Monday, September 7, 2009

*164. COURT AND SPARK: The Rituals of Courtship

WHEN BOY MEETS GIRL. Lovey-dovey couple pose for a romantic souvenir photo. This must have been a post-wedding snapshot. ca. 1920s.

When a Kapampangan swain found a possible object of his affection, he had to follow a certain modus operandi to win her heart, in a way that was acceptable to the mores of the times. Indeed, if our baintau wished to keep his good standing in society and win approval, then he had to follow and meet the standards of ‘pamaglolo’ rituals.

To signify his intentions, our young man would often use a go-between, maybe an acquaintance of the girl, to pave the way for an introduction and then some. If our dalaga showed a positive response, our baintau went ahead to set up a meeting. As it was unthinkable for a girl to contrive to meet elsewhere lest she incurs parental wrath, Sunday church visits as well as community events such as fiestas, were legitimate occasions to meet and greet. Our young man sat himself a few pews away from the girl, within her eyesight, so she could cast furtive glances at him.

After the service, he would linger around the girl, behaving much like a rooster in the presence of a hen. In fact, the verb “tandic” which describes this behavior, applied also to men “who is about to fall in love and is beginning to court and woo a lady”.

Our young man could also decide to be more formal and go “mamanikan”, in which an appointment is made with the girl for a home visit. Even then, the girl was always provided with a chaperone who lurked nearby so she could eavesdrop on their conversations. To throw a nosy chaperone off, however, our dalaga would use her fan to send messages to a lovestruck visitor.
If she held a dangling fan with her right hand, it meant she already had a suitor. If she fanned herself furiously, it mean that the young man held no meaning for her. An open fan meant, “I love you like a friend”, while a closed fan indicated sincere love.

Similarly. Our young man could profess his heart’s wishes through the language of flowers. If he presented the girl with red adelfas, it meant that he has serious romantic designs. Yellow azucenas signified greatness of love. White jasmine reflected his inner goodness, while white rosals, the purity of his love.

There were other ways to woo a young woman. He could serenade her or engage the services of his friends to make “arana”, melting her heart with lyrical kundiman songs. When enough trust was built, the couple could be allowed to go dating with the consent of parents. When they went out, it was more likely that a group date, with several chaperones in tow. Dating became popular among the middle during the American occupation, with the rise of leisure centers such as bowling alleys, soda parlors and movie theaters which became favorite hang-outs of young people.

During the courtship period, a man was required to render manula services to the family of the girl—like chopping wood, filling water drums or cleaning the backyard. When he is finally given the go-signal to marry the young woman, his parents must make repairs to the house of the bride-to-be, a practice called “sulambe”. It was also customary for the suitor’s parents to ask formally for the hand of the girl by visiting her family in the home (“pamamalayai”). Preliminary wedding plans are discussed in this meeting.

The profession of love through courtship rituals can be elaborate, long and tedious, but the lovelorn Kapampangan does not seem to mind. When struck with Cupid’s arrow, he could even transform himself into a poet. Just read this “kilig-to-the-bones” love letter written by my late father to my mother, dated 21 March 1949, just weeks after meeting her in a botica where my mother worked as a sales attendant: “I unflinchingly adored you in utmost secrecy and silence until I realized but lately how much it would distress and embitter me if I won’t confide to you through concealed emotions which had long beat hard and clamored for an honest confession. I had rteid to subdue every bit of my deep passions until finally, I had to yield to the dictates of my hearts. Can you possibly forgive this soul seeking consolation through truthful revelation?”.

Now did his overly dramatic outpourings—possibly copied from a “How to Write Love Letters” book, work? Apparently they did. My mother and father got married just a month and a half later. See what love can do.

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