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O, Irog

By Jessica Pag-iwayan



With more than 7,000 islands and more than 100 spoken languages, the Philippines is a country blessed with colorful customs and traditions. And our culture of courtship or panliligaw is among the most interesting.

According to Reportage on Lovers by Nick Joaquin (writing as Quijano de Manila), long before the Spaniards first arrived in the country in 1521, Filipinos already had unique ways of expressing love or interest for one another. “In pagan times, when a local boy fell in love, he asked an old man of the tribe to become his amang sa ligao, or sponsor in courtship,” he wrote.

The amang sa ligao was the one tasked to plead for the boy’s case before the girl’s parents, then the boy would send a patiñga or a little gift. Unreturned gifts meant that the boy could send a second gift called palucloc.

If this was also not returned, it meant that the girl had accepted him as a suitor. This was where he would send valuable gifts. Most of the time, they were generous amounts of money. This gift was called kapanaugan or down payment.

After all of these, the boy would pay the girl a visit at her house. With his amang sa ligao and a group of friends, the boy would have an audience with the girl’s parents. “After about an hour of conversation fencing, he would leave and go off in search of the girl, who would be hiding in the neighbor’s house,” Joaquin said.

When he finally found her, the girl would put his love to test. She might forbid him to eat a certain type of food, or stay in his house for days. If she was a gutsy girl, she might even ask him to get a tooth from a live crocodile. It is important to note that in those days, Filipino lovers were usually at the age of about 12 or 13 years old.

In that same era, Pinoys also had a peculiar way of kissing. Instead of touching each other’s lips, lovers touched noses and inhaled deeply to appreciate the scent. If the boy wanted to kiss the girl, he signaled it through wrinkling his nose.

“It was customary for lovers to keep lending each other recently worn out pieces of intimate apparel, which they kept until the loved one’s odor had faded from the garments,” the National Artist of Literature continued.

Hispanic influence
Then the Spaniards came. The conquistadores introduced harana, an evening serenade under the girl’s window. Harana became the first step in courtship, followed by sending dozens of love letters until the girl responded. Joaquin also added that during that time, “no self-respecting Filipino girl would deign to write to a lover until he had written her at least a dozen passionate missives.”

And if one thought that her response would be positive and full of love, one got it wrong. Her first letter would be a note telling the boy to quit. If he persisted, she would indicate other excuses like she was too young, too poor, or that she intended to be a nun.

After conquering this charade, the boy would have to win the heart of the girl’s parents. On his first official visit as a suitor, before he leaves the girl’s house, he was required to ask her parents for some palay to winnow. “If the father replied that he had no dry palay to be winnowed, the boy’s suit had been rejected,” Joaquin wrote.

But if he was given some palay, the boy would start working for the girl’s family. He would chop firewood, fetch water, and, literally, winnow palay. This cycle could last from one week to a month. Once over, the boy would be sent home to get his parents. Then, he would come back to the girl’s house with his parents, bringing with them a cow or carabao “that would be left behind with the girl’s father to be fattened for the wedding feast.”

Modern day courtship
As generations passed, these centuries-old traditions also changed over time. Technological innovations paved the way for easier, more accessible communication means. Love letters turned to text messages. Suitors no longer have to wait for days for a response. Everything is just a click away.

Instead of harana, one could send a customized playlist on Spotify (or mixed tapes back in the ’80s and ’90s). These audio tapes or playlists contain all the songs that convey the suitor’s feelings, ready for the beloved to listen to.

Distance is also no longer an issue because of video chat. As long as they have strong internet connection—anytime, anywhere—lovers can call each other and see each other’s faces no matter how far apart they are.

But one cannot deny that there’s something magical about the old-fashioned ways of doing things—sending love letters, spending time with significant others in person rather than on a virtual space, and getting the approval and consent of the parents. These feel more sincere and more romantic compared to any modern-day courtship. But does anyone still remember?

Source: Manila Bulletin

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