Barangay: From boat to vote

Photo by QuecyKeith (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by QuecyKeith (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, October 28, millions of Filipinos all over the country cast their ballots in the triennial barangay elections. The barangay (abbreviated Brgy. or Bgy.) is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines, roughly equivalent to the concept of village, district or ward. Larger barangays can be further subdivided into smaller areas designated by the Tagalog term purok, and the Spanish word sitio.

The word barangay has been adopted into Philippine English from Tagalog, but its origins can be traced back to pre-colonial times. The modern term is derived from the Austronesian word balangay, which refers to a type of boat used by pre-Hispanic Filipino communities. Archaelogical evidence suggests that groups of balangays were used by early Filipinos to travel across Southeast Asia as early as the 10th century. Remnants of what could possibly be a balangay “mother boat” were recently unearthed in Butuan, in southern Philippines, providing even more tantalizing clues on Butuan’s role as a pan-Asian cultural hub, and on the seafaring traditions of our Malayo-Polynesian ancestors.

The original barangays were small coastal or riverine settlements consisting of 50 to 100 families, but some of them grew to become large, cosmopolitan principalities with trade links to the rest of Southeast Asia. These pre-colonial societies were headed by an aristocratic class called datu.

With the arrival of the Spanish, barangays were combined to form towns, headed by a town chief called by the Spanish-Tagalog hybrid expression cabeza de barangay, still in use today.

The word barangay fell into disuse during the American period, when it was replaced by the Spanish term barrio (abbreviated Bo.). The word’s resurgence in the 1970s is largely thanks to former President Ferdinand Marcos, who ordered that the name barangay be restored, and used the idealized vision of baranganic democracy as a key element in the participatory politics of his New Society.

The word survived Marcos’ overthrow in the 1986 EDSA revolution, and endures today as an integral part of our political system. Barangay elections are hard-fought contests. From a lexical perspective, barangay is extremely productive, giving rise to a wide range of expressions: barangay captain (another name for cabeza de barangay), barangay officials, barangay tanod (unarmed watchmen that act as barangay police), barangay council, barangay hall, barangay clearance, and of course, barangay elections.

Did you do right by your barangay and vote?

Tierra adorada, land of the morning, bayang magiliw

Wednesday, June 12 marks the 115th anniversary of the Philippine declaration of independence from Spain. In commemoration of this significant event, here are three versions of our national anthem. Our hymn, just like many other aspects of our culture, is multilingual and reflective of our country’s many-layered history.

The original version is in Spanish, a beautiful piece of poetry written in 1899 by Tondo-born soldier and poet José Palma. Titled Filipinas, It was later set to the music of Marcha Nacional Filipina, a rousing composition by musician Julián Felipe played on that historic day in Kawit, Cavite.

Tierra adorada
Hija del sol de Oriente
Su fuego ardiente en ti latiendo está.
Patria de amores
Del heroismo cuna,
Los invasores
No te hallarán jamás.
En tu azul cielo, en tus auras,
En tus montes y en tu mar
Esplende y late el poema
De tu amada libertad.
Tu pabellón, que en las lides
La victoria iluminó
No verá nunca apagados
Sus estrellas y su sol.
Tierra de dichas, del sol y amores,
En tu regazo dulce es vivir.
Es una gloria para tus hijos,
Cuando te ofenden, por ti morir.

In one of Philippine history’s many little ironies, just a few a months after this triumphal proclamation of independence, the old Spanish-speaking colonizers we thought we had gotten rid of sold us to some new, English-speaking colonizers for a few million dollars. But we’re not going to dwell on that on such a day as this. Just enjoy the following English version of our national anthem:

Land of the morning,
Child of the sun returning,
With fervor burning,
Thee do our souls adore.
Land dear and holy,
Cradle of noble heroes,
Ne’er shall invaders
Trample thy sacred shore.
Ever within thy skies and through thy clouds
And o’er thy hills and sea,
Do we behold the radiance, feel and throb,
Of glorious liberty.
Thy banner, dear to all our hearts,
Its sun and stars alight,
O never shall its shining field
Be dimmed by tyrant’s might!
Beautiful land of love,
O land of light,
In thine embrace ’tis rapture to lie,
But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged,
For us, thy sons to suffer and die.

Although the Flag Law banned the use of Filipino nationalist symbols during the early years of the American occupation, it was repealed in 1919 and our hymn was translated into English. The one above is the most popular version, written by Senator Camilo Osías and an American, Mary A. Lane. Imagine, though, an American writing about the Philippines being a land whose flag’s shining field will never be dimmed by tyrant’s might, just when her country had us under its power; and about how it is glory for Filipinos to suffer and die when their country is wronged, just a few years after thousands of them did just that in the hands of American soldiers during the Philippine-American War. It boggles the mind!

I much prefer the Filipino version, written when we were finally free from foreign control (at least officially). The following is the one that I had to sing with my classmates at 7 a.m. every single school day for over a decade. Handa, awit:

Bayang magiliw
Perlas ng Silanganan,
Alab ng puso,
Sa dibdib mo’y buhay.
Lupang Hinirang,
Duyan ka ng magiting,
Sa manlulupig,
Di ka pasisiil.
Sa dagat at bundok,
Sa simoy at sa langit mong bughaw,
May dilag ang tula
At awit sa paglayang minamahal.
Ang kislap ng watawat mo’y
Tagumpay na nagniningning,
Ang bituin at araw niya
Kailan pa ma’y di magdidilim.
Lupa ng araw, ng luwalhati’t pagsinta,
Buhay ay langit sa piling mo;
Aming ligaya, na pag may mang-aapi
Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.

My favorite line from all these versions is from the Spanish one: en tu regazo dulce es vivir. It conjures this image in my mind of my country as a loving mother on whose lap I sit, enjoying the warmth of her tropical embrace, looking up at the coconut trees set against the background of her cloudless blue skies, basking in the glow of her dazzling sun.

Sorry for the nostalgia; I’ve just been in England for too long and I desperately need some sunshine. And it is our national day after all.

The end of Filipino time?

Last Saturday I spent a fascinating morning at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, home of the Prime Meridian of the World, Longitude 000° 00′ 00″.

Our shadows on the Prime Meridian

Our shadows on the Prime Meridian

I was taken back to a time before atomic clocks or quartz watches or global positioning systems, when survival at sea depended entirely on one’s ability to determine east-west position by calculating the time difference between Greenwich and one’s current location. Accurate timekeeping for navigation was a major preoccupation for some of the leading scientists and engineers of the day, and it wasn’t until John Harrison’s marine chronometer that the longitude problem was finally solved.

The Greenwich Time Ball on top of Flamsteed House

The Greenwich Time Ball on top of Flamsteed House

Nowadays, finding out the exact time takes nothing more than a glance at a watch face or a cellphone screen. Our personal and working lives are ruled by our timekeeping devices, and this is reflected by the many expressions in our languages that involve the concept of time. In English, for example:

on the value of time: time is gold, time is precious, time is money

on the power of time: time heals all wounds, only time will tell

Time expressions in English

Time expressions in English

And yet it is also true that different cultures have different perceptions of time and punctuality: what counts as fashionable lateness in one country is gross disrespect in another. I myself tend to measure the punctuality of a nation through the punctuality of its urban buses. German buses are punctual to the very last second, while Italian buses just arrive whenever they want, timetable be damned. As for Filipino buses? Filipino buses follow Filipino time.

What is Filipino time? The Anvil-Macquarie Philippine English Dictionary gives the following definition:

Filipino time, n. Philippine English Informal a time system in which people expect that everyone will be late in keeping appointments, schedules, etc. (opposed to American time).

Anvil-Macquarie Philippine English Dictionary for High School

Let me give an example. If you are going to have a party and you want everyone to come at 9:00 pm, real time, then you should invite them to do so at 8:00 pm or even earlier, because that is how real time translates to Filipino time.

Indeed, tardiness is so entrenched in Filipino culture that making people wait is even considered a mark of privilege. In the Philippines, it is absolutely normal, even expected, for a ceremony to start hours later than planned, especially if someone important is giving a speech. And with the hopeless traffic congestion in cities such as Metro Manila, even the most time-conscious of individuals sometimes cannot help but be late.

There is a widespread belief that we got our lax timekeeping from the Spanish, and indeed, Spain and Latin American nations seem to share our laissez-faire attitude towards time and punctuality. I will not go as far as blame Spain for our tardiness, but what I will say is that Spanish has had a very strong influence on the linguistic expression of time in the Philippines. The very word for time in Tagalog is oras, from the Spanish hora. We divide time into hours (oras, from Sp. hora), minutes (minuto, from Sp. minuto) and seconds (segundo, from Sp. segundo). Our words for watch and clock also come from Spanish: relos (watch) is from reloj, while orasan (clock) is derived from hora. If we’re not telling time in English, we’re doing it in Spanish:

Anong oras na? Ten o’clock na ba?

A las diyes na. Ay, wait di pala. A las diyes y medya na.

Talaga? Bakit sa relos ko menos kinse pa lang! Pano naging ten thirty?

What time is it? Is it ten o’clock?

It’s ten o’clock. Oh no, wait, it’s not. It’s half-past ten.

Really? On my watch it’s only a quarter to ten! How can it be half-past?

The above exchange also illustrates another reason behind Filipino time: our timepieces are just not synchronized. In Philippine English, we have even invented our own way of describing a watch or clock that is literally ahead of its time:

advanced, adj. 3. Philippine English Informal (of a watch, clock, etc.) fast: My watch is advanced.

Anvil-Macquarie Philippine English Dictionary for High School 

I was very surprised to find, on the very evening of my visit to the birthplace of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), that in this age of atomic clocks with accuracy to about one second in 20 million years, the Philippines still did not have a strictly enforced standard time. It was only this month when the President finally signed a law requiring all government offices and television and radio stations to synchronize their time with Philippine Standard Time (PST), which is eight hours ahead of GMT. Republic Act 10535 also designates PAGASA as the country’s official timekeeper, and prescribes stiff fines and penalties for private radio and television stations that fail to calibrate their timekeeping devices according to PST.

The new law is scheduled to take effect on June 1. Will this day mark the end of Filipino time?

Only time will tell.

What can the first Filipino novel tell us about Tagalog, Spanish and English vocabulary?

Ninay Book Cover

Nine years ago I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Nínay: Costumbres filipinas, the novel considered to be the first to ever be written by a Filipino. I looked at certain characteristics of the novel and argued that it owed a lot to a Spanish literary trend called costumbrismo, which flourished in Spain in the 19th century. Costumbrista literature, which counts such authors as Serafín Estébanez Calderón, Ramón de Mesonero Romanos and Mariano José de Larra among its leading figures, is characterized by satiric, moralizing works full of folkloric detail.

Reading Nínay was not an altogether pleasant experience. Many critics consider the novel a failure as a literary work, and I am inclined to agree with them. This is no Noli Me Tangere or El Filibusterismo: the plot is so convoluted and preposterous it can rival any of our current primetime teleseryes, and its author gave more attention to painting local color than to fleshing out its characters, which were reduced to stereotypes.

In many ways, Nínay can be seen as a European novel. Not only does it follow Spanish costumbrista models, it was written and published in Madrid, in the Spanish language. But Nínay can also be viewed as a quintessentially Filipino novel. It was written by a Filipino (the writer, politician and notorious balimbing Pedro Alejandro Paterno); it has Filipino characters in Filipino settings; it has extensive, minutely detailed, loving descriptions of Filipino places, plants, animals, dress, food, art, language and customs. It has several long footnotes on various aspects of local life, and quotes from 16th to 18th century works on the Philippines, in Spanish and French. It even includes, as an appendix, a lengthy essay on Philippine pre-Hispanic civilization.

Nínay‘s weak, soap-operatic story merely serves as framework for the description of Philippine life and culture of the period. The novel is an exaltation of indigenous traditions, and has the dual objective of documenting native customs threatened by great social change, and of correcting distorted perceptions of the Philippines as an uncivilized, culturally backward colony in the tropics. These objectives are shared by Spanish costumbrista writers, who also lived during a time of social upheaval in Spain, and who saw their country viewed by the rest of the world principally through existing Spanish stereotypes.

I enjoyed writing the thesis more than reading the novel, and for my efforts I got my first journal publication (which is available here), and a shiny medal on graduation day that made me think for the first time that this research thing was something I could actually do.

Years later, I did get into research, but in language and not literature. My main working language shifted back to English from Spanish. It really seemed that I had closed the book on the study of Filhispanic literature, both literally and figuratively. That was what I thought, until I got an invitation to give a paper at the inaugural colloquium of a new research network in Oxford, Translations in Transnational Contexts, which involved scholars working in different aspects of translation that crossed national, geographical, linguistic and cultural boundaries. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to revisit my old friend Nínay, whose namesake novel is a prime example of transnational literature. This time, I was going to look at the novel from a lexical perspective, and see how translating concepts from one culture to another culture’s language aids processes of word formation.

Searching the novel for lexical riches proved to be more rewarding than looking for its literary value. From the very first chapter, Nínay gave me valuable insight on three different kinds of vocabulary. First, there are Spanish words that have made it into the Tagalog lexicon. We all know that a large percentage of Tagalog words (some even say up to 75%) are of Spanish origin, and several of them crop up in the first Filipino novel.

And then there are the Tagalog words that have made it into Spanish vocabulary. We get very excited when we see words of Filipino origin in famous English dictionaries such as the OED and Websters, but what we are less aware of is the fact that the Philippines had made its mark on another language and another dictionary long before any of these English dictionaries even existed: the Diccionario de la lengua española de la Real Academia Española (DRAE). Nínay has a number of words of Tagalog origin that are documented in the DRAE, several of which Paterno himself checked against the 12th edition of 1884 (the first edition came out in 1780).

Dicc RAE 1780

As can be expected, there are the usual borrowings of flora and fauna terms (jusi, nipa, sampaguita, santol, etc.), but there are also some very surprising entries:

1. m. Filip. huracán (‖ viento a modo de torbellino).

(De or. tagalo).
1. adj. Filip. niño (‖ que está en la niñez).
2. m. Filip. Criado joven.

1. m. Filip. Fideo hecho de harina de arroz.

(Del tagalo salakót).
1. m. Sombrero usado en Filipinas y otros países cálidos, en forma de medio elipsoide o de casquete esférico, a veces ceñido a la cabeza con un aro distante de los bordes para dejar circular el aire, y hecho de un tejido de tiras de caña, o de otras materias.

Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, 22nd ed.

And my favorite:
1. m. Vasija filipina hecha con la cáscara interior y durísima del coco.

Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, 22nd ed.

Paterno even uses the verb tabear:

Por varios sitios , á la sombra de los cañaverales, vense grupos juguetones de dalagas de mórbidas formas, sumergiéndose en las ondas, ya levantando espumas con sus pies al nadar, ya formando cascadas al tabearse…

Nínay: Costumbres filipinas, p. 60

This is accompanied by an explanatory footnote on the same page:

Tabear. Verter agua sobre la cabeza con el tabo.
Tabo, m. Vasija filipina hecha con la cáscara interior y durísima del coco. (Dic. de la Acad. Esp., 1884.)

Nínay: Costumbres filipinas, p. 60

And then there is this word, which originated from a Spanish word, was Tagalized, and then made its way back into Spanish:

(Der. tagalo de batea).
1. m. Filip. Especie de terraza o balcón de madera o bambú, sin techo, situado en la trasera de las casas, donde se guardan los útiles de lavar.

Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, 22nd ed.

I also noticed some Spanish words that have undergone semantic change and taken on a new meaning in the Philippines.

Common Spanish meaning:
1. adj. Que abraza.
Filipino meaning:
3. m. Especie de almohada de forma cilíndrica que se usa en Filipinas para dormir con mayor comodidad, y que protege tanto del calor como del frío según la postura que el cuerpo adopte al abrazarse a ella.

(Del part. de caer).
Common Spanish meaning:
1. adj. Desfallecido, amilanado.
Filipino meaning:
19. f. Filip. p. us. Galería interior de las casas de Manila.

Common Spanish meanings:
1. f. Asiento de madera, sin respaldo y a modo de mesa baja.
2. f. Conjunto de entidades que tienen por objeto básico facilitar la financiación de las distintas actividades económicas.
Filipino meaning:
7. f. Embarcación pequeña usada en Filipinas.

Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, 22nd ed.

Finally and more fascinatingly, Nínay also includes Tagalog words that have made into English vocabulary through Spanish. The examples I give here are still used in contemporary Philippine English and are in fact included in the OED:

casco, n.
Etymology: < Spanish casco hull, hulk.
b. A kind of boat used at Manila in lading and unlading ships.

jusi, n.
Pronunciation: /ˈhuːsiː/
Forms: Also husi, jussi.
Etymology: < Spanish jusi, < Tagalog husi.
A delicate fibrous fabric woven in the Philippine Islands.
1851 Illustr. Catal. Great Exhib. iv. 1344/1 Piece of ‘jusi’, and a shawl of ‘jusi’.

sampaguita, n.
Pronunciation: /sæmpəˈɡiːtə/
Etymology: < Filipino Spanish sampaguita, diminutive of Tagalog sampaga Arabian jasmine.
A local name in the Philippines for the Arabian jasmine, Jasminum sambac; the flowers of this tree.
1902 Encycl. Brit. XXXI. 667/1 Valuable essential oils are obtained from the flowers of the ilangilang, sampaguita, and champaca.

Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed.

Nínay is particularly interesting for lexical research because of the level of detail the author offers about many of the local terms he employs. This wealth of information not only gives a clear indication of the exact meaning of words, but can also help in dating reciprocal borrowings between Spanish, Tagalog and Philippine English.

Most research now on Filhispanic literature is done from a literary perspective, but we see now that it can also be useful for lexical investigations. In the future, it would be interesting to look at the Tagalog and English translations of Nínay (which came out in 1906 and 1907, respectively) to see how the novel’s depictions of local culture and traditions have been rendered in two such disparate languages. And this also makes me wonder: what can Rizal tell us about the evolution of our vocabulary? How about the other Propagandists? And how about the writers of the Golden Age of Filhispanic Literature: Claro M. Recto, Jesús Balmori, Cecilio Apóstol, Evangelina Guerrero?

This experience also made me realize the value of interdisciplinary research networks. By participating in this colloquium, I learned about, among many other things, the translation of Franco-British military medicine in the 18th century, transcultural architecture in Goa, the politics of translation in Napoleonic France, the translation of Spanish Golden Age Drama into English: topics that I would not have known anything about in my little applied linguistics bubble. It also made me consider my own work from a point of view that I had thought irrelevant, and in so doing led me down a promising new research path.