill you if he feels like it. The short version is, that the suitor heads on over to the lady’s house with his trusty barong knife.
The lad gives her dad a how-do-ya-do before threatening to stab himself in the heart unless he allows the suitor to ask for his daughter’s hand. If pops says “Thanks, but no thanks” he has the option of hoisting the unlucky suitor with his own barong. However, we’re told survivors go on to have lovely, festive wedding ceremonies involving the whole community; a brush with (ritualized) death just gives life more zest.
There is a somewhat similar tradition in Pangasinan, a region just south of the Ilocanos territory on Luzon, called palabas, meaning “show” or “drama.” In this scenario the suitor will threaten to commit suicide if his lady refuses to admit her feelings for him. In an unrelated story, Dashboard Confessional is the most popular band in Pangasinan.*
(Source: Sarah Gats)
#5 - The Tamer: We’re going to go ahead and say straight away here that we at Findmate do not condone the use of any foreign substances to win your mate. The following information is presented for scholarly interest only. Among the Pangasinenses (they of the faux-suicide woo), it’s considered perfectly acceptable to use taga-amo (“tamer”) or love potions to score a bride. These usually take the form of oils which can be rubbed into the woman’s skin, the effect of which miiight have more to do with the rubbing than any ingredient of the oil. However, there are also liquid versions for those who cannot touch the object of their desire; one hopes this innocent branch of folklore doesn’t hide a darker root.
#6 - Fan Language: In the 19th century, when the influence of the Spanish colonialists was at its apex, women developed a subtle non-verbal way of communicating with their suitors through the use of the small handheld fans that were then in fashion. Journalist and historian Ambeth R. Ocampo gives a few examples of this “fan language”:
“If a woman covered half her face with her fan, she meant ‘Follow me.’ If she counted the ribs it meant ‘I want to talk to you.’ If she carried the fan on the right hand, she was saying ‘I want to have a lover’ if on the left, ‘I’m already taken.’ To fan herself briskly did not mean it was hot, but rather ‘I have great love for you.’ To fan slowly was to say, ‘You mean nothing to me.’ And to put the fan away meant ‘I don’t want to be courted.’ Worst was to close the fan suddenly which said, ‘I hate you.’”
Pity the poor woman being courted who just wanted to cool herself on a hot day.
(Source: The Philippine Daily Inquirer)
# 7 - The Prickler: The Bulaqueños of central Luzon have one of the more… uh… you know, any joke we make here is just too dangerous, so we’ll play it relatively straight. The Bulaqueños have a traditional courtship method known as nanilong (meaning “basement”) in which suitors wait until midnight to sneak under the elevated huts of their sweetheart. Once there, they, presumably having scoped the layout in better light, use something pointy to poke through the floor of the hut to “prickle” the lady. If she doesn’t scream loudly enough to wake the village (or lose an eye) she must really like him, making this a rare opportunity to whisper a few sweet nothings in the darkness, out of sight of the usual chaperones.
(Source: Sarah Gats)
#8 - My Love is Vengeance: Love matches are not necessarily the standard practice in cultures that rely on marriage as a means of cementing familial or business relationships, but the Maranaos of the southern Philippines are one of the few to pursue weddings out of spite (as opposed to staying in them out of spite, a proud western tradition). The Maranaos have a distinctive form of honor or “face” they refer to a maratabat, which informally organizes their entire culture. Honor killings can sweep entire families into bloody conflict, with few means of diplomatically de-escalating the situation. Enter marriage. If it is a girl who has offended the maratabat of a man, she will sometimes be married off to one of his close kin as a means of avenging the insult. Sometimes she (and, in fairness, the man she is to be betrothed to) will be pressured into accepting a marriage because without her sacrifice there will be no end to the ongoing dishonor. Should she marry, however, and decide to have nothing to do with her husband, her dowry is returned to her neglected groom’s family.
(Source: Stories in the Sand)