Thursday, June 18, 2009

Conversations - Cultural Foundations: Kapwa and Bayan

Filipino Community Portrait (excerpt)
by MC Canlas

Cultural Foundations: Kapwa and Bayan

A fundamental Filipino cultural concept is kapwa, the unity of "self " and "others," a sense of "fellow being," a recognition of shared identity or inner self shared with others. "Anyone looking for a core concept that would help explain Filipino interpersonal behavior cannot help but be struck by the super ordinate concept of kapwa," wrote Filipino psychologist Virgilio Enriquez.

The Filipino immigrant is fond of asking a newly introduced Filipino, "Taga saan ka sa atin?" The question, literally "Where are you from in the Philippines?" is an essential part of Filipino identity formation. The usual response consists of one’s family name and the community he or she belongs to or identifies with. In my case, for example: "I am Canlas of San Fernando, Pampanga, but we moved to Quezon City when I was in my teens."

The question, posed without malice or sense of intrusion, elicits a response that facilitates discovery of a common bond, or ka. Kababayan, for example, are town mates (ka + bayan, or town) and kamag-anak (ka + mag-anak, or family) are relatives. Filipinos naturally seek out levels and degrees of connectivity to build kapwa and sociocultural affinity that contextualizes their interaction and establish rapport.

Again, in my case, for example, likely follow-up questions would be, "Are you related to the Canlas of Santo Tomas?" " Do you know the Calalangs in San Fernando?" "Was your family ever in Tondo, Manila? My mother’s mother is from there and she’s a Canlas," and so on. Chances are the person asking me will discover that our grandparents were cousins or our parents attended the same school, for example, and say: "Ah, it’s a small world, we’re related!"

This emphasis on place of origin dates back to long before Filipinos were even known as Filipinos, a time when our ways of life, culture, and identity were tied to settlement patterns and environment. Settlements tended to be located along rivers, lakeshores, and seacoasts, and even those in the hinterlands tended to parallel mountain streams. In fact, names for various Filipino ethnolinguistic groups and geographical locations are derived from bodies of water. For example, Tagalog means "native of the river"; Kapampangan are "people of the riverbank," Cebu comes from Sugbu, meaning "riverbank," and Lanao, Maranao, Maguindanao, and Mindanao all come from danao, "lake of flooded areas." This water-based culture, coupled with a sacred view of the mountains, constituted the material basis of the beliefs, customs, and traditions of the ancestors of Filipinos. The houses (bahay) were usually located near people’s source of livelihood, along the shore in coastal communities, and closer to the fields in the interior. People lived together in barangays of thirty to a hundred families, and social organizations developed around kinship and neighborhood connections.

Their sense of community, or bayan, is deeply rooted in extended family relationships and neighborhood bonds. The core traditions of family-based communities as expressed in their language and culture, leadership, and governance structures, and spiritual and social life have persisted for centuries despite colonialism, social upheaval, and natural disasters.

The connection between family and community is transparent in the lexicon. The term bayan is relative. Today, it may mean "motherland," Inang Bayan; "nation-state," Bayang Pilipinas; "town" or "municipality," Bayan ng San Roque; "town center," kabayanan; people or fellow citizen or belonging to the same ethno-linguistic group or region, kabayan or kababayan. The protector of the community is Bayani, while bayanihan, usually symbolized by a group of people carrying a house to another place, is a valued practice of cooperation, self-help, and mutual support among neighbors and extended families. Balikbayan is community and family renewing, either physically or spiritually to one’s homeland. Filipino returnees and tourists in the Philippines are called balikbayans.

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