Toledo in the eyes of Juan Climaco, 1886, part 2

By Jobers R. Bersales January 11,2017
Jobers Bersales

Jobers Bersales

Before I proceed to connect with last week’s column, let me congratulate Raymund L. Fernandez on the successful launch of his full color 200-page

“Kamingaw: an Impressionist Portrait of the Bisaya Painter Martino A. Abellana” held at the Cebu Country Club.
Published by USC Press, the book can still be bought at the discounted price of P1,999.00 at the USC Press Office, Gate 1, USC Talamban Campus (Tel. 2300 100 loc. 290) and at USC Museum, USC Downtown (former Main) Campus (Tel. 253 1000 loc. 191) and at Soline Publishing, National Highway, Mandaue City (Tel. 417 2819). You may also e-mail USC Press at or for orders outside Cebu. After the Sinulog, the discount offer will end.

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How did Toledo and its people appear in 1886? Let us thank Climaco for so much detailed description, an ethnography as it were, of his town that is patently absent in the others (except to a lesser extent for the Oslob report):

Of its inhabitants, Climaco paints them as stoic and poker-faced except when their emotions are stirred. He thus writes (my translation): “They are of peaceful and friendly character if they do not meet with the effervescent blood produced by the vapors of the ‘tuba,’ because then they become more quarrelsome … You never see in their features the feelings that stir their spirit, and because of this, they are often described as lacking all affection or are unable to nest true love in their heart.

Deplorable is the error of those who therefore assert that they only pretend without being based on any solid theory nor of a mature observation and profound practice. For in this case they would change their opinion since Filipinos are open to tenderness and are ardent in their feelings.

This is especially true among the females, although they are fickle in their affections and the frenzy of their passion passes like the wind blows. On the other hand, others are constant and vehement in their love that, with hearts overflowing, shine in their black eyes, electrifying with those eyes the unfortunate or the happy mortal who are under their influence.”

A most interesting part of Climaco’s sketch is the now-fast disappearing ritual of courtship called “pamalaye,” which he describes in great detail, thus:

“The man who wants to get married has to observe many requirements and many obstacles. As soon as the children reach the age of 14 or 16, the parents’ constant concern is to marry them as they think they will save them from the quintas (one-fifth of the tribute).

The daughters marry at the will of their parents. Very rarely are those who get married as a result of loving relationships.

Usually the parents decide on everything. The woman does not even know her suitor until she becomes her husband. The formalities that have to be practiced in the ‘pamalay’ or request are the following: the ‘sondaliza’ the first and second ‘sayod’ and the ‘casayoran’ or the definitive answer.

“During the first one … a person who is similar to an introducer will notify the parents of that within such day and hour certain individuals will come to visit them … for which they hope they will be present in the house. … The ‘sayod’ is when the messengers proceed to the said house in the manner marked with a retinue carrying baskets of fried rice with vegetables, viands and other items necessary to serve a treat that they offer to the parents of the girl.

“After being received by the head of the family before the usual greetings, the ‘sayod’ then begins to manifest the object of their visit, always adapting enigmatic and metaphorical phrases such as:

‘Events impel us to lodge for a moment in this house as we too are under the shadow of thy mercy’ or ‘We are the bearers of the petition of a condemned man who wants to save his soul from the tortures of hell and who believes that no one else can remove the chains that bind him except the angel that you have in your house’ or ‘Since the breezes that whisper in our fields, have impregnated in his nose the perfume of the flower that you keep in your pot, he has lost his sanity and does nothing but sneeze’ or ‘The moment he saw the precious pearl that you stingily hide in your dwelling, he lost his appetite and is only supported by sweet potato, suffering all the miseries and horrible diseases and especially colic miserere, and beg your mercy that the medicine be administered so that he would instantly be healed by the effectiveness of your precious pearl.’ The medicine, of course, is the hand of the girl in marriage.”

Above are my rough translations. If only this column will allow longer space I would have included the more flowery Spanish version that shows Climaco’s poetic talent, assuming that those were his words written 130 years ago.

Next week, more on Toledo and its people. For now, let me greet everyone all the best in this Sunday’s celebration of the feast of the Señor Santo Niño.

Pit Senyor!

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