The intrusive march
of modernization into the bucolic ways of rural life has been relentless;
television and technology have been its efficient
instruments of change, providing the masa unendeing doses of
celebrity gossip to feed its addiction. Fashion has wreaked incongruous
changes – exposed the rural belly buttons, yellow streaked its
jet-black hair, the young men strutting about in their comic home-boy
get-ups, hair streaked red or pink, or insanely full-blond. Hesus, Maria,
Hosep. . . But this is about the rural wedding, and thankfully, other
than the ubiquitous presence of digital cameras, the occasional video
cams, and the videokes, much of the the rural wedding remains unchanged,
continuing, albeit tenuously, with its traditions and old-fashioned
ways. Unlike the urban-suburban wedding that is accomplished through
the services of consultants, specialists and caterers, the rural wedding
is a bayanihan event, a cooperative effort of kin, friends and neighbors,
all too-ready and so-willing to lend a hand or provide moral support.
It is a celebration that takes weeks of planning and days of communal
hands-on preparation, the final days building up to a busy buzz of activity
– the cooking of delicacies, the cutting of the bamboo, the building
of the bilik and the arch, the slaughtering of pigs, the frenzy of cutting
and chopping in the kitchen, the feast and the dance, the wedding and
As the rural wedding weakly clings to many of its traditional elements,
the courtship part has already surrendered to the onslaught of modernity
and change, severely sterilized and stripped of its rural romance. The
"lupakan" was the afternoon gathering of the rural youth,
the men pounding on unripe bananas fed onto the "lusong" by
the young village lasses, the air palpable with raging hormones, the
young men oozing with testosterone, the young women flushed with flirting.
In the evenings, there was once the "harana," when a suitor,
spurred by love and a supporting cast of a friend or two, guitar in
tote, will venture to the young woman's house, serenading her with love
songs. During the days, the young man labors for good impressions, courts
the good graces of the girl's parents, dropping by to offer a hand with
the daily chores–chopping wood, fetching water from the river,
helping with the tilling of the land. And believe it or not, love letters
were exchanged. . . by mail. These rituals of courtship are fast fading
into oblivion, persisting in a few and scattered rural communities.
What has replaced the romance of rural courtship is. . . texting. Yes,
texting. . . in its abbreviated and abridged messaging. Often it starts
as an anonymous faceless text introduction that leads to a flurry of
text-exchanges. The texting could go on for a month or two before an
actual meeting occurs. Then if sparks fly. . . courtship continues on
the cheap, with unlimited texting that leads to: i
luv u. . . i
luv u2. . . mis u. . . mis u2.
. and eventually, texted marriage proposals.
After the parents becomes aware of their daughter's desire to marry
– that is, if they approve of the man – the prospective
groom's family will be given notice of the date set for the "bulungan"
– the traditional meeting of the two families, to discuss the
nitty-gritty of the wedding.
On a day designated by the girl's family, vehicles
are borrowed and hired, jeepneys, vans or tricycles, to transport the
retinue of relatives, friends and neighbors – thirty or more is
not an unusual number. The party brings with them the food for that
event, usually a noodle dish and soup, the necessary libations, lambanog
or gin. and in the tradition of "Taob and Pamingalan," every
item of silverware that will be used in the sharing of the small feast.
Awaiting their arrival is a small crowd of the girl's
relatives, family friends, and neighbors. On arriving, the man presents
himself to the girl's parents, kneels and gets the "blessing"
of the elders. Sometimes, the prospective groom presents a big bundle
of chopped wood to the girl's parents, which he takes to the house's
crawl space or someplace close to the entrance. In times past, this
bundle of wood is kept stored and unused, as some remembrance; in more
recent times, it's firewood, sooner than later.
By tradition, the elders choose the date for the
wedding. Certain dates are avoided; the waning of the moon or a friday.
Almost always, a saturday is chosen.
When the date is set and agreements and compromises
made, the table is set for a simple meal to be shared by the families
and friends. In the tradition of "taob ang pamingalan" –
not a single piece of kitchen- and silverware of the girl's family is
used. Instead, the meal will be served using utensils – dishes,
silverware, cups, glasses, ladles – brought over by the prospective
groom's family. However, there is the traditional "game" of
someone from both sides families trying to "lift" or "steal"
an item from each other, preferably a kitchen or silverware item. A
gatang (a wooden measuring cup used to measure
rice), kawot, siyansi
or sipit are preferred trophy items of appropriation.
The art is in accomplishing it without getting caught, which becomes
much easier as the gin or lambanog fuels the gathering into easy conversations,
familiarity, laughter and distraction. Days later, the items lost or
missed are identified, but there is never any serious effort to recover
them, but rather, amused incredulity as to who did it and when and how
it was pulled off.
Registration and seminar
If the date set is for a church wedding, the prospective bride and groom
will attend three saturdays of a compulsory seminar where they are quizzed
on the ten commandments, the memorization of generic prayers and listening
to the essential counseling on the responsibilities of marriage. And
for the sacramental union to be achieved in a state of grace, there
is a compulsory confession the day before the wedding.
If either the man or the woman has an older brother or sister who is
still single, it is customary to give a gift of clothing wear to the
unmarried sibling, a gesture that is believed to prevent spinsterhood
Three days before the wedding, the groom's family puts together a group
of men and proceeds to the bride's house for the construction of the
bilik – a temporary structure that consists
of the welcome-entrance arch and a covered area –measuring from
100 to 150 sq meters– that will be divided into two: a smaller
one that will serve as the kitchen for the slaughtering and cleaning
of livestock, cooking and other essential food preparations; and a bigger
area, to serve as the dining and dance area.
The arch is made of bamboo, from about 50 pieces
of posts hewn down the day before in an effort that requires about 10
people. Like much of the preparations, the budget and family stations
determine the simplicity or ornateness of the bilik, from a minimum
of trimmings and ribbons to one colorfully decorated with flowers and
ornaments, and painted with a chosen color motif. The dance-and-dining
and kitchen space are covered by tarps tied to bamboo posts and strung
to the ground. The construction will take up most of the day in a continuing
buzz of jovial excitement and bayanihan.
Two days before the wedding, the households of both the bride's and
groom's become abuzz with the cooking of suman and kalamay. The rural
tradition is for both delicacies to be prepared: suman, with the coconut
milk, and kalamay with the sticky rice. The activity starts at seven
in the morning and finishes around 10 in the evening, by then, the arms
tired from the mashing and stirring, tongues tired from talking. Usually,
two stirrers are used, and rather than scrapping them off clean, they
are wrapped and tied facing each other to be opened in four days.
Finally, the mamaysan day arrives. At the break of dawn, the groom's
family is abuzz, preparing the sundry of things that will be hauled
to the bride's place. Vehicles are borrowed and hired –jeeps,
jeepneys, tricycles–to haul the kith-kin-and-caboodle, literally.
Kin, friends, neighbors, wedding attire, bridal gown, pots, pans, plates,
utensils, are crammed inside and atop the vehicles. A single pig will
fit in a tricycle. A few pigs, for the occasion of a grander wedding,
will need an elf or jeepney. The side of the vehicles is decorated with
fresh fronds of coconut leaves (see insert). The jeepney is loaded with
passengers to the rooftop, and although illegal, the coconut fronds
identify it as a wedding vehicle, and local police usually just turn
their heads away.
Arriving at the bride's house, welcoming starts
with the "tasting of the kalamay." Each side tastes the others'
kalamay' concoction, with the usual exchange of praise as to whose tastes
better. Meanwhile, the bridal gown is taken to a designated room in
the house; no fitting is allowed for fear that the wedding might not
The kitchen has started
to buzz alive. Preparations slow to start, pick up into full swing.
On one end of the bilik, a pig is being slaughtered. The blood is collected
for the preparation of the "dinuguan" dish which will be the
traditional dinner entree. The rest of the pig will be divided and amounts
allotted for the preparation of other foods for the traditional wedding
feast: embotido (finely chopped meat), apritada (catsup based) and menudo
(pineapple based). And if the pig meat supply will afford, the additional
dishes of ginulayan (milk), pochero (banana) , sinantomas (bone-based)
and rebosado (fried pigskin in batter).
Hapunan (dinner) is served with the dinuguan as main dish. Afterwards,
the tables are cleared and pushed aside, transforming the dining area
into a dance floor. An emcee, microphone in hand, starts the proceedings
of the "sabitan." As the bride and
groom start dancing, the emcee calls out the parents and guests and
one by one they come up to hang money in denominations of 20 to 1000
pesos, pinning it on the backs of the bride and groom, from the shoulders
and downwards. When it is close to reaching the ground, the connected
money bills are removed and rolled up and a new pining is started. About
50% of the guests pin some money. For the emcee, it is great fun time
announcing the amount of the "sabit" with off-color all-in-fun
commentaries of how little or how generous the pinned amount was. When
everyone has been tapped, the "sabit" money is put on a white
handkerchief and given to the groom's mother for safe-keeping. The guests
then join in the dancing. and eventually, when the feet tire of dancing,
the karaoke is turned on, and singing and drinking continue into the
early morning hours.
At four in the morning, usually without sleep for most, the the bride
and groom start preparing for the wedding. Sometimes, to ensure prosperity,
the bride and groom will insert a coin inside a sock.
The wedding retinue partakes of a small breakfast before proceeding
to the church.
Insert: A jeepney is the
wedding vehicle, replete with the bouquet of flowers on the front bumper.
The bride seats in front, the family and bridesmaids in the back.
The actual ceremony is a generic one. In the sacramental details, the
rural wedding differs little from the middle class and burgis. For pomp
and pageantry, the coffers of the rich and middle class afford bourgeoisie
options: a carpeted walk to the altar, flower decorations on the both
sides of the middle aisle, or special cushioned seats up front for the
godparents. In the other details, the rural wedding is also replete
with flower girls, ring bearers, bridesmaids, and the essential godparents.
An effort is made to get godparents of some social status – a
local politician would establish a connection and possible future benefit.
And the more the better, often three to four pairs of godparents, with
the possible goal of the accumulated largesse equivalent – if
not more– to that spent for the wedding.
After the church ceremony, the party proceeds back to the bilik. On
arrival, the newlyweds feed each other a spoonful or piece of sweet
pastry, the traditional gesture to ensure a "sweet" relationship.
The bride and groom and the rest of the wedding party, godparents, friends
and relatives partake of a feast at the banquet table. After this, the
"sabog" or presentation of gifts
start. The newlyweds proceed to a small table and sit across each other,
with 2 secretaries on either side. The announcer starts calling the
guests, starting with the godparents. As the gifts are given, the secretaries
loudly announce "what" and "how much." The announcer,
in "good fun" chastises the gift-giver if the amount is deemed
too little, and urges loudly, to add to their gift. Sometimes, the announcement
is made with a lot of fanfare and "oohs and aahs" when a gift
is unusually generous: a large amount of money, a cow or carabao, sometimes,
a carabao and cart, complete with deeds of sale.The gift-givers do not
leave empty handed; usually, the godparents s are given a cellophane-wrapped
basket of native delicacies and snacks–leche flan, embotido, suman
and kalamay; the rest, usually just suman and kalamay.
After all the gift-givers have been called up, the
bridge and groom goes around with a bottle of local brandy, seeking
out those who have not yet given gifts, offering them a jiggerful of
alcohol, which is quaffed down and returned with a 20 or 100 peso bill.
When the commerce of the celebration is finally
completed, the groom's party starts loading up the gear to bring back.
The newlyweds present themselves to bride's parents and elders for a
final blessing. Invariably, there are tearful goodbyes and the essential
homilies of patience, understanding, love.
Finally, the caravan of vehicles heads back to the groom's place –
with the newlyweds, and the sleepless and exhausted gang of kin and
friends still faced with the chore of cleaning up a jeepney-load of
dirty and greasy kitchenware. And that eventually accomplished, there
is always a little life and energy left for feasting on leftovers and
rounds of libation while recounting the stories of the past few days.
The rural tradition of "balot sa
kumot" is still performed in some provinces. On arrival
at the groom's parents' place, the newlyweds sit in the middle of a
large white bedsheet or "kumot," the corners are tied over
the couple who are kept bundled and clumped inside the sheet for four
to five minutes, swaying about as the sheet is pulled from either side.
Sometimes, water is sprinkled on the outside, perhaps hoping for the
love to grow.
Four days later, the newlyweds return to the
bride's parents' place, accompanied by a small group of men tasked with
the chore of dismantling the bilik. Before leaving the man's
house, the stirrers are unwrapped and kalamay
is scrapped off the tips and small portions served to both the husband
and wife. Arriving at her parents' place, the same unwrapping of the
stirrers and sampling of the kalamay is done. The men leave when the
bilik is dismantled, the newlyweds usually6
stay behind to spend the night.
the romance of rural courtship has sadly been mostly replaced by texted
exchanges of avowals of love, the rural wedding clings on to its traditions,
threatened into oblivion by modernity, a latecoming sexual revolution
and a dismaying matrimonial statistic – many brides walk up to
the altar or justice of peace pregnant, some visibly close to term,
their weddings, often unexciting sanitized celebrations. But I still
hear of the occasional bucolic boondock where young men still serenade,
where weddings are festivities rife with tradition and folklore –
but alas, a fast disappearing slice of rural filipiniana.