Roman Catholicism was brought by the Spaniards during the 1500s. To date, the Philippines is known as the only Catholic nation in Southeast Asia. This reputation carries a big influence in every aspect of the Philippine culture. And for most aspects, this influence takes its root deeper than any other influence.
The roots of the influence of being a Catholic nation were stronger in the early 20th century than today. The Spaniards had just sold the Philippine nation to the Americans after a three hundred year reign. Along with the colonial fact as a nation, lies the colonial weight in how Filipinos live, including building relationships.
Courtship in the Philippine society during the early 20th century was considered a community and familial possession. Courtship between a boy and a girl was discreet, albeit being a public knowledge. Courtship during those times was indirect for a boy and a girl, making use of subtle body language and even props like a fan or a handkerchief. The boy was expected to be very respectful and show reverence to the girl. On the other hand, the girl was expected to be well-mannered and should show great restraint regardless of her feelings towards the boy. Courtship in superlatives was ultra conservative.
Courtship would commence when a boy would asked permission from the girl’s parents to woo the girl. Asking permission from the parents was imperative. The boy is not allowed to woo the girl without the knowledge of her parents and her family. When the parents agree, the boy would then be asked to be of service to the girl’s family. This was called, “paninilbihan” or bride service. The boy would help in the daily tasks of the household that included chopping fire woods, fetching water, helping in the farm, and other tasks that would usually be done by a male family member. This would give assurance to the family of the girl that the boy was ready to take care of their daughter.
With regards to communication styles during courtship, most accounts indicated that direct talking with one another was very limited. Conversing was considered culture-breaking and rule defiance especially on the part of the girl which should keep her demure, poise, and mystery throughout the courtship stage. This was when props like a fan would be of use.
Historians accounted the girl’s use of fan to send out a message that she could not directly tell her suitor. She could tell that she liked or did not like the boy through a certain way of folding and opening a fan. She could also convey a message that she did or did not want to talk anymore. This was known as the fan language in courtship.
Courtship during the post Spanish era was also done in the presence of other family members most especially the father- who was the head of the family. The presence of the family members would ensure that the courtship was within the spoken and unspoken rules set by the belief systems, cultural influences, and religious practices by the society.
Aside from the limited and indirect conversation of the girl and the boy, they were also forbidden to have any physical contact at all. There was absolutely no touching during courtship. Whenever the boy would visit the girl, the other family members would ensure that there was an ample space in between them. For Filipinos who had a smaller house and would have no choice but to allow the boy to be nearer to the girl, a family member would sit in between them.
The show of aggression and presumptuousness of the boy was very rare, although there were accounts of some boys who would show their aggression by trying to get near the girl. There were stories of aggression like that of a boy who lost control and kissed the girl he was courting while she was walking in the market. The whole community was enraged! It was perversion during those times. The families, with the pressing of the community forced the boy and the girl into marriage.
Other notable accounts from the different provinces and cultural beliefs in the Philippines included the boy’s other styles of courting the girl. The boy was expected to give gifts that were valuable, not only for the girl but also for her family. This was to show that he would be able to support the girl and provide for her should they marry.
In addition, there was the showcasing of talents of the boy to show off to the girl. The boy would either write or read poetry or sing romantic loves songs for the girl. It was not just to show talents but to show his level of intellectual ability, and to others, even a social status- the educated.
The above mentioned courtship system was more evident in the middle and the lower class. Courtship in the upper class or the rich would be more limited for the boy and the girl. Choosing the one to marry would be the prerogative of the parents. It was the parents who would have the say with regards to who would their children marry. This was to merge both of the families’ resources. There were a lot of accounts of forbidden love affair in the upper class because of this fact.
Courtship in the Philippine society post Spanish era would tell how the Spanish culture was still perpetuating even after the colonizers had fled the country. The Philippine culture on courtship was far more complex than that however. It was a mixture of the long lost culture of the Philippines, pre-Spanish which were kept and changed over the course of three centuries.
Evidently, the Filipinos chose to accept the culture brought in and mixed with the local flavor to make it more palatable. It was said that one could see how rich one culture is through the lens of the culture of their romantic relationships. The Philippines is one rich culture, given that.