Children were a prized possession in every Kapampangan family—to be doted on, cared for and pampered. Our innocent childhood years are perhaps, the most magical—when even the world revolved around you and your needs. The arrival of a newborn baby into this world was always a cause of great excitement, tinged with anxiety. In the days when medicos were scarce and hospitals were limited to urban centers thus rendering them inaccessible, babies were delivered by an “ilut” or a local midwife who was also capable of handling other medical emergencies. The chosen sponsors for the baby must give the “ilut” a small amount of money—“para imu” (for face washing), lest the child suffers from dirty eyes (‘muri”) for the rest of his life.
Children are a prized possession in every Kapampangan family—to be doted on, cared for and pampered. Our innocent childhood years are perhaps, the most magical, when even the world has to revolve around you—until such time you reach the age of reason. But, as an infant till your toddler years, you’ll find yourself the apple of everyone’s eye. At a baby’s baptism, it is the “tegawan” (sponsors) who spend for the baptismal gown, often of expensive lace and jusi.
Babies were delicately handled and treated to lots of tender loving care. For his amusement, silver bracelet rattles were worn on his wrist or ankle. When it came to feeding time, other than mother’s milk, only the best will do, like Bear Brand (“gatas osu”) and Milkmaid. A baby from an affluent family may have a wet-nurse or a “yaya” who made sure his daily needs are met—from regular “lampin” (cloth diaper) changes to naptime rituals that involve rocking the child on a “duyan” (hammock) fashioned from an old blanket.
So favored were babies and children, that when photography came into vogue, they became natural subjects, often dolled up in sailor’s outfits or Lord Fauntleroy costumes for the camera. Little girls were dressed in ribbons and curls, and were made to pose with their favorite dolls and playthings. A requisite portrait sitting involves nude babies atop a bed, a sofa, in a bassinet or in one weird instance, seated inside a giant shell.
All the pampering came to an abrupt end when the child attains school age, usually at age seven. A period of training, learning and stern discipline followed, in an unfamiliar school setting and under the watchful eye of a teacher-mentor. Here, children learn their ABCs by rote and through memorization. Those who failed to toe the line were subjected to corporal punishments. Common modes of disciplining kids included the stick or a paddle, kneeling on “balatung” (mongo) seeds or a sharp pinch on the ear—deemed cruel and unacceptable by today’s standards.
In his free time however, he gets to be his own carefree self, building his interactive skills through social games like piko, maro, tambubung and teks. But once back in his industrial arts or home economic class, however, the growing child is exposed to more adult skills like weaving, carpentry, sewing and cooking.
At home, lessons of discipline continued. A ‘bunsu” may have his privileges, but he has to defer to his “caca” for important decisions. Following a chain of command imposed by tradition, an older sibling wielded authority over a younger “kapatad”, disciplining him when the parents were not around to do so. Suddenly, his daily life, once unhampered by rules becomes more regimented and controlled. At 5 p.m, before the Angelus, his play hours must stop and he must trudge home if he is out on the street. Disobedience meant being subjected to scare tactics--"kunan naka ning Bumbay, kanan naka ning Aswang!" (the Bumbay will come and get you, the aswang will eat you..)
Things get more stressful when children reach pre-pubescent age. For boys, undergoing circumcision (‘tule”) is a painful rite of passage that is both inevitable and inescapable. For girls, the first ‘period’ is often accompanied by a mixed feeling of fear and confusion. At this time, the child ceases to be “cute”. In fact, he ceases to be a child, and instantly, he is treated as such. He inherits his brother’s long pants while she is a given a camison to wear beneath her regular clothes. It’s just a matter of time that paraphernalias like tweezers, Gilette blades, sebo de macho, tawas and Brilliantine pomade, make their appearance on their tocador.
When that happens, the magic and innocence of childhood disappear, as a new life phase begins opens: the wonderful world of adulthood. Welcome to the real world, kids!