The Filipino indigenous construct reflective of the relational character or the relationality in the Filipino character refers to these two (2) Filipino values: (1) pakikipagkapwa (the principle of Filipino relationality) and (2) kapwa (the core of the Filipino personhood). The bayanihan spirit embodies these Filipino principle and core reflective of the ancient Filipinos who had been sailing together as one balangay/barangay (boat). It is an accompaniment where ancient Filipinos come alongside in a cosmic journey, moving forward and together towards life and beyond.
Solheim (2006) claims that barangay or balangay (meaning boat) was a word known by the first Spaniards to come to the Philippines. Pigafetta, meeting with the chief of Limaswa, found out that balangay was also used for the smallest political unit of Tagalog society (Solheim, 2006, p.7). According to Solheim (2006), an elderly informant on Itbayat of the Batanes Islands told Dr. Mangahas that one of the words for boat (vanua) also means homeland. Its cognate words vanua, banua, benoa, and fanua all denote the concept of village, port, town, house, land, country, cosmos, and even boat (Vitales, 2005 as cited in Solheim, 2006).
According to Abrera (2007) one important concept of this (spiritual) boat journey is abay, which refers to the boats traveling together. In Bikol, it means to travel with several boats as companions, in the Visayas, it refers to boats sailing together, and in Tagalog it signifies accompanying a person (p. 10).
In March 1964, Victor Decalan, Hans Kasten and volunteer workers from the United States Peace Corps came upon the “find of the century” in the Tabon Cave Complex (in Lipuun Point, Quezon, Palawan), a unique burial jar with a cover featuring a “ship-of-the-dead” [boat-of-the-dead] motif. It has henceforth been called the “Manunggul Jar” and declared a Philippine National Treasure (Valdes, 2004, par. 16).
Chua (2007) declares that the Manunggul burial jar is unique in all respect, which dates back to the late Neolithic Period at around 710 B.C. (p. 1). This secondary burial jar is classified as funerary pottery. The form of the jar's body is full, reminiscent of the womb, and incised with curvilinear scroll designs like the waves of the sea. Its lid is adorned with the image of a small ship [boat] with two passengers (Braudis, 2005, p. 14). The two passengers each were wearing a headband, which until today is used for the preparation of the dead among some ethnic [indigenous] groups in the Philippines (Fox as cited in Braudis, 2005). Abrera (2007) argues that the concept of the abay (companion) explains why there are to be companions for the dead, who will help and serve him in the afterlife (p. 10). It is worthy of note that the boatman is the abay , who is steering rather than paddling the ship [boat], and the dead is the front figure, whose hands are folded across the chest, a widespread practice [in the Philippines] when arranging the corpse (Fox as cited in Braudis, p. 17). Thus, abay refers to the following: boats sailing together; a person who accompanies another in a journey; the soul of another that would accompany the dead to the afterlife (Abrera , 2007, p. 12).
Fox (as cited in Braudis, 2005) claims that vessel [jar] provides a clear example of a cultural link between the archaeological past and the ethnographic present. Jocano (1998) adds that our prehistoric past embodies the wisdom of our ancestors, i.e., their established pattern of thoughts, feelings, actions, and aspirations (1998, p. 21). Abrera (2007) further explains that the hero’s boat, Gadyong in the epic Sandayo of the Subanon of Zamboanga has its own mind, which explains why the boat atop the Manunggul burial jar has a face at the prow, where one can see the eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Likewise, the prow of the lipa or houseboats in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are called sampong (face). It reflects a belief that even inanimate objects, plants and animals have souls. Abrera (2007) also clarifies that since these objects have souls they can accompany the dead on her/his journey and be brought over to the afterlife. Thus, the dead of the ancient Filipinos is never alone on her/his journey.
Jocano (1998) appeals that we need to change our prehistoric perspective in the Philippines, in the face of new evidence to firmly establish our cultural roots and national identity as a people within Filipino grounds or ever appreciate the long historical development of our cultural heritage (p. 55). As Chua (2006) puts it, the Manunggul burial jar is a testament of our history and culture, an embodiment of our experience and aspirations as a people and how we must look at ourselves —Maka-Diyos, Maka-tao, Makakalikasan at Makabansa. It is also a vision for a new generation of Filipinos who will once more take the ancient balanghay as a people (pp. 3-4).
The Philippine bangka according to Abrera (2007) comes from the Austronesian baŋka which means boat, a term also found in Indonesia and the Melanesian islands such as Fiji and Samoa (p. 1). For Solheim (2006), this balangay (boat) or barangay is referred to as a smallest political unit, and vanua (another term for balangay) is referred to as homeland and even cosmos. Though Abrera (2007) used frequently the term bangka, she never missed mentioning balangays (boat) as she refers to the oldest ones that were discovered in Butuan (p. 9). For her the bangka [balangay] is a boat that transported souls to the afterlife and that same boat had a soul of its own (Abrera, 2007, p. 12).
To the writer’s mind, the ancient Filipinos are people sailing together as one balangay/barangay/bangka (boat), and that they accompany one another [in bayanihan spirit] in a cosmic (cosmos = vanua/bangka/balangay) journey of life and beyond (afterlife). Jocano (1998) insists that we have to go back to prehistoric times to know how our culture developed to appreciate our cultural heritage as a people and rekindle the Filipino diwa (spirit) [bayanihan spirit] to guide us along the pathways of the 21st century (p. 19). The writer borrows the words of Jose Rizal to remind us of the importance of prehistory to our nationhood: "Ang hindi lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan." [Free translation] "They who do not learn the lessons from the past cannot reach their intended destination" (as cited in Jocano, 1998, p. 22).
And what lessons were they? First, that today's relationality in the Filipino character is rooted in the prehistoric past, and second, it embodies the wisdom of our ancestors, thus the Filipinos' bayanihan spirit lives on.
Abrera, M. B. (2007). The soul boat and the boat-soul: An inquiry into the indigenous “soul”. Retrieved December 4, 2010, from ResearchSEA Asia's first research news portal: http://www.researchsea.com/html/download.php/id/71/research/The%20Soul%20Boat%20and%20the%20Boat-Soul%20(English).pdf?PHPSESSID=5hffeltgedgr0frlkfvmk1f8r3
Braudis, A. (2005). The Manunggul burial jar : prototype for a worldview. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Asian Social Institute, Manila.
Chua, M. (2007). Art as vessel of history. Emotional reflections on culture, nation and the manunggul Jar. Retrieved December 4, 2010, from Balanghay Pangkasaysayan: http://images.balanghay.multiply.multiplycontent.com/attachment/0/SM9m4AoKCEcAAEF1EQU1/Chua%20-%20Manunggul%20Jar.pdf?nmid=115737394
Jocano, F. (1998). Filipino prehistory: Rediscovering precolonial heritage. Quezon City, Philippines : Punlad Research House.
Solheim, W. (2006). Origins of the Filipinos and their languages. Paper presented at the 9th Philippine Linguistics Congress. Retrieved December 3, 2010, from http://web.kssp.upd.edu.ph/linguistics/plc2006/papers/FullPapers/I-2_Solheim.pdf
Valdes, C. (2004). Archaeology in the philippines, the national museum and an emergent filipino nation. Retrieved December 4, 2010, from Wilhelm G. Solheim II Foundation for Philippine Archaeology, Inc.: http://homepages.uni-tuebingen.de/alfred.pawlik/Solheim/philippine_archaeology.html
 The custom of Jar Burial, which ranges from Sri Lanka, to the Plain of Jars, in Laos, to Japan, also was practiced in the Tabon caves. A spectacular example of a secondary burial jar is owned by the National Museum, a National Treasure, with a jar lid topped with two figures, one the deceased, arms crossed, hands touching the shoulders, the other a steersman, both seated in a proa [boat], with only the mast missing from the piece. Secondary burial was practiced across all the islands of the Philippines during this period, with the bones reburied, some in the burial jars. Seventy-eight earthenware vessels were recovered from the Manunggul cave, Palawan, specifically for burial.
(Originally shared with CFBS at http://www.facebook.com/notes/antonio-ingles/relationality-in-the-filipinos-bayanihan-spirit-lives-on/10150104120961807)