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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, or Filipino is the official language of the Philippines, and it also refers to the people of the major ethnic group in the Philippines from the majority of the provinces as well as the country’s capital Manila in the main island of Luzon. 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, who are traditionally agriculturists with some few who are engaged in fishing.  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.

Almost 30% of the Philipine population are Tagalog-speaking Tagalogs 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!”.

I (Candice) come from a Tagalog family and I think these are important words that mother should teach her toddler when learning to speak, as this is like a mark of a child raised well from a respectful and dignified family, and not teaching so is somewhat a reflection of bad parenting skills. I remember my Mama reminding me to say “Opo” when speaking to an elder neighbor of ours when I was a kid, and I would always remember with disgust and disgrace some playmates who don’t say “po” when speaking to an elder villager. Now as an adult, I still use po and opo regularly in my conversations with the elders and people deserving respect and politeness .

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 economical developments like the People Power Revolution in the 1980’s. Tagalogs are respectful and gentle, alright…but, don’t you mess with a Tagalog!

Courage and bravery of our people are surely fueled 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.

As the eldest girl in the family, I was trained (and expected) to be good in the kitchen. My mama would tag me along in the market when I was a little girl, teaching me how to choose fresh meat and seafood and bargain for a good deal, she’d let me help her in the kitchen, chopping vegetables or stirring stews, memorizing by heart the recipes that my grandma passed onto her. She shared some secret tips on how to cook prawns perfectly that would be easy to peel or how not to make the food stick in the pan while cooking. I knew that every detail were important and I am so thankful to have learned these Tagalog culinary stuff that I would pass on to my children as well.

A big display of this attribute would be witnessed during Fiestas and big gatherings and celebrations where the ladies of the house wake up oh-so-early in the morning, go to the market and be busy in the kitchen in meticulously preparing to showcase their best dishes to the guests. Do not typecast us as merely kitchen women though, because Filipina women also hold high and important  positions in the society, both in the government and corporate scenario.

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.

(written on June 2013)