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POUNDING RICE, ni Galo B. Ocampo, 1974

The traditional dalagang Pilipina (Filipina maiden) is shy and secretive about her real feelings for a suitor and denies it even though she is really in love with the man.

Tuksuhan lang (just teasing) is the usual term associated with pairing off potential couples in Filipino culture.  This is common among teenagers and young adults.  It is a way of matching people who may have mutual admiration or affection for each other.  It may end up in a romance or avoidance of each other if the situation becomes embarrassing for both individuals.

Tuksuhan (teasing--and a girl's reaction to it) is a means for 'feeling out' a woman's attitude about an admirer or suitor.  If the denial is vehement and the girl starts avoiding the boy, then he gets the message that his desire to pursue her is hopeless.  The advantage of this is that he does not get embarrassed because he has not started courting the girl in earnest.  As in most Asian cultures, Filipinos avoid losing face. Basted (from English busted) is the Tagalog slang for someone who fails to reach 'first base' in courting a girl because she does not have any feelings for him to begin with. 

However, if the girl 'encourages' her suitor (either by being nice to him or not getting angry with the 'teasers'), then the man can court in earnest and the tuksuhan eventually ends.  The courtship then has entered a 'serious' stage, and the romance begins.

A man who is unable to express his affection to a woman (who may have the same feelings for him) is called a torpe (stupid), dungo (extremely shy), or simply duwag (coward).  To call a man torpe means he does not know how to court a girl, is playing innocent, or does not know she also has an affection for him. 

If a man is torpe, he needs a tulay (bridge)--anyone who is a mutual friend of him and the girl he loves--who then conveys to the girl his affection for her.   It is also a way of 'testing the waters' so to speak.  If the boy realizes that the girl does not have feelings for him, he will then not push through with the courtship, thus saving face. 

Some guys are afraid of their love being turned down by the girl.  In Tagalog, a guy whose love  has been turned down by the girl is called sawi (romantically sad), basted (busted), or simply labless (loveless).   Click here for Tagalog romantic phrases used in Filipino courtship.

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HARANA, ni Carlos V. Francisco

Panliligaw or ligawan are the Tagalog terms for courtship, which in some parts of the Tagalog-speaking regions is synonymous with pandidiga or digahan (from Spanish diga, 'to say, express').  Manliligaw is the one who courts a girl; nililigawan is the one who is being courted. 

In Philippine culture, courtship is far more subdued and indirect unlike in some Western societies.  A man who is interested in courting a woman has to be discreet and friendly at first, in order not to be seen as too presko or mayabang (aggressive or too presumptuous).  Friendly dates are often the starting point, often with a group of other friends.  Later, couples may go out on their own, but this is still to be done discreetly.  If the couple has decided to come out in the open about their romance, they will tell their family and friends as well. 

In the Philippines, if a  man wants to be taken seriously by a woman, he has to visit the latter's family and introduce himself formally to the parents of the girl.  It is rather inappropriate to court a woman and formalize the relationship without informing the parents of the girl.  It is always expected that the guy must show his face to the girl's family.  And if a guy wants to be acceptable to the girl's family, he has to give pasalubong (gifts) every time he drops by her family's house.   It is said that in the Philippines, courting a Filipina means courting her family as well.

In courting a Filipina, the metaphor often used is that of playing baseball.  The man is said to reach 'first base' if the girl accepts his proposal to go out on a date for the first time.  Thereafter, going out on several dates is like reaching the second and third bases.  A 'home-run' is one where the girl formally accepts the man's love, and they become magkasintahan (from sinta, love), a term for boyfriend-girlfriend. 

During the old times and in the rural areas of the Philippines, Filipino men would make harana (serenade) the women  at night and sing songs of love and affection.  This is basically a Spanish influence.  The man is usually accompanied by his close friends who provide moral support for the guy, apart from singing with him. 

Filipino women are expected to be pakipot (playing hard to get) because it is seen as an appropriate behavior in a courtship dance.   By being pakipot, the girl tells the man that he has to work hard to win her love.  It is also one way by which the Filipina will be able to measure the sincerity of her admirer.  Some courtships could last years before the woman accepts the man's love. 

A traditional dalagang Pilipina (Filipinpa maiden) is someone who is mahinhin (modest, shy, with good upbringing, well-mannered) and does not show her admirer that she is also in love with him immediately.  She is also not supposed to go out on a date with several men.  The opposite of mahinhin is malandi (flirt), which is taboo in Filipino culture as far as courtship is concerned.

After a long courtship, if the couple later decide to get married, there is the Filipino tradition of pamamanhikan (from panik, to go up the stairs of the house), where the man and his parents visit the woman's family and ask for her parents blessings to marry their daughter.  It is also an occasion for the parents of the woman to get to know the parents of the man.

During pamamanhikan, the man and his parents bring some pasalubong (gifts).  It is also at this time that the wedding date is formally set, and the couple become engaged to get married. 

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TAMPUHAN, a classic painting by Juan Luna, 1895.  This painting depicts sweethearts having a lovers' quarrel.

The Tagalog term tampo has no English equivalent.  Magtampo is usually translated as 'to sulk', but it does not quite mean that.  'Sulk' seems to have a negative meaning which is not expressed in magtampo.   It is a way of withdrawing, of expressing hurt feelings in a culture where outright expression of anger is discouraged.  For example, if a child who feels hurt or neglected may show tampo by withdrawing from the group, refusing to eat, and resisting expressions of affection such as touching or kissing by the members of the family.  A woman may also show tampo if she feels jealous or neglected by her beloved.  Tampuhan is basically a lovers' quarrel, often manifested in total silent treatment or not speaking to each other.

The person who is nagtatampo expects to be aamuin or cajoled out of the feeling of being unhappy or left out.  Parents usually let a child give way to tampo before he/she is cajoled to stop feeling hurt. 

Usually, tampo in Filipino culture is manifested in non-verbal ways, such as not talking to other people, keeping to one's self, being unusually quiet, not joining friends in group activities, not joining family outing, or simply locking one's self in his or her room. 

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Tagalog Love Words (An Essay)

Our loving ways
by Edilberto Alegre

"Mahal kita, mahal kita, hindi ito bola."

The phrase is the first verse line of a song which was written by a teenager, so said a DJ of the time, in the early 1970s. That's some three decades ago. And yet we still hear it played on the radio, especially around this time of the year.

The line literally means "I love you, I love you, I am not joking." Bola means ball, as in basketball. To "make bola," a patent and peculiar English Tagalog statement, derives from Tagalog: e.g. Binobola mo lang ako, which implies saying untruths but in such a charming manner that what the speaker says appear to be true. It's related to "binibilog ang ulo," literally making a head round -- bola (ball) and bilog (circle) have the same shape round. It remotely recalls "drawing circles" around someone.

To make the title of this section sound closer to English, then: "Seriously, I love you." That deflates the statement though, since the translation is bereft of all that affection in a Pinoy's wooing of a woman. Affection and the lightness of language -- for she, if Pinoy, too, knows he can just be saying it but not truly meaning it, so he enjoins her at the end of the line plaintively: do believe me, hindi ito bola, seriously, peks man, cross my heart and hope to die.

Deep down the Pinoy knows words are just that -- words. Sounds articulated by the vocal cords. Nice to say, good to hear. They need not always carry the weight of truth. And we're adept at manipulating them. It's a cultural attitude to language. We're not supposed to believe everything we hear.

Verbal meaning is kahulugan. The root word is hulog which means "fall" (nahulog sa hagdan -- (s)he fell down the stairs) primarily and "partial" (hulugan -- installment) secondarily. So there are always implications and nuances and the truth is more in them than in the words themselves. So, the bearer must be assured by the speaker -- Hindi ito bola.

Oral speech especially is, then, a game. Politicians are masters of the game. Quezon and Marcos were acknowledged orators who exhibited their genius for bola in public fora here and abroad.

Love in the oral level is a game. There is the pursuer and the pursued. And there are the arrows of words to slay the wooed into belief. Even in the written certainly, the attitude to language is the same. No wonder then that the perennial best-seller continues to be a thin book of samples of loveletters. In Tagalog, that is.

Where is the truth of the loving, then? In the acts of loving, in the action of love -- especially those which are not meretricious; those which do not advertise the feeling of love and loving behind the act and actions. Wala sa salita; nasa gawa. Not in the words but in the actions.

How does one show na hindi ito bola? There is a cultural context to it, of course. As red roses in the west. There's the gift giving, too. But traditionally it's pasalubong -- bringing someone a gift since (s)he was not there when the giver was. A gift to show that one remembered. Valentine's Day is a foreign idea which has not yet seeped into our traditional cultures.

But let me dwell on it a bit. Red is the emblem of the heart (so very bloody, though!), as roses should be red if one wishes to get across love as the message of the giving. This one day even old people won't feel corny wearing red shirts or red skirt. I know, in fact, a few who have Valentine's Day attire which they take out only once a year.

In the 1970s there was this red-and-white taxi named Alfredo's. On that one day, riders who wore red or red-and-white were entitled to a 50% discount. See, how far we can go! Luneta (national park) in those times bloomed in red. That one crazy day!

They are not that crazy in Japan. Primarily it's because the culture which Valentine's Day still tries to penetrate does not possess the articulate meretriciousness of ours. Theirs is an oppressed society -- oppressed by feudalism which continues to fuel it. Their extreme behavior on this day consists of a mild reversal of roles, namely, the girls can gift the boys with chocolates to express their feelings. And that's confined to the young. Just the young.

Let me contrast that with a story here in Tacloban, Leyte (Eastern Visayas). A couple who had been married for almost three decades had seven children between them. On Valentine's Day morning, the husband forgot to greet his wife. She let it pass. In the evening he came home a bit tipsy. He had forgotten completely that it was Valentine's Day. When he was changing his clothes she threw her slippers at him. Love and loving we expect even after decades of togetherness.


These are stories from my hometown, Victoria in the province of Tarlac (Central Luzon). True-to-life love stories. There are many such stories there.

The first has to do with the parents of my closest friend, Ely. His father, Apo Sinti, was taciturn. Ely feared him. He knew he could whip a guava branch to pulp on an offending son's butt. During his entire life Ely remembers only one event -- the father made a top for him using only a bolo (sword). He does not remember him talking to him at all.

In contrast, the mother -- Apo La Paz -- was always talking. They had a huge house on our Calle Real (now Rizal St.) and they had always a slew of maids. She inherited quite a large mass of riceland so she was used to ordering people about.

Apo Sinti found eating at the family table a bother. Perhaps he could not stand Apo La Paz's incessant yakking which became worse during meals. So, Apo Sinti had his special table in the kitchen. A rather small one. He always ate ahead of everybody. Apo La Paz herself, not a maid, would set the table. Then she'd have him called.

He'd come, sit down, and eat silently. She'd be bustling in the kitchen -- checking the food a-cooking on the stoves, the setting of their huge family table, the gradual filling up of the dining room with people, food, and the drinks and sweets which were on another table ready for serving.

During all this she would check on Apo Sinti -- saw to his glass of iced water which had to be replenished always, and the banana which was his preferred fruit. They did not speak with each other. He ate all that was served him. She knew exactly how much rice he ate and what viands he preferred and how much of these he consumed.

Then as silently as he came in, he'd leave. Apo La Paz would then call one of the maids to clean the table and place it in one corner of the kitchen.

One Sunday morning, Apo Sinti staggered to a traysikad, a bicycle with a side car, even before the mass ended in our one Catholic Church proximate to the town plaza. He didn't make it back to their house. He had a heart attack.

Apo La Paz cried, but she didn't wail. She saw to all the funeral arrangements. She was the overseer of the wake. After the funeral she retired to her room. She had to be called for the family meals. She receded into silence.

After a month, she died.

The second story, has to do with the old couple across our house. I don't remember their names. They were a very quiet, self-contained husband-and-wife. They married late, it seems. Their only child was a loquacious tall male who since childhood manifested strong signs of effeminateness.

The son was away for high school. And then a terribly extended medical schooling. They didn't seem to mind. The old man hardly went out of the house. The old woman we hardly saw. All that I remember of them is her standing around as he watered the many plants their son loved. Their yard was a veritable garden.

Every few days a young boy would sweep the yard. The old couple would be seated in their veranda. I have no recollection of their voices. But they did talk with each other. I could see them from our own second-floor veranda.

One day the old man fell ill. The young boy called my father, who was a medical doctor. My father said it was serious. After three days he died. The effeminate son came back and made quite a scene in his wailing and flailing about. He returned to his medical school after the funeral.

We only got news of the old woman from the young boy who stayed with her. He was the son of one of their tenants. He said that she refused to go out of her room. He served her her meals there. She receded into silence.

After two weeks, she died.

These two old couples remind me of a Guy de Maupassant short story. A hunter shot a bird. The other bird, its mate obviously, circled around it. It refused to leave. It kept going around the spot where the first bird fell. Gradually it went down, still moving in circles. It was as if it wanted to be shot, too. The hunter aimed at it and killed it.

They remind me, too, of an old Indian myth. In the beginning, Man and Woman were one. Somehow they got separated. The Man went to the right. The Woman went to the left. They had been looking for each other since then.

Love or, I suppose, marriage in the myth is the discovery of our other half. The Man and the Woman become one again. We go through life looking for our other half, that which would complete us. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes not. If we don't then we go through another cycle of life, another cycle of searching. Life is a quest for completion by way of finding the Man or Woman who is our lost other half.

In our culture we call this completion of self love.


What does our language tell us about love? There's a range starting with wooing, suyuan, an old fine Tagalog word that indicates a man's declaration of his love by overt action, verbal or otherwise. Usually it's non-verbal -- singing, glancing or stealing glances, services -- and indirect. Ligaw, a more modern term, has directness.

Ibig connotes desire, wanting, even an impulse to possess the other. Its highest statement, though, is love of country -- pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa which carries a hint of self-immolation.

Mahal implies valuation, therefore, the other is prized, valued highly. It's root meaning has to do with the monetary cost of goods as in Mahal ang mga bilihin ngayon (Goods are costly now).

While manuyo (from suyo) and manligaw are active, they are traditionally a man's action toward a woman. A one-sided wooing, a pursuit of the woman's heart.

Ibig and mahal are feelings. They express the content of the heart that pursues. The words are focused on what the wooer feels for the wooed. There are three words which have become poetic because, I think, they are old expressions. Irog is fondness or affection for another. When there's a hint of yearning it becomes giliw. When there is reciprocity it becomes sinta. And thus sweethearts or lovers or magkasintahan. And when one introduces the other the term of reference is kasintahan. If it's friendship it's ka-ibig-an; a friendship which has a latent possibility for desire. Kasintahan is closer to affection.

Purely physical desire is of another category altogether: pagnanais. The root word nais implies focused desire; focused on an object or objection, that is. While that which is desirable is kanais-nais, its opposite, di-kanais-nais, is not only not nice but unpleasant.

In contrast to pagnanais the words which refer to love or loving (suyo, ligaw, ibig, mahal, irog, giliw, sinta) contain a lightness -- fondness, affection, yearning. There's no obsessiveness, no imprisoning. There's the lightness of flowing air, the grace of morning's tropical sunlight.

No possessiveness. Perhaps this has to do with man's regard for woman, for it is the man who woos. More probably though, it has to do with the completion of the self with, in, and through one other person (the kita relationship in Tagalog) as only one aspect of the I -- personhood: there's also ako (just the self and no other), tayo (relationship with two or more persons, including the person directly addressed) and kami (also with two or more persons, but excluding the person directly addressed).

The completion of the self in kita cannot possibly deny tayo and kami. While one desires, one wants, too, to yield. There can be and there is passion, physical, but it dissolves in tenderness, in affection, in fondness. Softness wins out in Pinoy loving: it's only in yielding the self that one becomes complete.

Loving is the dialectic dialogue between desire and affection. And love brings us to a new realm -- beyond desire, beyond tenderness, beyond body: the penetration of a new world!

From Pinoy na Pinoy column, Businessworld 14 February 2002

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