So Small Yet So Diverse and Fractured

(A Filipino’s Cultural Conflict Within)

The Philippines is a small archipelagic country located at the midsection of the globe where sunshine is much more evident than anything else. Not exactly located on the equator, in fact already on the northern hemisphere, but it still receives immense heat– enough to merit a three-times-a-day shower–all summer long!

Sounds like a lot of wasted water for a country that is already surrounded by it, to begin with.

Home to the indigenous Aeta people whom many historians believe were the early settlers who came via land bridges. They had the raw facial features, height, short and stocky bodily structure, brown skin, which the early contributors to Philippine Demographics in the late 1700s had described them to be. I’d rather say that their kind is just one of those that visited the archipelago and never left. After all, Malaysia and Indonesia are only three hours away by boat. From the banks of Táwi-tawì, one could already get a clear view of Malaysia’s mountain ranges. Before the Spanish came, Chinese, Japanese, Arabs, and Hindu traders/merchants had already assimilated and settled themselves just the same. Then along came the Spaniards and the Americans who each fought for the little tropical island’s alliance and allegiance. It was a classic story of cat and mouse, in which the rodent came and took over the country for 333 years until the feline arrived to help free them. As the Philippines was almost a colony of the United States, the Filipinos’ sense of nationalism and of independence won.

In retrospect, each of those visiting nations brought with them their own country’s common beliefs, mannerisms, notions, religion, art, culture, and traditions. Each flourished where they chose to settle. As an example, in year 1574 to 1575, the Chinese pirate Limahong (Lin Feng), together with his troops, crashed in on the banks of Lingayen, Pangasinan (from a thwarted colony formation in Manila), where he assimilated with natives of that region and formed alliance with them (Source: The Province of Pangasinan Official Facebook Page). After he was forced out by the Spaniards, many of his troops stayed and the rest was history.

In the grand scheme of things, each of those occupants widely affected the demographics of the Philippines across the spectrum of society where they have set their territories. Whatever knowledge that was bestowed upon them in that era was passed on to the next. Some may have been modified, but I believe that there were also those that had been painstakingly kept intact.

Imagine a small archipelagic country composed of 7,640 islands, segregated into three island groups (Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao), subdivided into 17 regions (major and minor ethnic groups and all), with a total estimated population today of 100 million. All of them are products of different ways and means of assimilation as well as colonization. All in one small country.

Having stated this, in analyzing the Filipino as a people, can it serve as a root cause of their seeming confusion and ineptitude? How does this affect the decision-making perhaps in the lines of politics and in choosing the rightful leaders of the country? How true is it that a politician always puts himself and his interests forward before the people he had sworn to govern? How does it affect the growth and development of the nation?

Basically, everything societal goes back to the issue of family (the basic unit of society), where everything is formed and nurtured or the other way around. How one is brought up–the environment–where culture, tradition, and belief systems are honed (and otherwise) and/or what he has observed during his developmental years exudes in the individual’s mannerisms and mindset. Psychologically, it affects the behavior of the individual and how the person moves and copes within the society.

Many years have passed since the first visitor nation has set foot on the Philippine soil. Wars had been waged; some were lost, some won.

What lessons have we learned in revisiting the past? We may have inherited some beliefs as well as prejudices from our forefathers that may have worked, which are worth carrying over. Political know-how in the early days was scarce, but those who took interest in quickly gained ground. Whether the practices were good or bad, from an observer’s eye it is knowledge nonetheless.

In my opinion, as culture, traditions, and beliefs are passed on from one generation to the next, the tendency of an individual is to imitate the predecessor; and this may be either fruitful or futile, depending on the circumstances. To ease the conflict brewing within you, try to live a life without prejudice. Leave those that may have caused pain, suffering, and harm and rise from there. What we have today is borne of the choices that we have made. Make better decisions and apply the lessons from the mistakes of the past. We can no longer change that which had passed, but we can always walk with our chin up while we create a better future.

*Currently working at the Philippine International Convention Center, where she began services 22 years ago, Kathryn Valladolid Ebrahim is an alumna of St. Scholastica’s College–Manila; she finished a degree in Bachelor of Arts, major in Sociology, at the University of Santó Tomás; drawing and writing are her primary avocations.