With its beautiful landscapes, pristine white sand beaches, and hospitable citizens, it’s truly difficult not to love the Philippines. There’s something about this archipelago that will bewitch you, holding you back from staying, getting to know more of its people, immersing yourself in its culture, and learning so much about its traditions.
But not only the geographical and societal environment of the Philippines will make you fall in love with it, but more so with its people. While much has changed in the dating landscape because of technology and industrialization, some practices that showcase love remain the same among Filipino men and women.
How Do Filipinos Show Love? Here Are the Top Precolonial Practices
These practices have thrived so many times that some are still done at present and in some distant places in the country. Here are some of the precolonial practices of showing love in the Philippines.
Filipinos’ way of showing love is a bit shy compared to other countries’ boldness. In fact, love among Filipinos begins with teasing—tuksuhan—the pairing together of a potential couple. Most often, friends do this after knowing how one feels toward the other. If the man is brave enough, he will then move on to the next step: panliligaw.
Courting during the precolonial period required patience and perseverance. Back then, it was not only the girl that you had to woo but also the whole family, if not the whole clan. Showing your love for a woman is actually costly and grueling. For one, the man has to undergo paninilbihan—or the custom of requiring a man to work for the woman’s family before marriage. This includes chopping wood, doing house repairs, plowing the field, fetching water, and other household chores that require strength. And this does not only happen in one day; it goes on for months until the parents of the woman finally get convinced that he is right for their beloved daughter.
Even before the Spanish colonization, courtship, an expression of love, has long been practiced among Filipinos. But courtship around the archipelago differs from one group to another. For one, pasaguli, which is identified as being done in Palawan, is a riddle type of courtship. In this type of courtship, love riddles are delivered for two major purposes: (1) to express the man’s love towards the pursued lady, and (2) to assess the sentiments of the parents of both the admirer and the suitor. Once agreed upon, the families will agree on a settled price, which is often referred to as a dowry. Among the Maranaos, this is called kapamalai.
Like the Palawaeños, people from the Visayas also practice dowry. Loving indeed requires money, even before time. But in the Visayan region, the dowry is based on the rank of the contracting families. The higher the position of the family in society, the bigger the dowry required. This could be gifts of gold, pieces of jewelry, a piece of land, or the sum of all of them.
Bigaykaya also includes panhimuyat—the amount spent by the mother of the bride on taking care of her since birth. While this may seem demanding, when looked at through a more objective lens, this is likened to a thanksgiving gift given to the mother for taking good care of her daughter until she becomes ready for marriage.
Ah, the timeless expression of love through music. Filipinos are not only known worldwide for our singing prowess, but we have long been expressing our emotions through songs, most particularly to the ones we love. Harana is one of the most popular practices among Filipinos to show love toward a woman. Together with friends, the group goes to the woman’s house and sings underneath the bedroom windows at night to get her attention and hopefully get her approval to inch forward with the courtship process.
- Love letters.
Another timeless expression of love is pouring out one’s feelings and intentions through words: by writing them into letters. Following the story of Dr. Jose Rizal, he has won the hearts of many women in his time, aside from being such a gentleman, because of his innate genius to write letters.
These days, it is so easy to chat with someone with whom you are very interested. But during the precolonial era, letters took the form of bamboo tubes or slates. Words are usually inscribed through bamboo and often take the form of poems.
Another practice among many Filipino ethnolinguistic groups is showcasing one’s love through spoken word poetry. Yes, while the spoken word has been gaining much attention right now, it has been a long-held tradition most particularly in the Visayas region.
Balak, as locally termed, is an emotional recitation of verses to the woman pursued by the man. Even the former president of the Philippines, Carlos P. Garcia, was named the “Bard from Bohol” and “Prince of Visayan Poets” because of how moving his poems were.
While pakipot or playing hard to get is often viewed as a negative response from a woman being pursued, the truth is, when the woman is interested in the man, she is still expected to do this practice, even if her heart is already melting inside. In hindsight, however, she shows her love for the man by not entertaining and going out with other men. This then signals the man to move to advance the courting process.
- Kagen and Taltag.
In the Southern part of the Philippines, Muslim Filipinos during the precolonial time practice kagen and taltag. The man demonstrates his commitment to the woman that he loves by begging for the parents’ approval. One of the many ways to earn their “yes” is to offer a dowry that is agreed upon by both families. While the prevailing Catholic-Christian norms are not practiced in most parts of Mindanao, to solemnize the wedding ceremony of the couple, chieftains usually perform the Kalagsulu-hu Salungana or the ritual to ward off evil spirit, cleansing a couple of their sins.
The end game. After all, pursuing and convincing, the ultimate practice to seal one’s love before marriage is pamamanhikan, or to formally talk to the woman’s parents about the imminent wedding. While the decision is still up to the parents, at this stage, almost everything is expected to have been ironed out, and the man has already passed all the difficulties presented by the family, friends, and relatives of the woman. In short, when the man does the pamamanhikan there’s no more turning back. Of course, what better way to show one’s love than standing true to his promise, right?
Truly, a lot of things have changed now. Courtship, dating, and marriage have evolved through time. But if you were given the chance, would you like to go back in time and experience all these practices?