Marriage Customs in Batangas in 1916
A paper written in 1916 by one Remedios Q. Kalalo entitled “Marriage Customs in Batangas1” provides valuable insights about Batangueño culture at the dawn of the American colonial era in the Philippines. The paper is part of the Henry Otley Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
The author limited her scope to the town of San Jose, likely her hometown; but these customs were probably also observed elsewhere in the province and in other parts of the country as well. She noted that these customs were “gradually dying out.”
The paper was written in 1916 or 101 years ago. Suffice it to say that I will be very surprised if any of these customs are still observed even in the remotest Barrios of Batangas. Younger readers will probably even find them amusing.
If a young man liked a girl and wished for her family to know of his affections, he visited her home usually at 7 o’clock in the evening. He then asked the girl’s parents for some rice, which would be generally understood that he was volunteering to pound it for them2.
If the girl’s parents approved of him, they obliged by giving him the rice he asked for. This, he pounded himself or, if he was wealthy and not used to work, asked his household servants to do the pounding for him. He did this as often as he could to win over not just the girl but also her parents.
If the girl’s parents did not think he was suitable for their child, they simply refused to give him rice. This showed him that they were not prepared to accept him into their family.
If the young man liked the girl enough to have wanted to marry her, he asked his father, some old relatives and some prominent men in the community to accompany him on a visit to her home to ask her parents for her hand in marriage. This visit was called the “pamulungan” – as it is today – or the “pautos.”
They brought with them wine and food and together with their hosts had a small party.
If the girl and her parents liked the young man, a date for the marriage was set. Often, and especially so if the girl was still deemed very young, the date was set at least two years after the pamulungan.
Before the date of the marriage was agreed upon, both parties first had to agree on a dowry3 [see Notes and references]. This was called either the “bilang” or the “bigay-kaya.” This dowry could be a “house for the new couple, a tract of land, a carabao and other things which a new couple might need.”
The girl’s parents were generally expected never to ask the young man and his parents for anything that they apparently would not be able to afford. If they did, this was seen as something of a hint that they were not in favor of the proposed marriage. The young man was expected to move from this none too subtle rejection.
|During the courtship, the young man asked for rice which he was volunteering to pound for the girl's parents. Image credit: University of Michigan Digital Collections.|
Serving the Girl and Her Parents
Although Kalalo failed to say so, I believe this next custom was the “panunuluyan” or the “paninilbihan,” the stage between “pamulungan” and the marriage when the young man was expected to serve the girl and her family. He was expected to stay in the house of the girl to help with whatever work had to be done.
Kalalo wrote, “Sometimes, he is ordered to look after the plowing of the land belonging to the parents of the girls. Sometimes, he has to run errands. He helps in the preparation of food, in the pounding of rice and even in getting water from the spring.” If he was wealthy and not accustomed to work, he brought along his family’s servants so that they could do the work that was expected of him.
During this time, the girl’s parents also sized up the young man’s character and would not think twice about calling off the marriage if there were serious flaws they found in it.
Three weeks before the date of the wedding, the young man and his bride-to-be were expected to present themselves to the local priest. It was common for members of their families to accompany them. This visit was called the “pakitaan,” during which they formally informed the priest of their marriage. Of course, in most likelihood, he already knew. The couple also settled “the ceremonies which they wanted to be performed.”
The March to the Bride’s House
The day before the wedding, the young man and invited friends from the community would gather at his house and proceed to march to the bride’s home. They would be accompanied, Kalalo wrote, “by music, by a band, orchestra or whatever kind of music can be afforded.” They would be received by the bride and her family and there would be food, singing and dancing. The favorite dance was the fandango; and the merrymaking would go on until midnight when everyone went home to be able to attend the wedding the next day.
The Wedding and Supersititions
The wedding was performed by the priest the next day in the presence of an older couple which was called “father and mother in marriage4.” [See Notes and references] The ceremonies were accompanied by many superstitions, among them:
- if the ring, when offered by the priest, suddenly fell, either the bride or the groom would die soon;
- if the candle to either side of the bride or the groom dies out first, this was supposed to signify who of the couple would also die first; and
- the first of the couple to pass through the church door would have control of their future affairs.
The wedding was followed by merriment that could last well past lunchtime. Around three in the afternoon, the newlyweds would be asked to sit on chairs facing each other with a plate in between them. Relatives and friends, mostly the older ones, were expected to place money on the plate which, presumably, was to help the newlyweds settle into married life.
This custom was called the “sabog.” Kalalo described the practice, “There is great confusion inside the house during this time. Sometimes, people even shout. When nobody else puts money (on the plate), they will be quiet. The groom will collect it (the money), count it, put it in his handkerchief. Then he would give it to his wife.”
The Transfer of Houses
The wedding day ends with the bride bidding all of her relations goodbye. She would then move to her new husband’s house. Her relations were not allowed to accompany her. Meanwhile, her husband had to stay at her parents’ house and could only join her the following day.
When he did, he also brought all her belongings with him. This transfer of houses was again accompanied by music and much merrymaking. When he reaches the house of his parents, there would be more festivities. This time, to signify that she was now part of her new family, his wife was expected to entertain all visitors.
Notes and refernces:1 “Marriage Customs in Batangas,” by Remedios Q. Kalalo, published in 1916 and is part of the H Otley Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digial Collections.
2 Before the invention of mills, rice was pounded manually to remove the chaff or the outer husk.
3 Strictly speaking, the dowry was paid by the family of the girl to the young man that she was about to marry. What Kalalo really meant was called the bride price or the bride service, the opposite of the dowry. “Dowry,” Wikipedia.
4 Kalalo probably meant the godparents.