Words of wisdom from my father

My parents, Venancio and Mila, on their 50th wedding anniversary

My parents, Venancio and Mila, on their 50th wedding anniversary

By Cecilia Caguingin Ochoa

I have to hand it to my father’s ancestry. He comes from the province of Bulacan — a thriving province north of Manila – whose sons and daughters are known to be prolific with the Tagalog language.

Tatay Bening would flavor his admonitions to me with Tagalog proverbs. As a kid, they sounded to me like dramatic reminders to stay away from trouble.

It’s only after I was invited to write about Philippine proverbs for the two-volume “Encyclopedia of Asian America Folklore and Folklife” that I learned more about the underlying messages behind many of the “salawikain,” or sayings, my father often spoke. I remember some of his advice and was mesmerized by the wisdom their message carried.

Colonized for more than almost 400 years by Spain, the United States and Japan, Filipinos used many of our “salawikain” or “sawikain” to underline the importance of patience and fate in overcoming adversity. Our heritage values perseverance and preaching triumph despite failures.

When once I complained to my father that I’d rather stay in a dorm in UP Diliman rather than commute from Pasig, he advised: “Habang maikli ang kumot, matutong mamaluktot.” (Make do with a short blanket) He was telling me the family’s meager means could not afford the costs of dorm living, using a proverb that fosters the value of being frugal.

Foremost author of Filipino folklore and mythology Damiana Eugenio observes that “salawikain” forms a “fairly common philosophy of life of the Filipino.”

One of the most popular symbolizes the importance of attributing gratitude for success to one’s roots or patrons. “Ang hindi lumingon sa kaniyang pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa kaniyang paroroonan.” (A person who does not look back where he comes from will never reach his destination)

This probably explains this passion of sending ‘balikbayan’ boxes to relatives back home. These boxes might contain nearly anything that can fit and that the immigrant thinks the recipient (such as parents, siblings, or friends) would like to receive, as a token of “giving back.” Or why a staggering $24 billion were remitted by overseas Filipinos to the Philippines in 2012.

“Kapag may tiyaga, may nilaga.” (One who perseveres is rewarded with chicken soup). I heard my father use this proverb while advising his younger brother to be persistent in looking for work or more importantly, looking for a woman to marry.

Let’s further gauge the protracted spirit of endurance and optimism in the following proverb: “Pagkahaba-haba man daw ng prusisyon, sa simbahan din ang tuloy.” (No matter how long the procession, it eventually ends up in church) The idiomatic translation being that even the most complicated pursuit leads to a resolution.

On the other hand, a people’s frustration is depicted in the following: “Ako ang nagbayo, ako ang nagsaing, nang maluto na’y iba ang kumain.” (I harvested, pestled the rice grains, I cooked, but once cooked, someone ate it) This reminds me of the Philippines’ struggle over its natural resources or its conflict with China over its territorial waters.

Some Filipino proverbs offer consoling words to those in despair, reflecting the people’s predominantly Catholic upbringing: “Ang buhay ay parang gulong, minsang nasa ibabaw, minsang nasa ilalim.” (Life is like a wheel, sometimes you’re up, other times you’re down)

I love the flowery symmetry of my father’s language. It took any kind of rancor from his paternal advice. One of my favorites as popularized by Rizal: “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika, mahigit pa sa hayop at malansang isda.” (One who does not love his national language is worse than an animal and a rotten fish)

As a Bulakeno, my father has a rightful claim to his nationalistic fervor. Many national heroes and political figures come from Bulacan. The province was also one of the first to revolt against Spain, hence honored as one of the eight rays of the sun in the Philippine flag.

I invite our readers to send in your favorite salawikains in Tagalog and challenge the rest to give their idiomatic translations and practical interpretations. We will publish your entries as they come in – The Editor

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