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Blog - Meet the Tagalog

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The “La Bulaquena”, a painting by Juan Luna, depicts a Tagalog lady from the province of Bulacan, wearing the “Baro’t Saya” which is the traditional Tagalog dress.

"Tagalog" refers to the people of the major ethnic group in  the Philippines’ capital Manila in the main island of Luzon. They also form the population in all the bordering provinces around Manila – namely the provinces in Southern Luzon: Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon; in Central Luzon with Bataan, Bulacan, Zambales, Aurora and Nueva Ecija; and in the islands of Marinduque and Mindoro.

Tagalog also refers to the language being spoken by the group, which is an Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) language like the other Filipino languages. It is the mother tongue of some 20million Filipinos, it was chosen as the basis of the national language Filipino, which is being thought in all schools.

A map showing the Tagalog-speaking Provinces of the Philippines. Source: commons.wikimedia.org.

Tagalogs were the firsts settlers of  Manila when the Spaniards declared Manila as the colony capital in the 16th century. Tagalog came from the word “taga-ilog” which means “people from the river” (literally living along the river). Recently though, the Tagalogs would refer to themselves as Filipinos. They are predominantly Roman Catholics. They are traditionally agriculturists with some few who are engaged in fishing. The importance of Manila has given the urban Tagalog leadership in finance, manufacturing, commerce and other professions and other service operations. During the earlier Spanish era,  majority of the people of the Philippines were called “Moros” and then later on  called “Indios.” The term “Filipino” then referred to people of Spanish ancestry born there.

The Tagalog Art: The Tagalogs are also known for intricate needlework and embroidery. An example is in the Barong Tagalog, the national wear of the Philippines for men, usually made of fine pineapple or abaca fiber. Photo: Tropical Experience.

Almost 30% of the Philipine population are Tagalog-speaking natives who have unique practices and characteristics. For instance, their language structure reflects strict adherence to politeness and respect, specially to the elderly relatives and non-relatives and those who have prestigeous status in the society. Saying “yes” to an elderly would be said as “opo” (o-po)  instead of just saying “Oo” (oh-oh) to your classmate or your younger sister. The words “po” or “ho” should be interjected in sentences when speaking to your uncle or your teacher, or to someone that you give high regards to like a police official or physician. Like saying “Magandang umaga po!” instead of just plain “Magandang umaga!” , both of which means “Good morning!”.​

Coming from a Tagalog family, I personally think these are some of the words and values I consider important for parents to instil to  their children. Now as an adult, I still use po and opo in my conversations as something already deeply inculcated in me.

A pathway along the banks of Pasig River, the main "Tagalog" river. near Manila Bay. Photo: Tropical Experience.

Though we give high regards to courteous conduct, Tagalogs are also known for bravery and courage as these characteristics were displayed during important historical events. Tagalogs were very active the World War 2 and were the leaders of the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish regime. A number revolutionary heroes who led the Philippines to freedom are mostly of the Tagalog heritage, like the Philippine National hero Jose Rizal, Andress Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo and General Luna, to name a few. Manila and the surrounding Tagalog provinces have played important roles in recent political and economic developments like the People Power Revolution in the 1980’s. Tagalogs are respectful and gentle, alright…but, don’t you mess with a Tagalog!

The author Candice Luna, with a poster image of her ancestor General Antonio Luna, a Tagalog revolutionary military leader, regarded as one of the fiercest general of his time. Photo: Tropical Experience.

Courage and bravery of our people are surely fuelled with good food as we are also into food preparation and culinary activities. Women of the house are trained early on, spending ample time in the kitchen, preparing sumptuous meals for the family and guests.

The spirit of Bayanihan is another popular characteristic of a Tagalog community. “Bayanihan” derived from the word “bayan” meaning town, nation or community in general, literally means being a “bayan”, referring to the spirit of communal unity and cooperation.   A big display of this attribute would be witnessed during Fiestas and big gatherings and celebrations or even funerals where neighbours, relatives and friends help preparing food for the guests and make necessary arrangements, even including monetary contributions. Other tasks like house building, transfers and repairs, planting and harvesting in a Tagalog community are also accomplished through bayanihan. A snack or a meal given to the willing friends and relatives would suffice, no need for payment. Though this is a “free” service extended, one would hope that the favour would be returned when your time of need comes.

This is the real image of bayanihan. The Bayanihan house-moving tradition. Relatives, neighbours and friends in the rural areas help out in moving your nipa house from one barrio to another. Source: commons.wikipedia.org.

Tagalogs are a unique combination of gentleness, gallantry and hospitality which are characteristics of the generations that are significantly contributing to the nation’s charm and progress.

Now that you have met the Tagalog, it would be a pleasure to meet you.