Pre-Christian weddings in the Philippines were surprisingly more elaborate and more expensive. Dowries (bigaykaya) had to be paid, gifts had to be sent out to in-laws in exchange for the bride. Pinatubo Negritos, for instance, were mandated to pay dearly for their brides, offering their “bandi”, or material property, often in the forms of bolos, bows and arrows. Celebrations would last for days, sometimes weeks, with the whole community invited to the extended feastings.
Just as colorful were the courtship (pamaglolo) rituals. Girls as young as fifteen were allowed to have gentleman callers, provided an older person –like a koya or a spinster aunt—was present to keep a sharp watch on them. Kapampangan baintau were expected to observe a respectable distance from the objects of their affection. As such, they would only get that opportunity on their way to church or perhaps, in some religious events like Flores de Mayo. When it was time to go out, only group dating was allowed, always with a tsaperon. Love letters were also exchanged, written with flowery words, using a template from a how-to book.
It was to the advantage of a someone going mamanikan to bring an inexpensive gift to a girl and her family, like food stuffs, when he goes a-calling. To prove the swain’s sincere intent and ability to support a family, a period of pamagsilbi is arranged, where free service is rendered by the man to the family—from keeping the water tapayans (clay water jugs) full, chopping kindling for firewood to running errands.
Around the turn of the century, a Filipina had to follow certain prescriptions to ensure she would bag the perfect man. She had to be pure and chaste, clean in body, too. Using cosmetics, smoking cigars and chewing betel nuts were a no-no. She had to be dainty, good in domestic and the fine arts and must know some basic nursing skills. Above all, she must be God-fearing. For a successful marriage, lovers must also be aware of certain beliefs and superstitions. One who sang before a stove, for instance, was risking marriage to a widow or widower. When scheduling weddings, the last quarter moon should be avoided lest life was cut short for the husband or wife. Siblings should also not marry within one year (sukub), or one would die. A simple explanation for this belief is that 2 weddings in one year could drain family incomes which were often derived from 2 major annual harvests.
As the wedding day approaches, the bride must endeavor to stay indoors as she would be prone to accidents. She must not fit her wedding dress or the wedding would not materialize. To avoid a sorrowful married life, pearls must not be worn as these mimic the shape of tears.
Kasalans during the Spanish times were relatively austere affairs, usually held in the early mornings. There were no bridesmaids, flower girls, no march from the door to the altar. Food was prepared at the boy’s house, then transported to the girl’s house. Even with the coming of Americans, old traditions endured, including the practice of Filipina brides of carrying orange blossoms (azahar) in their bouquets. Orange buds were also worn as crowns over their veils as the orange plant was a symbol of fertility. Grooms carried not his bride, but a sack of rice across the threshold.
In the more prosperous 1920-30s, weddings became more Westernized and larger in scale. Kapampangans, with their love for show and sass, took to the new lavish practice, with en grande weddings becoming the order of the day. Weddings involving sons and daughters of wealthy Kapampangan families were even documented in books such as the exclusive Pampanga Social Register of 1936. Even in these hard times, it is not uncommon to see Kapampangan weddings with 10 sets of sponsors, a coterie of bridesmaids with their matching ushers, a Maid (or Matron) of Honor and her Best Man, a Bible bearer, Ring Bearer, Candle Bearer, Flower Girls and a host of Secondary Sponsors. For many a lovestruck Kapampangan out to impress, a wedding is more than just a sacrament, it’s an extravaganza!