11 September 2017

Documented General Characteristics of the Batangueño in 1915

Image credit:  University of Michigan Digital Collections.  Taken at the Normal School in Tanauan between 1900 and 1930.
A 1915 Anthropology paper written by one Leon Bibiano Meer1 gives some very fascinating insights about the characteristics of the Batangueño of his era. The paper is part of the Henry Otley-Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.

We assume that Meer’s paper was descriptive of his immediate environment in Batangas but also have to be wary of the probability that it was not preceded by an empirical study of the sociological characteristics of the Batangueño of his era. It does, however, offer some fascinating insights, especially when compared to observable behaviors in the province in the present day.

The Batangueño was content
Meer described the Batangueño of his time as “hospitable, moderate, sober, religious and very much attached to the soil of his birth.” The phrase “attached to the soil of his birth” sounds a lot like it is open to interpretation, but in the context of Meer’s Batangas, this meant that the Batangueño left his home “to live in another place only when compelled by necessity to do so.”

This was certainly the case immediately after the Philippine-American War just after the turn of the twentieth century when Batangas was plagued by swarms of locusts and a rinderpest epidemic2, forcing many Batangueños out of the province just to be able to survive.

Otherwise, Meer wrote, Batangueños stayed put because they “did not have many wants – contenting themselves with moderate comforts for the sake of hoarding in many cases.” This culture of hoarding, readers will recognize, continues even in the present day and is known in the local dialect as “aremuhunan.”

Respectful, but loved fighting
Meer noted that the Batangueño of his era was “timid and respectful to the authorities and his superiors.” This did not mean, however, that he would allow himself “to be treated harshly or like a slave.” He did not like being subjected to the “whims and caprices of his superiors,” because if he was, they would discover soon enough this “characteristic of which he is charged to possess by his neighbors – the love for fighting.”

The Batangueño loved his fighting cock.  Image credit:  Sandra Plummer Collection at the Fort Worth Library's Digital Archive.
The Batangueño loved his cock 🙊, not so his drink
The fighting cock, that is. Meer wrote that the raising of “good fighting cocks is prevalent almost everywhere in the province. Some game cocks cost from 100 pesos3 up depending upon the kind of cock and its owner. But usually, the cost of an ordinary game cock is from 5 pesos to 50 pesos.”

He wrote something, however, that may raise a few eyebrows. “Drinking wine is less prevalent among the people of the province.” He did end this part with something more familiar, “There were, however, cases of murder and other misdemeanors caused by drinking alcohol.”

Respectful for one’s parents
The Batangueño, Meer wrote, was “very respectful to his parents,” whom he “unquestionably obeyed.” The money earned by a son was given to his mother or father. He could not start a business endeavor without asking for his father’s permission first. Even after he became married, the son would continue to seek his father’s counsel in matters of importance.

Women were disadvantaged
Meer noted that women “have probably the worst position in the society of the Batangueños…” In the household, the father was thought of as superior to his wife; and as its head “settled everything by himself.” An unmarried woman was “at the disposal of her father.” When she married, she was not “emancipated but only experiences a change of masters. She is now at the disposal of the husband, who is usually more oppressive and crueler than the father…”

Within a household, sons not only received more shares of the father’s properties but also the better ones. This was because men were expected to pay the families of women they were to marry the customary the “bigay-caya4.” Also, administration of a woman’s properties was turned over to her husband when she married, which was why, or so Meer suspected, fathers were reluctant to give their daughters more of what they owned.

Batangueños believed in supernatural creatures
The belief in folkloric supernatural creatures was probably typical not just of Batangueños in Meer’s era but also elsewhere in the country. What was enlightening, particularly for younger readers who may only have vague ideas about these, was the way he described each.

The tigbalang (or tikbalang), for one, was described by Meer as “evil spirits which assumes different forms… and leads astray men, women and children walking at night in the forests or any other place far from the town sites. It is believed that once a man is carried off by a tigbalang, he also becomes a tigbalang.”

The Batangueño also believed in the “patianac,” “the soul of a dead unchristened child which lingers around hunting for young and newly-born babies with the intention of stealing them from their parents.” As I had written in a previous article, this term has evolved into the “tianak.”

The tianak. Image credit:  Iaaaaaaaaaan on Deviant Art.
The “iqui” would “fly up in the air and alight on the roofs of houses where there were sick people.” It had a long and thread-like tongue which was, nonetheless, very hard and could penetrate roofs and sick people’s bellies. It feasted on their livers “which are supposed to be their favorite food.”

Then there was the “asuan” or the “asuang,” the “evil spirit which is in the habit of appearing at night in the shape of animals such as dogs, hogs, cats, etc. The “lumalabas” was the soul of a dead person “appearing in forms so horrible that the sight of it is enough to drive one into insanity or make him seriously ill.”

The “mangcuculam” was a person “afflicted with a certain kind of disease that he or she has to leave the house every night to cool off his or her hands which are fiery or burning and which look like torches if seen from a distance.” This is certainly different from the common understanding of the “mangkukulam” of the present day which is the equivalent of what western cultures think of as the witch.

The “nono” or “nuno” is familiar enough even to younger generations in the present day; but there was also the “mangangauay,” a man or woman, Meer wrote, who “had the power to inflict grave disease to those whom he or she dislikes.”

Belief in amulets
Finally, and this last one should come as no surprise since Meer had already made mention of the Batangueño’s “love for fighting,” there was also his belief in amulets or the “anting-anting.” Not that, it ought to be said, this was idiosyncratic of the Batangueños since many other cultures did and probably continue to do so. Meer wrote that the Batangueño “after saying some Latin words in the nature of prayer, he would be freed from any kind of evil.” Meer said that belief in the amulet was common among “lower class” Batangueños; but this was probably presumptuous because, even in the present day, there are even among the educated in the province those who would not openly profess belief in the “anting-anting” but have not totally closed their minds to its efficacy either.

Notes and references:
1Social Culture of the People of Batangas Province,” by Leon Bibiano Meer, published 1915, online at the H. Otley-Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2 Rinderpest is a cattle disease.
3 According to Inflation Calculator, 100 pesos in 1915 will be about 2,420 pesos in 2017.
4 The “bigay-caya” was the opposite of the dowry, which was paid by the family of the bride to the groom, and was called in western cultures as the “bride price” or the “bride service.”
5 Meer’s spelling (i.e. iqui (iki), asuang (aswang), mangcuculam (mangkukulam) et al) was Spanish-influenced. The national language commission which would standardize spelling as we recognize it in the present day was not formed until 1937.

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