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Tradition and the Filipina Bride

The Filipina is never more hedge about with taboo than during her wedding. Though it takes two to make a marriage, the male participant seems to be ignored even by the goblins. It’s chiefly the bride who gets the old warnings.

The tradition says that she must not marry on Tuesday, or during the dark of the moon, or in the same year as a sister. She must not try on here wedding dress. She must not wear pearls and would do well to eschew all jewelry. She must not, in the days before her wedding, go out too much or stray too far from home.

Behind all these warnings is our cynical folk belief that one is in greatest danger when one is most happy: and that a woman in love, as she approaches the happiest day of her life, becomes particularly subject to the spite and malice of the supernatural. Therefore, she must dissemble her joy – and be wary of sharp knives, steep stairs, deep waters, and long journeys.

Accordingly, the native bride of old went into hiding as her wedding day approached, refusing to see her lover, and manifesting to all her visitors a reluctance to be married and a preference for the nunnery. This bridal coyness is apparently as old as the race: a Tagalog folktale says that it took an earthquake to get the first woman married.

The first man and the first woman, according to this folktale, emerged simultaneously from separate sections of a bamboo tree. On seeing the woman, the man cried “Ba!” – the root of the Tagalog word for woman, babae. The woman, upon seeing the man cried: La!” - - the root of the Tagalog word for the man, lalaki. Looking around and beholding the beauty of the universe, they both cried “HA!” - - the root of the Tagalog word for diety, Bathala, wherein the symbols for the male and female principles, ba and la (which, in our native script, where expressed in phallic form), are joined together by the symbol for God.

And here is how God joined the first couple. The man wooed the woman but the woman was shy, illusive, and stubbornly coy. Becoming impatient, God started violent earthquake, which flung the woman into the man’s arm. Only thus were they married and the earth populated.

A local boy of pagan times must have felt indeed that it took just about everything except an earthquake to get married to his girl. The Spanish conquistadores marveled to learn that a native girl brought nothing to her husband; it was the boy, rather, from whom a dowry (called the bigaykaya) was exacted. He had to give a certain sum to the girl’s father, another sum to her wet – nurse. The father usually demanded a dowry equal to that he had paid for the girl’s mother. If the boy couldn’t afford the dowry, he could work it out, becoming, like the biblical Jacob, a bond – servant of his future father – in – law until he had earned enough for the dowry and the wedding expenses.

The wedding itself took three days to perform, and another six or nine or even fifteen days to consummate. On the first day, the bride and groom, in separate processions were taken to the house of the highest priest, who joined their hands over a plate of raw rice and blessed them. The rice was distributed among all those present and the wedding party adjourned to the palapala, sort of trellis set up outdoors for the wedding. The second day was spent there in feasting.

On the third day, the bride and groom again faced the high priest, who joined their hands and asked them three times if they loved each other. After their first reply, he pricked their breasts with a thorn and extracted a little blood. After their second reply, he fed them with cooked rice from the same plate. After their third reply, he made them drink, from the same glass, of the blood he had drawn from them, mixed with a little water. Then he bound their hands and necks together with a cord and, and turning to the crowd, said: “This man is now one with this woman. You are all witnesses to the union,”

The talingbuhol, as this ceremony is called, was followed by six or nine or fifteen days of feasting depending on how long the boy’s supplies lasted. Throughout this period, the bride slept with the girls, the groom with the boys; the newly weed were never left alone together. On the last day of feast, the girl was given a ceremonial bath by her godmothers, arrayed again in her wedding finery, and conducted to her new home.

Upon seeing her lover waiting for her at the top of the stairs, she would feign uncertainty, refusing to move from the threshold until he had vowed to make her the mistress of his house. Having ascended a few steps, she would hesitate again, until he had vowed to endow her with all his earthly goods. Halfway up the stairs, she would stop again, until he had vowed to make her happy a mother. Then, shedding all shyness and her veil, she would take his hand and enter gaily into the house where still another banquet awaited her.

In Spanish times, wedding became considerably more austere, being usually celebrated early at dawn. Instead of jewels, the bride wore earrings, bracelets and a necklace fashioned from orange blossoms. There were no bridesmaids, no flower girls, no slow march from church door to altar, and nobody singing O Promise Me. The food for the feast was prepared at the boy’s house, and then transported to the girl’s house. It wasn’t the custom then – and, in fact, it still isn’t a custom among us to go away on a honeymoon. Though our weddings today have become very Americanized indeed - - complete with bridesmaids, ushers, the wedding march, kisses and wedding cakes - - we still cling to an old native marriage law: the bridegroom is still expected to shoulder all the expenses. He must buy even his bride’s wedding gown!

A Filipina does not lose her name on marrying; she merely appends her husband’s surname to her own, and her children assume both surnames. Our traditional bridal seasons used to be Eastertide and Christmastime, possibly for reasons of weather and because Easter and Christmas were preceded by two long periods, Lent and advent, when marriages used to be forbidden. Until American times, June wasn’t marrying month among us: too wet. A Filipino bridegroom carries, not his bride, but a sack of rice across the threshold of their new home. If he can’t do it alone, she helps. St. Joseph is the patron of happy marriages; and his feast day, March 19, used to be the most wedding crowded day in the Philippines. That makes St. Joseph about the only male whoever got notices at a wedding. When bride and groom rise at the end of the rites, each is supposed to try to step on other’s foot first.

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