Young men in the 1960s and after probably have to thank the American regime and the onslaught of western thinking that freed them from the often arduous tasks that accompanied the need to find a mate – courtship. Albeit disappearing, as “recently” as the 1950s, there were families – especially in remote barrios – that still adhered to the age-old traditions associated with finding a wife.
While we call these “Batangas” traditions, they were probably true in other Tagalog provinces as well, perhaps even in other regions. They varied from town to town and, sometimes, even from barrio to barrio. This article is a summation of all these traditions. The terms may vary depending on the locality; and some traditions followed in some places may not be followed elsewhere.
1. Choosing a Suitable Woman In the old days, for a young man to find a suitable young woman to court was not straightforward, and varied depending on the circumstance. Ideally, a young man found a suitable young woman on his own, but did not make an approach immediately. First, he told his parents of his intentions. If he was lucky, his parents approved of his choice and they moved on to the next step. If he was not, his parents found another woman whom THEY thought more suitable. In some cases, young men and women were betrothed even without their knowledge. Negotiations were conducted between both sets of parents, and the betrothed would only be informed when everything was agreed upon.
2. “Pagpapakilala” or Introduction
The context of the “pagpapakilala” or the introduction is not so much to introduce the man to the woman but rather to give a hint to the young lady and her parents of a desire to start a courtship. How this was done was again variable depending on the circumstance or the locality.
If a young man was bold, he could visit the young lady’s house on his own or with some friends, taking great care to take his hat off as soon as the roof of the young lady’s house came into view. Inside the house, he knelt first in front of the elders and asked for their blessings until he was told to sit by the door. He spoke softly and behaved impeccably, as was expected.
In other cases, the parents of the young man were the ones first to pay the house of the young lady a visit. They brought with them special food and drinks. The curiosity about this practice was that although it was called “pagpapakilala” or the introduction of the intention to start a courtship, whether it was the young man and his friends or his parents visiting the house of the young lady, they spoke of anything BUT the courtship.
The purpose of the visit, of course, was evident to the parents of the young lady, even if they, too, avoided any mention of courtship. In some communities, the “pagpapakilala” was called the “pasagad.”
3. “Pa-isda” or Fish Supply
This part was done mostly by the young man’s parents, who would from time to time with increasing frequency supply the parents of the young lady and her relatives with the choicest fish caught or bought from the market. Thus, the term “pa-isda.” In some localities, the “pa-isda” was regarded as part of the “pagpapakilala.”
Although, in a way, this was a means for the parents of the young man to step up the courtship one notch, still there was no mention of courtship or why the fish was being sent. As mentioned, the parents of the young lady, of course, already knew why.
If they found the young man suitable, they would continue to accept the gifts of fish and allow him to move on to the next step. If not, they would send the fish back to the young man’s parents, who would know that the courtship was being rejected and that the young man would have to find another young woman to woo.
4. “Paninilbihan” or Servitude
If all the gifts were accepted by the young woman’s family, the young man was then allowed to move on to the next level of the courtship, that of servitude or “paninilbihan.” The servitude could take the form of, among other things, “pakahoy” or keeping the young woman’s family supplied with firewood; “patubig” or making sure there was steady supply of fresh water in the young woman’s household; and helping to plow or weed the field that the young woman’s family worked.
In some instances, the man was required to live in the house of the woman, even if interaction between the two was expected to be limited. The “paninilbihan” could last anything from a few months to a few years, especially if the young lady was still deemed too young to marry, and was considered a way for the young lady’s family to ascertain the young man’s true character. The latter, needless to say, needed to be at his best behavior, because it was the prerogative of the lady’s parents to terminate the “paninilbihan” – and, therefore, the courtship – even if he had been at it for months!
In some localities, the “pa-isda” was done at the same time as the “pakahoy” and the “patubig.”
5. “Bulungan” or Pre-Wedding Conference
If the young man’s “paninilbihan” or servitude was found to satisfaction, the young woman’s parents summoned him and asked him to tell his parents to come over for the “bulungan” or pre-wedding conference. In some cases, other members of the young man’s family and extended family tagged along; and while the conference was to be held in the young woman’s home, the young man’s family was expected to provide the food and drinks.
Among the things expected to be discussed was the “bigay-kaya” or bride price/service, erroneously called “dowry” in the source document. This was the money, land, animals or other valuables that the young woman’s family could ask from the family of the young man. To help them in the negotiations, sometimes, the young man’s family asked a distinguished personality in the community to come along to help in the negotiations in case the woman’s family asked for things they could not afford.
The date and other particulars of the wedding and feast, called “baysanan” locally, were also discussed.
Other Courtship Traditions
Below are other quaint courtship traditions practiced in certain communities:
- “Pakulasyon” – Meat and other good foods are sent to the house of the young woman on Christmas Eve or on the eve of any religious feast.
- “Panganga” – This tradition was probably part of the “pagpapakilala” but was done in certain communities as a sort of conference between the parents of the young man and woman to discuss the impending courtship. The term “panganga” referred to the parents of both parties chewing “nganga” or betel/areca nut.
Sometimes, the Woman was NOT up for it!
This is no longer part of the courtship ritual but we just had to include this because it is so amusing!
In the case of arranged marriages when the lady was not really given much in the way of choices and had to marry a man whether she like him or not, her reluctance sometimes betrayed itself on the wedding day itself! Here is an excerpt from the history of the barrio of Sinturisan in San Nicolas:
“Ang umaayaw pang nobya ay natagalan bago sumagot ng oo kundi pa inamo ng ninang o kinurot ng ina.”
Translated: “The reluctant bride sometimes took a long time to reply “I do” to the priest and just so she finally would, had to be cajoled by the godmother or, if that did not work, pinched by her mother.”
Notes and references:1. “History and Cultural Life of Calangay (San Nicolas),” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philipines Digital Collections.
2. “History and Cultural Life of Lipa City,” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philipines Digital Collections.
3. “History and Cultural Life of San Diego (Lian),” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philipines Digital Collections.
4. “History and Cultural Life of Sinturisan (San Nicolas),” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philipines Digital Collections.
5. “History and Cultural Life of Tubigan (Lemery),” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philipines Digital Collections.