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The Filipino Through Songs

(By Prof. Felipe M. De Leon, Jr) tried to convert the Filipino to their ways primarily through religion, the Americans did it through education.

The American military regime in the Philippines never underestimated the importance of education as a colonial tool. Although the Jones Act granted the Filipinos more autonomy and Filipinos were given government posts, the Department of Education was never entrusted to any Filipino. Americans always handed this department up to 1935. And when a Filipino took over under the Commonwealth, a new generations of brown Americans had already been produced. There was no longer any need for American overseas in this field because a captive generation had already come of age, thinking and acting like Americans.

This Americanization is most profound among the elite, having had the closest contacts with the colonizers. But this kind of transformation is more or less shared by almost all adult Filipinos who have gone through formal education both in public and private schools.

A subtle but most effective medium of colonial education was music. The seemingly innocent thrust into the psychic world of Filipino children through song helped much to produce an unconscious dislike of their own culture and a high preference for American culture.

American thoughts, values and practices were introduced as models for the desirable, the modern and civilized. In contrast, the pleasantness of traditional Philippine life was made to appear as a liability. What was there to be proud of the little nipa hut when, in book illustrations, impressive American homes design for a colder climate captured the imagination. Even the brick houses in the stories of "The Little Red Hen" and the "Three Little Pigs," appreciated out of context, reduce the nipa hut to inferior status. So who would realize the advantages of the bahay kubo in tropical setting?

Deliberate or not, the Westernization of our education provided the Filipino children with a point of reference for contrasts which tended to glorify an alien tradition and discredit our own. The educators structured an outlook which has succeeded in alienating us from our roots. Thus, in Philippine society until now, we put at the top of the social ladder those who most Westernized and at the bottom those who are the least. This places the Manileño at the top, followed by the provincial city dweller, then the poblaciones or town-dweller, next comes the taga-baryo or taga-bukid, or what we call promdi or from the province, and lastly comes the taga-bundok, especially if the taga-bundok is indigenous or one of the so-called minorities, who many Filipinos regard as almost subhuman. If only the Manileño realizes that the Filipino New Yorkers looks down on him, too.

But our Westernized education makes it very difficult for most Filipinos not to look down on our indigenous peoples living in the mountains. What were made available in the schools were books containing sceneries of wealthy Americans urban life. So what would like to be "poorly born on top of a mountain"?

The consequence of glorifying an alien lifestyle is to make us dream of dreams that are irrelevant to our real needs and existing social and material conditions. Many of us dream of a white Christmas complete with Santa Claus, sleighbells and mistletoes. The scent of apples, somebody has remarked, "attracts the Filipino elite and middle class like bees to a flower and sends them to a frenzy like a stud smelling a mare in heat. "Our experiences as a people have been so devalued that, according to a survey, 80% of farmers' children do not want to become farmers but would like to land into a white collar jobs and live a burgis lifestyle. Indeed, who would like to labor in the fields when planting rice is never fun? Though we can have fun singing it.

The imposition of the English language, particularly the practice of translating every Filipino song into English and teaching it in that language, has given the Filipino the impression that the many beautiful songs they have been singing in the schools are of American origin. Even such an intimate and lyrical expression of Filipino feeling, as in the lullaby "Tulog Ka Na Bunso"or "Tulog na Neneng" was not spared. Its English version "Sleep My Darling Baby," has been sung generations of Filipinos thinking it was as American song. But we love this song because it is really ours. It is actually a kundiman from Bulakan.

How tender and sensitive is this song. Could it be anything but Filipino? Masyado nang maraming Pilipinong tinatawag na Baby dahil siguro sa pagkanta ng English version, bihira na tayong gumamit ng Neneng o Nena. The use of English in Filipino folk songs oftentimes produces an incongruous and ridiculous combination of words and music. The flowing melodic style of our folk music is incompatible with the choppy syllables and hard consonant clusters of English. And when this happens to a lively and humorous song, as in "Sitsiritsit Alibangbang," its spontaneity is lost and we fail to get its humor, although the incongruity may make us laugh.

The alienation of the elite from his cultural roots while producing only a half-baked understanding of the colonizer's culture may have produced a profound split in his personality that is the basis of such a masterpiece of incongruity as the English version of "Sitsiritsit Alibangbang."

This disturbing but perhaps unconscious dissonance in the Filipino soul is evident even in Filipino names, where a girl can have the first name old Marie Antoinette but with a surname of Dugaduga. We feel ashamed if our names sound too native. Some of us do not even want to be identified as a Filipino at all, as in this case of a local pop singer during a singing tour in the U.S. because Fillipinos supposedly do not have good image there.

Fortunately the Filipino masses and some conscientisized elites have managed to retain pride in their culture and continue to cultivate some of the best aspects of our character as a people, like the new capacity to laugh at our own misfortunes, to achieve grace under pressure and flow with the life process. These are very evident in the very Filipino "Leron Leron Sinta."

The English version "Maria Went to Town" did not become very popular because again the lyrics do not fit the music plus there is something puritan about the message. Who would like to be Puritan or a WASP? So the Filipinos decided to make fun of the English version.

Filipinos have a curious habit of thinking that anything good and beautiful must be foreign, to the extent that our genuine achievements as a people are belittled as copies, imitations or derivations from foreign ideas. This is true of our ancient script, which even our scholars attribute to Sanskrit, no matter how farfetched; of our National hero Jose Rizal, whom we hail as the Pride of the Malay Race rather than of the Filipino people, even if anthropologically speaking, there is no such as a Malay race.

This is also the case with our National Anthem, which a noted Hispanophile who became a National Artist for Literature by Presidential Decree, seriously believe is derived from the "Le Marsellaise of France,"Verdi's "Triumphal March" from the opera Aida, and the "Marcha Real" of Spain. Similarly, many highly educated Filipinos still believe that "Philippines My Philippines,"translated in Filipino as "Pilipinas Kong Mahal" is an imitation of "Maryland My Maryland."Both songs were actually inspired more by local traditions, such as religious processional music and the kundiman, than by any foreign model.

Much work needs to be done, especially in the field of education, before we can truly reclaim our identity as Filipinos in the realm of consciousness. But since the American period we have come along way towards defining ourselves through song. If we took at the developments since the sixties and seventies, we have seen how poet-musicians or song writers have tried to use song as a force for liberation from imperialism and colonialism, a way of breaking down barriers between the elite and the masses, a means of serving the people and not simply treating them as consumers in a capitalistic environment, as criticism and an instrumental for confronting problems, and for developing our sense of identity as Filipinos.

Without a strong and positive identity as Filipinos, we will never feel any commitment to the Nation, and without this commitment, as the anthropologist Dr. F. Landa Jocano always admonishes us, we will not be capable of worthy achievement.

*From a lecture on the occasion of the celebration of the International Museum Day, May 18, 2004

**Prof. de leon is a faculty at the University of the Philippines in Dilliman, Quezon City

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