Filipino Culture and Traditions

Alison Jean Thomas
Tuna Festival in General Santos City, The Philippines

To visit the Philippines is to become engulfed by a kaleidoscope of culture and tradition unlike any other. This is because of the varied blend of races that have influenced this group of islands for thousands of years.

National Identity

The eminent Filipino sociologist and journalist Prof. Randolf S. David stated that Filipinos do not consciously feel part of a nation. One significant cause of this is the mixed heritage that makes up the national psyche. According to UNICEF (Ch.8) Filipino values are a blend of trust in divine providence and self-reliance.

Geography and History Influence Identity

The Philippines is located in an archipelago constituting over 7,000 islands. The history of the country is that of immigration and occupation, also gives clues to the people's identity:

  • Before the Spanish invasion in 1521, the inhabitants were descended from Negritos, Malays, Indonesians, Chinese and Muslims.
  • The first Spanish arrived in 1521.
  • Miguel Lopez de Legazpi amalgamated Spanish power in 1564.
  • Spanish occupation and Catholicism unified the country.
  • During the 1890s, José Rizal inspired Filipinos to seek independence.
  • Americans occupied the Philippines from 1902.
  • The islands were given commonwealth status in 1933.
  • The Philippines gained independence on July 4, 1946.

Language

'Taglish' is something you hear a lot in the Philippines, especially in Manila, Luzon, Mindoro and Marinduque. As the word suggests, it combines Tagalog, the most widely spoken language, and English. In 1987, a variant of Tagalog became the base for the official language of the Philippines. Tagalog and English are used profusely for education and business, and Tagalog has the most literature of all the Filipino languages. However, you would be wrong to suppose that these were the only languages. In fact, according to the SEAsite project at Northern Illinois University, scholars estimate there are 75 to 150 different languages and dialects in the Philippines.

Family

Family bonds are important to Filipinos. The elderly are honored and respected and children are taught to say 'po' and 'apo,' showing respect to their grandparents, from an early age. There is a special greeting to show veneration, 'mano,' whereby you take the hand of an elderly person and place it on your forehead as if receiving his blessing.

Extended Family

Extended families live together and even distant members are given the title of cousin. Children have several sets of godparents so that the support system is strong. There may be a few houses grouped on the same piece of land, or in the same neighborhood so that children from different parents are part of one household and single aunts and uncles, or grandparents look after them while parents work. The major festivals are celebrated together. If a family originates outside the city, they journey back to the rural area where they have their roots to celebrate.

Courtship and Marriage

Close-knit relationships between relatives and friends mean that young people often marry others already known to their families. Whether this is the case or not it is traditional that 'pamanhikan' occurs, and the suitor's parents visit the bride's family to ask for her hand in marriage. From this point on the prospective groom expects to make himself as useful as possible to his fiance's family.

Long Engagements

Marriage is a serious affair and engagements often last for several years while the couple work, save for a home, and if necessary pay for siblings' education. Friends and relatives may help sponsor the marriage which cuts expenses.

Marriage

There are various kinds of weddings according to family wishes, religion, whether the geographical location is rural or urban. Over the last century, it has become fashionable for brides to wear white, imitating the Western style of dress, however, if a couple has a tribal wedding, they will wear traditional attire.

Festivals and National Holidays

Filipinos know how to party. No matter when you travel, there is bound to be a holiday or festival. If you're visiting the Philippines, Filipino Travel Center has a useful calendar of festivals. Every municipality has a patron saint whose day is celebrated extravagantly in the homes and streets. Residents anticipate the event for months in advance. A feast is prepared and they go from one house to another tasting dishes. The church and plaza are decorated with lights and bunting, and a procession is held with dancing and music. According to the festival, Filipinos dress up in vivid costumes, sporting masks and headdresses. Fireworks and firecrackers complete the excitement.

Other holidays include Christmas, Rizal Day, which takes place on 30 December making it part of the New Year's Day celebration, Easter, All Saints Eve, and secular holidays like Bataan Death March, Labor Day, and Independence Day on 12 June. Sino-Filipinos celebrate the Chinese New Year in Chinatown, Manila, and Muslims enjoy the Islamic Feasts for the end of Ramadan and the Haj.

Etiquette

Much of the etiquette of the Philippines stems from the desire to prevent loss of face. A person might agree to an action even though they have no intention of doing it; when it is not carried through it is understood that the act would have been embarrassing. All perfectly comprehensible to Filipinos although confusing to Westerners. By understanding certain points of social and business etiquette you avert frustration or embarrassment. Commisceo Global offers tips to prevent social blunders.

  • Wait to be asked more than once before accepting food.
  • Take sweets or flowers as gifts; not chrysanthemums or white lilies.
  • Introduce people from oldest to youngest.
  • Refer to them by their full title.
  • Women should not drink alcohol or cross their legs in public.
  • Dress formally and compliment the hostess on the house.

Conducting Business

You are certain to be greeted with a smile as you travel around the Philippines. Personal relations are important and Filipinos are sensitive to the feelings of others. If you are conducting business in the Philippines, you should be aware of how professional relationships work. According to the translation company, Kwintessential, there are important factors to take into account:

  • The business relationship is with you, rather than your business, so if you leave, the relationship breaks and needs to be rebuilt by your replacement.
  • Try to build extended networks.
  • Arrange interviews face-to-face and don't rely on fax, email or telephone.
  • Accept food or drink, so you don't to offend.
  • Socialize after the meeting.
  • Be aware that the people you meet might not be those making the final decision.

Food

Geographical location and ethnicity mean that food varies from area to area. It is spicy but not eye-watering hot. There is one staple true to all; when in the Philippines you will always see plain steamed rice on the menu.

Daily Food

Fish is eaten daily and may be salted or fried. Chicken is popular, as is pork, although it is not eaten by the Muslim population. Much of the food is served cold. Vegetables are prepared in soups or stews and there is plenty of fruit. If you enjoy desserts you will relish the coconut milk with fruit salad.

Etiquette When Eating

Just a hint of what is felt to be good manners at the Filipino dining table.

  • Don't be the first to enter.
  • Wait to be seated.
  • Hold the fork in your left hand and use it to place food on your spoon.
  • Knives are not used.

Arts

According to the Britannica, Historical evidence shows a wealth of traditional Filipino arts in the past, from carved images to musical instruments such as nose flutes, Jew's harps, gongs and drums. According to The indigenous arts' movement was on the wane until recent years. Now it has revived, both at street festivals and theater productions. Ballet Philippines, the Philippine National Folk Dance Company, Bayanihan, and the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group are all important performing arts' companies promoting local culture.

Since Independence, writers have been publishing in Tagalog and there have been a number of internationally acclaimed films:

  • Himala (1982)
  • Oro, Plata, Mata (1982)
  • Small Voices (2002)

An Interesting Culture

The Philippines is a tropical country which boasts volcanic islands, forests, and sandy beaches. Filipino people are rightfully proud of their surroundings. It is a place worth visiting, whether for business or leisure and by understanding a little about the Filipino culture you are sure to get the most out of your stay.

Filipino Culture and Traditions