Every wondered why ‘chaperones’ usually accompany a Filipina maiden on a first date? Or why Filipinos are obsessed with love songs? Or why you usually won’t have much luck approaching a Filipina in the street for a date? Or what’s up with this whole “hard to get” thing that a lot of ladies seem to embrace? If so, check out this little article I just put together on traditional Philippine courtship. Because – like many things here – what is old is new again!
Although not always successful, I try to do something creative every day. And for today’s project, I’ve decided to take on the (sometimes rather convoluted) topic of traditional ‘courting’ in the Philippines. Before we go on, please note that I am not an authority on the subject – quite the opposite, in fact. Most of the information that follows was compiled from a variety of sources: Filipinos, Filipinas, online forums, internet articles, YouTube videos (go figure) and the like. As such, I will simply be laying out what I understand of it thus far. (Which isn’t all that much.) And although rigorous courtship practices are changing in the face of time and technology (most Filipinos note that these traditions are only used by about 30-40 percent of the population), it’s always a good thing to understand where people have been in order to understand where they are now.
And for us mostly clueless and easily confused porenyers, a little cultural knowledge and insight can go a long way…..
The process of courting in the Philippines is fairly complicated and seems to take a whole lot of inspiration from the nearly 400 years of Spanish occupation. Indeed, the Tagalog term for courting, panliligaw / ligawan, are the same as pandidiga / digahan – diga in Spanish being translated as ‘to express or tell/say” (Digame – Tell me.) In the formal give and take of courtship, the man courting the woman is referred to as manliligaw and the woman being courted is nililigawan. (Yeah, good luck with that one….) Oddly enough, when you plug manliligaw into the Tagalog-English translator website, it provides the following: “suitor; to court; to get lost; to guide the wrong way…”
After seeing that, some of this is making a whole lot more sense…..
1. Guy is attracted to woman.
2. Tuksuhan lang (just teasing) to see if she likes him.
3. Friendly date/informal meet ups (usually group)
4. Gusto kitang ligawan – I’d like to court you.
5. Meeting the parents for permission to court.
6. Male proves his affection and devotion over time.
7. Pamamanhikan – Families meet to discuss marriage.
9. Lots and lots of bebes…….
Traditionally, courtship in the Philippines follows a predetermined series of steps and stages. In Western cultures, dating is much more direct and to the point, whereas in the Philippines the process is much more indirect and circumspect.
A prospective suitor seeking to ply his wily ways has to employ the aforementioned indirect methods in order to express his interest lest he be seen as overly mayabang (presumptuous) or presko (aggressive). Hence, the man will usually simply be friendly and rather indirect in his overtures.
Tuksuhan lang is a Tagalog term meaning “just teasing” (similar to joke lang/it’s just a joke) that is a central tenant in the early stages of the courtship process. At this point, the suitor starts gently probing to get a woman’s response about a potential admirer or suitor. If the ‘teasing’ is met with stiff and serious resistance (or she simply avoids him), this lets him know that his advances are not welcome. If, however, the girl subtly encourages him by either not getting angry or simply being nice to him, this indicates to the man that the woman is interested, the initial ‘teasing’ stage ends and the serious work of an actual romantic courtship can begin.
Tuksuhan lang is an interesting example of indirect social interactions employed in many Asian cultures. It basically provides a ‘safe space’ for all involved, protecting the prospective male suitor from excessive embarrassment (as he is not yet seriously courting her) and giving the woman a simple way to not bring shame to the interested male. This is particularly true for the prospective suitor – Bastad (busted) in Tagalog refers to a man failing to reach ‘first base/first date’ because she simply doesn’t have any reciprocal feelings for him, and it’s something he always wants to avoid. So, ultimately the process of tuksuhan lang gives a way for both parties to avoid losing face.
Friendly Dates/Informal Meetups
If the woman expresses a modicum of interest, the future lovebirds will usually have a series of normal meetups, usually with a group of friends in order to cut down on stress and scandalous chismis (gossip). They will chat and simply try to determine if they want to continue the process.
I’d Like to Court You
If things continue to play out in a fortuitous manner, the prospective suitor at this point will simply gather up his courage and say, “Gusto kitang ligawan – I’d like to court you.” If the woman agrees, it’s now time to…..
Meet the Parents!
The role of family in the Philippines can never be underestimated, trumping every other relationship in a Filipino’s life. After going out on some initial subdued and innocent friendly dates (with friends or discreetly by themselves), it’s usually time for the eager (but subdued!) suitor to bring in the family. For centuries, if a man wants to seriously be considered by a woman, it was mandatory to visit her family and formally introduce himself. (To continue with the courtship process without informing the parents is apparently a cultural no-no but can make for good teleserye soap opera storylines.) Ultimately, if the couple is agreeable and things are going well, they will both tell their friends and family about the relationship. Note that the male suitor is also expected to bring a gift (pasalubong) whenever he deigns to visit her family’s home. With family being the of all and be all in the Philippines, one doesn’t just court a woman – he courts her entire family as well.
Show Me Don’t Tell Me
A lot of words are spoken (or written) during the courtship process – a hefty dose of verbiage put forth in order to woo and sway the object of the suitor’s affection. Nice things are said. Compliments are given. Assurances are made. Filipinos are savvy, though, and know that words are simply puffs of air – arrows aimed by the pursuer to sway the heart of the pursued.
At some point, the suitor has to present a steady and consistent series of actions in order to lend credence to his softly spoken words. Pasalubong (small gifts), flowers, consistent help through hard times, loyalty, emotional support and the like all factor into this. The ultimate goal here is to show one’s love “Wala sa salita – nasa gawa.” Not in the words – but in the actions.
“Climbing the Stairs”
After the rigorous strictures of courtship have played out over time, the couple may decide that it is time to get married. At this point, the male suitor and his family will typically visit the woman’s family in what is called pamamanhikan (from panik – go up the stairs of a house). Once all parties have assembled, the two families mingle and get to know each other a bit better and then the suitor will ask her parents for their blessing in marrying their daughter. Gifts (pasalubong) are typically given from the man’s family to her family, a date is set and the couple is now considered engaged and ready to be married.
Here it is – the culmination of all that hard work! Once the wedding plans are made, the groom dons his trusty barong Tagalog (formal, embroidered shirt made of husi – pineapple fiber), the ceremonial sponsors and witnesses are gathered, and white doves are released to express marital harmony and peace.
Lots and Lots of Bebes
Filipinos loooooooooove babies and also have rather large families. Although I have chalked this up to good looks and common power outages, big families have simply been a part of the culture here for decades.
OK, now that we’ve gone over the process a bit, let’s take a look at some ancillary topics relevant to the Philippine courtship process.
Filipino males – like men all around the world – sometimes have a hard time expressing their feelings.
Huh, yep. Been there. Done that.
There are a few terms in Tagalog that revolve around this inability – torpe (stupid), duwag (coward) or simply dungo (very shy). Torpe is particularly telling in my humble opinion, and could either refer to someone playing innocent, someone who doesn’t know how to properly court a girl or simply a rube who is unaware that the woman in question has an affection for him. So, if you are a foreigner and are ignorant of the Philippine courtship process, the word torpe may apply to you.
Or us, I should say.
Stupidness/cultural ignorance aside, there is still hope for us. If someone is truly torpe (for whatever reason), the individual can attempt to utilize the services of a tulay (bridge). Usually, a tulay coalesces in the form of a mutual friend of the prospective suitor and the woman he is interested. The ‘bridge’ then conveys the man’s affection to the woman in order to see if it is reciprocated. Thus, through a tulay, the man can dip his toe in the water without the worry of losing face early in the process.
So, in summation, in order to avoid being formally turned down by a woman, the process of tuksuhan lang and tulay can really help those who are in fear of their affections being formerly turned down by a woman, thus experiencing excessive sawi (romantic sadness) or feelings of bastad (busted/shut down). And although the man is still experiencing a ‘labless’ state (loveless), with millions of other eligible woman out there, he hopefully picks himself up, dusts himself off and heads back into the romantic fray.
Running the Bases
Most Westerners – especially Americans – are familiar with the good old baseball metaphor. Inculcated into us as youngsters, base running typically involves how “far” once has been able to get with a member of the opposite sex. In the Philippines, the ‘base’ analogy is a bit more subdued and simply refers to the number of dates that the couple has been on. Hence, the suitor is said to have reached ‘first base’ when she initially accepts his date proposal for the first time. Successive dates are likened to running on to second and third base. “Home runs” are reserved for the culmination of the process when the woman explicitly accepts the suitor’s love and they enter into magkasintahan, the recognized couple state of boyfriend and girlfriend. (Sinta referring to love/beloved in Tagalog.) Yeah, like I noted, the baseball metaphor here is just a wee bit more G-rated than the American version. Yet another example of things being different in the Philippines.
Harana – By the Dashboard Lights
The harana (serenade) is a direct hand me down from the Spanish occupation. Although the tradition has mostly fallen by the wayside, the Filipino suitor would gather up his courage (and a guitar if he could play or hire musicians if he couldn’t) and stand outside his love’s window to serenade her with songs of love and devotion. In many cases, the nervous suitor would have some of his best friends go along with him for moral support. Despite John Cusak utilizing it in the 1980’s “Say Anything,” harana isn’t employed all that much anymore. But then again, with all the singing Filipinos always seem to be doing, who really knows…..
Pakipot – Hard Nuts to Crack
This part is pretty interesting….
“Oh, but I’m shy……”
Traditional Filpina maidens (dalagang Pilipina) are expected to be demure, shy, modest and well mannered. In Tagalog, these qualities or proper ladylike behaviors fall under the umbrella term of mahinhin. (And just so you know, the opposite of mahinhin is malandi (flirt) which is another cultural no-no when it comes to the Philippine courtship process.)
With this in mind, Filipina maidens are expected to be pakipot during the early part of the courtship process. Pakipot refers to “playing hard to get” and is considered an appropriate response to a suitors advances. Filipinas will employ pakipot in order to both assess the true sincerity of her admirer and to also let him know that he will have to work long and hard to gain her love. Indeed, in some cases, the courtship process could last years before the woman finally acknowledges the suitor’s affections. This aspect of the courtship process is supposed to apply to the courtship process regardless of the woman’s true feelings. Even if she is crazy in love the guy, she is expected to hide those feelings behind the cultural shield of pakipot. In speaking with my sources, some aspects of pakipot are still alive and well in the Philippine courting process. Just the mention of it actually elicits quite a few smiles and a bit of laughter.
Rocking it (Real) Old School
In the real ‘olden days,’ the Philippine courting process was even more formalized and restrictive. Instead of going out on the initial informal group dates, a Filpino was expected to visit the object of his affection at her home. There, they would sit in the sala (living room) with the woman’s parents hovering protectively nearby. Simple chats where exchanged and a good distance was maintained between them so that the man wouldn’t been seen as a manyakis (sex maniac).
From there (and with the parents approval), the couple might be allowed to go out for a walk in a safe public space. Accompanying the couple would be a designated chaperone – typically the mother or perhaps the woman’s yaya (helper). The chaperone’s job was to ensure that nothing scandalous occurs (stolen pecks on the cheek or excessive hand holding) and to carry the umbrella to shield the woman from the midday sun. (Going for walks at night was a total no-no.)
In those days, it was also common for a suitor to help his girlfriend’s family out with chores around the house, hence “I will carry the water – I will chop the wood.”
Vestiges of the traditional courtship process still exist – chaperones, playing hard to get, expectations of wooing, the utilization of tulay (bridges), declarations of undying love (now done over phone apps instead of on parchment), and the like. Again, I strongly believe that in order to understand where things are now in the Philippines, one has to be aware of where things have been in the past.
What have been your experiences with the Philippine courtship process? Have you noticed any vestiges of the old mixing in with the new? If so, be sure to leave them down in the comment section.